Pac-10 Tournament - Los Angeles - Wednesday-Saturday
Storylines: All year long, we have touted the Pac-10 as the best and deepest conference from top to bottom. All you have to do is look at a team like Cal. The Bears were screwed by the refs out of a win at top dog UCLA this past weekend, and finished the season 15-14, 6-12 in the league. They have wins at Arizona State, at Washington State, and USC, three lock Tournament teams. The Pac-10 is the only major conference that plays a true round round and the Staples Center should be in for quite a show this weekend. UCLA is playing for a #1 seed while Oregon, Arizona, and Arizona State are playing to lock in their NCAA bids. To us, the Pac-10 is a seven bid league.
Wednesday Night opens with a doubleheader. The first tilt is between #8 Washington and #9 California. Both are very capable teams that boast big wins. The Huskies are one of only two teams that knocked off UCLA in conference play and have one of the best post men in the country you don't hear about in Jon Brockman. The 6-7 Junior averages 17 and 11. Their Guard play is very inconsistent with three-point specialist Ryan Appleby and Tim Morris and Justin Dentmon running the point. Quincy Pondexter is a capable wing, but suffered through a Sophomore slump. They will have there hands full with Cal's Ryan Anderson, who is our pick for Pac-10 Player of the Year. He averaged 21 and 10 for the year and can drop 30 on anyone at any time. Patrick Christopher is his his running mate. He too can score for anywhere on the court. DeVon Hardin is a defensive presence in the post that will find his way onto an NBA roster. The Bears don't possess much depth, and have little margin for error. The winner gets UCLA - you know Cal wants another crack.
The night-cap will be blowout city as #7 Arizona meets #10 Oregon State. The Wildcats have been in the news quite a bit of late with announcement of the return of coach Lute Olson coming next season coupled with the rumored riff between Olson and interim coach Kevin O'Neill. The team is probably in the Tournament, but could use two wins to solidify their status. One thing about the Cats is they have they have three NBA talents in G Jerryd Bayless, SF Chase Budinger, and PF Jordan Hill. PG Nic Wise returned after missing seven games where the team was 2-5 without him. They lack depth, but their five on the floor is usually as talented if not more talented than any team they face. They are an enigma though. They could easily win this whole tournament, or lose to Stanford in the quarterfinals. Oregon State in the meantime is the only team in Pac-10 history to not win a conference game. All you need to know is they finished 0-18 and haven't won a game since December 19th.
Thursday's quarterfinal day rivals the day the Big East will have across the country in New York. The 3 PM opener features #4 USC and #5 Arizona State. USC is a team that nobody wants to face. Not only to they have the great O.J. Mayo and another great Freshman in Davon Jefferson who has really come into his own, but coach Tim Floyd's changing defensive styles can really frustrate an opponent. They have shown they can shut anyone down, as they did in wins over UCLA, Stanford, and Arizona. Don't be surprised to see a box and one on Arizona State star James Hardin. The Freshman lefty leads the Sun Devils in scoring at 17.7 per game. The experts say they are on the bubble, so beating USC would really help their resume. The two teams split their regular season meetings and this should be a highly entertaining game. A matchup to watch will be USC's Taj Gibson and ASU's Jeff Pendergraft in the post.
#1 UCLA gets the winner of Cal and Washington. The Bruins come in as the Pac-10 regular season champion for a third straight year. They have battled injuries all year and have gotten their fair-share of luck, especially in the past week. The blown call against Stanford and the non-call against Cal won them two games on their home floor that they should have lost, but the one thing you can't discount is how this veteran team continues to fight through the final siren. They play stellar D, especially in the backcourt with Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison, and have something they didn't have during their last two Final Four runs; a true stud on the block in Kevin Love.
The evening session starts off with #3 Washington State and #6 Oregon. The Cougars couldn't be called a minor disappointment during the season. At 11-7 in league, they finished third, but this is a Senior laden team which lost on one player from their best team ever last year. They are as smart of a team as you will see, and are backcourt heavy, with Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, and Taylor Rochestie as their three leading scorers. Australian big man Aron Baynes must stay out of foul trouble. Forward Daven Harmerling may not have big numbers, but he is extremely clutch. Oregon is another bubble team that really could use a win in this game to feel safe. PG Tajuan Porter's ball-hogging caused a rift with his teammates during the season, but late in the year, he curbed it the team played better. the win over Arizona last weekend got them to 9-9 and put them close to a bid. A win over the Cougars is a must. They have an athletic advantage with Malik Hairston, and Bryce Taylor. Maarty Leunen should set out and bring Baynes away from the basket to open up the driving lanes for Porter.
After Arizona dispatches Oregon State, they will face the #2 seed Stanford. We felt the Cardinals got a raw deal at UCLA last week and they never recovered two days later against USC. This shouldn't spoil a great under the radar Pac-10 season. Brook Lopez is the best big man in the league (sorry Kevin Love) and single-handedly won several games for the Cardinal. His twin brother Robin is a defensive stopper and glue-guy in the post. Lawrence Hill has been sensational of late, but the key guy for Stanford is Anthony Goods. He is the team's only other double-digit scorer and the only guard who can create his own shot. Trent Johnson coaches a very smart ball club, but they have little margin for error when they play. We have a feeling for some reason that Arizona jumps up and bites them in the quarters.
Best Quarterfinal Matchup
#3 Washington State vs. #6 Oregon, #4 USC vs. #5 Arizona State, #2 Stanford vs. #7 Arizona
How can you pick between these three games? All of them carry major significance for the NCAA Tournament committee one way or another.
Juiciest Potential Matchup
#2 Stanford vs. #1 UCLA - You know the Cardinal want this one badly after they were jobbed big time by the refs last Thursday. We've seen the Lawrence Hill block...errrr....foul call on Darren Collison probably 20 times. It was still clean. A Stanford win would lock them into a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Players To Watch
Davon Jefferson, USC - Everyone talks about O.J. Mayo, but Jefferson is the real key Freshman playing for the Trojans. He plays lock down D and his a superior athlete.
Tajuan Porter, Oregon - The pint-sized PG has been chastised for his gunner mentality several times during the year, but when he gets going, watch out.
Chase Budinger, Arizona - The sweetest stroke in college hoops has been shaky of late. When Budinger is on, it opens up everything for the 'Cats offense and they have the ability to beat anyone.
Anthony Goods, Stanford - The one issue Stanford has is getting an outside game going as teams don't triple team Brook Lopez on the block. Goods is the man who will have to make shots for the Cardinal.
Aron Baynes, Washington State - The Australian big has to play up to his potential for the Cougars to make a deep run. When he stays out of foul trouble and is being fed all game long, Wazzu is a different team.
#9 Cal 90 #8 Washington 88
#7 Arizona 95 #10 Oregon State 68
#1 UCLA 75 #9 Cal 62
#4 USC 58 #5 Arizona State 55
#6 Oregon 77 #3 Washington State 76
#7 Arizona 82 #2 Stanford 79
#4 USC 54 #1 UCLA 51
#7 Arizona 89 #6 Oregon 85
#4 USC 70 #7 Arizona 63