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Pac-10 Tourney Preview


Pac-10 Up for Grabs

By Lance Epstein

As the Pac-10 tournament tips off with the play-in game Wednesday night between Oregon and Washington State, the unpredictability of the conference should also continue.

While the Cougars and Ducks are likely to get slaughtered by the favorite and number one seed California Golden Bears in the quarterfinals, the Pac-10 is wide open.

The Bears enter the tourney as the favorite and rightfully so. Cal, (21-9, 13-5), has been impressive down the stretch, winning seven of their last eight games by an average of 10 points per game. Furthermore, Cal has the senior leadership of Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle, who can distribute the ball and hit shots from anywhere on the court.

However, even though the Bears have been the best team in the conference over the second half of the season, there are some teams that are in desperation mode and need string together a couple of wins to get into the big dance.

A team that could ruin the Golden Bears dream of a Pac-10 Tournament title is the Washington Huskies (21-9, 11-7). In the first meeting between the two teams, the Huskies beat the Bears soundly by 15 and held a 29-point lead over the regular season champs. In the second contest Cal returned the favor winning by 12 and they had a 19-point lead.

Like Cal, the Huskies enter the tournament on a hot streak as they won 9-of-11 and four straight. More importantly, the Huskies have the athletic guards and forwards who can shutdown Cal’s dynamic frontline.

Quincy Pondexter and Justin Hollday have the length, size, speed and quickness to disrupt the tall and silky-smooth tandem of Theo Robinson and Patrick Christopher. Also, Pondexter has the offensive capability to go off at anytime, as he is averaged 20.2 points per game and shot 54 percent from the field.

Before Washington looks forward to a possible championship match up with Cal, they need to be weary of the Oregon State Beavers. Of course the Huskies are 2-0 this year against the Beavers, but it is always hard to beat a team three times.

The Beavers played the Huskies in the last game of the regular season at home and were dominated. On the other hand, OSU’s slow it down, drag it out Princeton style offense will give the Huskies fits on the defensive end. If the Huskies do manage to get past the Beavers, the wear and tear of guarding the Beavers offense for 30 to 35 seconds might take its toll later in the tournament.

One team that is desperate for a couple of wins is Arizona State, who sits at 22-9 and 12-6 in the conference. The fear for the Sun Devils is that they sit squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble and an early exit might burst their bubble.

According to Joe Lunardi’s ESPN Bracketology, ASU is one of the last four teams in the NCAA tournament. A significant factor for why the Sun Devils are on the bubble is due to their cupcake non-conference schedule, which included the likes of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Western Illinois, Texas State, Delaware State and UC-Santa Barbara.

For ASU winning one game is a must and beating Washington in the second round would go a far way in securing an at-large NCAA bid. The Pac-10 Coach of the Year Herb Sendek relies on senior point guard Derek Glasser to get under the skin of opposing teams and to run the offense.

In his senior season, Glasser finished with 149 assists, only 67 turnovers and averaged 10.2 points per game. Besides Glasser, the Sun Devils are very balanced on offense. Fellow backcourt mate, Ty Abbott leads the Devils in scoring at 12 points per game.

Meanwhile, the most dangerous player ASU has is sharper shooter Kuksiks Richards. He might only be averaging 11.7 points per game but he is deadly from the outside. Richards made 73 three pointers on the season, while shooting 37 percent.

At the same time ASU must not overlook the Stanford Cardinal in the first round. The Cardinals have a premiere player in the conference and in the country in Landry Fields.

Fields is the Pac-10’s leading scorer at 22.2 points per game. But Fields is not only a scorer, he attacks the glass, grabbing close to nine rebounds a game. Yet the thing that makes Fields elite is his defensive tenacity. He finished with 49 steals and led the Cardinals with 25 blocks on the year.

In addition to Fields, sophomore point guard Jeremy Green can light up the scoreboard and fast. Green is averaging 16.9 points per game and shooting just under 40 percent from three (90-231). Even if the Cardinals do not have the talent to matchup with ASU, the underrated Fields could carry them to a first round upset.

Lastly, the two teams that could come out of nowhere and win the Pac-10 tournament. On a normal year, UCLA versus Arizona might be a PAC-10 Championship Game and a battle for a high NCAA tournament seed.

Arizona comes into the game on a three game winning streak. Although what brings a smile to the face of Head Coach Sean Miller is his young guys leading the charge.

Pac-10 freshman of the year Derrick Williams is a dominant force on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. More remarkably is the fact Williams was the only freshman to received first team all-Pac-10 honors. Williams averages 15.7 points per game and seven rebounds a game.

Another up and coming freshman is guard Lamont “Momo” Jones. Over his last three games, Jones has averaged 12 points a game and has gained much needed confidence. Jones has been so impressive that he has inspired coach Miller to hand over the point guard duties to him.

The intangible that makes Arizona dangerous is their upper classmen with NCAA tournament experience. Senior point guard Nic Wise comes in with three years of NCAA tournament experience. Last year, Wise played his best, as the games got bigger, as he helped carry the Wildcats to the Sweet 16.

Despite all of that, if Arizona hopes to extend their NCAA Tournament appearance streak to 26, it is essential that junior forward Jamelle Horne play at a high level. Since Horne has been moved out of the starting lineup and to the bench, he has been motivated. He has averaged 9.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in three games.

If Arizona can get those numbers out of Horne, they are a very dangerous team. Remember halfway through the Pac-10 season, Arizona tied with Cal for first place and they beat the Golden Bears.

UCLA heads into the Pac-10 tournament struggling as they have lost three in a row and four of their last five games. What is even more puzzling is how are the Bruins two games below .500 in the conference with the talent they have.

Michael Roll can shoot the rock from anywhere on the floor and is scoring 13.5 a game. Also, the Bruins have three other players averaging double figures. The player to watch on UCLA is Nikola Dragovic, who can propel them on a wild ride.

Dragovic has the size to take smaller defenders inside, but has the range to extend defenses. If Dragovic can get hot and stay sizzling throughout the tourney, UCLA has the talent to beat anyone.

No one can argue that Mike Montgomery’s Bears are the favorite entering the Pac-10 tournament, but if the Pac-10 regular season has taught us anything, expect the unexpected.


Here is my preview of the favorite, overrated, the dark horse, the no chance team, the game fans want to see, the upset special and the winner.

Favorite:

California Golden Bears 21-9, 13-5

The Bears have an outstanding team, fill with mostly upper classmen. Their starting five is the best in the Pac-10 and is led by the ultimate gamer Jerome Randle. But if Randle happens to struggle, they can go to their exceptional wing players Theo Robinson and Patrick Christopher. The two create mismatches for opposing teams with their size and ability to extend defenses. Fans and analyst forget that before the season began, Cal was ranked in the Top 15 and then the injury bug hit them. Now the Bears are healthy and they are rolling.

Overrated:

Arizona State Sun Devils 22-9, 12-6

ASU finished the season second in the standings and only one game behind California. Nevertheless, I do not believe they have the talent to beat a California or Washington on a neutral court. Remember tournaments are one and done games, ASU has struggled at times to score this season.

The Dark Horse:

Arizona Wildcats 16-14, 10-8

Maybe I am an Arizona homer but this team seems to have turned the corner since Momo Jones has taken over the point guard reigns and nailed the buzzer beater at Maples Pavilion. The Wildcats are young but have an experienced guard in Nic Wise. Also Wise does not want to be remembered as part of the team that snapped Arizona’s NCAA Tournament streak. Furthermore, Arizona got luck that USC is not participating because they are evenly matched with the Cats.

The no chance team

Oregon Ducks 15-15, 7-11

While I could have gone with the obvious with USC (since they are barred from participating in the Pac-10 tourney due to probation), the Ducks really have no chance. Ernie Kent appears to be on his way out of Eugene and his team seems to be heading south.

Game fans want to see:

Washington vs. California

Honestly, these are the two best teams in the conference. There is a reason both were ranked in the top 20 to start the season. Both have deep benches, athletic frontlines and phenomenal guard play. Additionally these are the two hottest teams down the stretch. If this matchup were to take place, the outcome will most likely be settled in who gets the better point guard play. Whoever plays better between Randle and Isaiah Thomas will win the game.

The upset special:

Stanford over Arizona State

I am not saying ASU is going to lose this game but this is the game that is most likely to be an upset. Fields is good enough to single-handedly take this game over and beat the Sun Devils. I believe the Devils do not have an answer for Fields.

The Winner:

Washington Huskies

Looking at the Huskies roster, they are the most complete team. They have good guard play, a scorer, an inside presence and a defensive stopper. That said they have at times they come out sluggish and play down to their competition. Despite that fact, the Huskies have been poised the second half of the year and Lorenzo Romar always has his teams up for big games.

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