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Deep Pac-10 looks to NCAAs

On College Hoops
by: STEPHEN DUNN, Lake Oswego product Kevin Love, now a Bruin, shoots over Idaho State’s Lucas Steijn earlier this month. Love’s the top scorer for UCLA.

Some people think as many as seven of the Pac-10 teams could make the NCAA Tournament this year.

In fact, a good argument could be made that every team except Oregon State could make the NCAAs. Somebody has to lose games, and OSU appears to be an ideal candidate, with Washington and Arizona State right ahead of the Beavers.

'It's a deep, deep league,' Washington State coach Tony Bennett says. 'It'll be an exciting year for the fans, I imagine.'

UCLA coach Ben Howland says of the favorite label on his team: 'I've never put stock in any predictions. It's the toughest league in the country, top to bottom.'

Without further adieu, here is our alphabetical look at the Pac-10, which starts conference play Thursday (preseason records in parentheses):

Arizona (9-2)

Scorers: 6-5 freshman Jerryd Bayless, 18.5 points per game (fifth in the Pac-10); 6-8 sophomore Chase Budinger, 15.6 (10th); 6-10 sophomore Jordan Hill, 13.5 (16th)

The skinny: Interim coach Kevin O'Neill will succeed Lute Olson when he retires; Olson, dealing with personal issues, will not be back this season. O'Neill has coached in the NBA and had NCAA success, notably at Marquette. … Slick and quick, Bayless, from Phoenix, helps the Wildcats lead the Pac-10 in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio. … Hill is a shot blocker and good shooter (.637 from the field).

Of note: Arizona closes out its preseason schedule against Memphis on Saturday.

Arizona State (9-2)

Scorers: 6-4 freshman James Harden, 16.5 (eighth); 6-9 junior Jeff Pendergraph, 12.5 (19th)

The skinny: Harden, from Los Angeles, 'is a real team guy,' coach Herb Sendek says. 'Very unselfish. He's really consumed with getting better. He knows how to play team basketball.' … Jamelle McMillan, son of Trail Blazer coach Nate McMillan, is on the team. 'He's not the kind of player who's going to go out and look for his shot at the expense of others,' Sendek says.

Of note: Steve Jones, a walk-on from Jesuit High, is on the roster.

California (7-2)

Scorers: 6-10 sophomore Ryan Anderson, 22.8 (first); 6-5 sophomore Patrick Christopher, 18.7 (fourth)

The skinny: Many people believe Anderson, who also is averaging 9.8 rebounds and shooting .849 from the free-throw line to lead the Pac-10, could be the league's player of the year. … Christopher, who is playing the second most minutes in the Pac-10, has been the team's most improved player. … The Bears score 78.8 points per game, second in the league. … 6-11 DeVin Hardin leads the league in rebounding (11.0) and ranks second in blocks (2.11).

Of note: Injuries have hurt, notably to 6-6 Theo Robertson, who may be back.

Oregon (8-3)

Scorers: 6-6 senior Malik Hairston, 16.0 (sixth); 5-6 sophomore Tajuan Porter, 15.9 (ninth); 6-4 senior Bryce Taylor, 14.8 (12th); 6-9 senior Maarty Leunen, 14.5 (14th)

The skinny: The four returning starters from UO's Elite Eight team have been complemented by energetic 6-6 Joevan Catron. … The Ducks lead the Pac-10 in scoring (86.2) and rank 10th in scoring defense (74.9). 'We haven't played with the right intensity level,' coach Ernie Kent says. 'If there's an area we miss Aaron Brooks, everybody says offensively, but I'd say defensively.' … Hairston is shooting .526 to lead UO's trademark 3-point arsenal. … Coming off a bad loss to Oakland, the Ducks play Mount St. Mary's at home tonight.

Of note: Oregon starts Pac-10 play at the Arizona schools.

Oregon State (6-5)

Scorers: 6-5 sophomore Seth Tarver, 15.2 (11th); 6-7 senior Marcel Jones, 13.5 (T16th)

The skinny: Jesuit High's Tarver may be the Pac-10's most improved player. But his brother Josh's shooting has been off. … The Beavers rank last in the Pac-10 in scoring (64.2) and shooting (.401) - all nine other teams have shooting percentages of .476 or better. … Oregon State wraps up preseason play against Montana State on Sunday.

Of note: C.J. Giles has fouled out in three of his four games. ' 'Rusty' is a fair term,' coach Jay John says of the 6-11 post, who became eligible in early December. 'He's out of shape, and his timing and rhythm are off. … He needs to be on the floor for 30-plus minutes for us.'

Stanford (10-1)

Scorer: 6-3 junior Anthony Goods, 12.8 (18th)

The skinny: The Cardinal rank in the top three in the Pac-10 in several categories, including scoring defense (56.4), scoring margin (plus-21.9), field-goal percentage (.499), field-goal defense (.384), 3-point shooting (.415), rebounding margin (13.5) and blocked shots (4.8). The stats kind of say it all - it's a well-balanced team, led by point guard Mitch Johnson. The Cardinal are whole again, with the return of Brook Lopez from academic ineligibility, as he joins fellow 7-footer brother Robin Lopez on the front line.

Of note: 'He's embarrassed at the situation he put himself in,' coach Trent Johnson says of Brook Lopez.

UCLA (11-1)

Scorers: 6-10 freshman Kevin Love, 16.7 (seventh); 6-5 junior Josh Shipp, 14.8 (13th); 6-1 junior Darren Collison, 12.5 (20th)

The skinny: Not only getting offensive touches, Lake Oswego High's Love is shooting .590 from the field and chipping in 10.3 rebounds. With Love, Lorenzo Mata-Real and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA has a plus-10.9 rebounding margin. … Dealing with a knee injury, Collison leads Pac-10 in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.57-to-1), while Russell Westbrook leads in assists (5.67). … The Bruins are allowing 54.2 points, second in the league.

Of note: Love plays at UO on Jan. 24 and OSU on Jan. 26.

USC (8-3)

Scorers: 6-5 freshman O.J. Mayo, 19.5 (second); 6-8 freshman Davon Jefferson, 13.6 (15th)

The skinny: The Trojans have great young talent in Mayo, Jefferson and sophomores Daniel Hackett and Taj Gibson. … Mayo, from Huntington, W.Va., is shooting .457 and leads the Pac-10 in minutes (36.09). … Hackett is tied for first in 3-point shooting (.560), and the Trojans hit at a league-leading .420 clip. … Defensively, they do OK. 'You can't make guys play hard if they don't have it inside of them,' coach Tim Floyd says. 'These guys are competitive.'

Of note: Two players, Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt, jumped early to the NBA.

Washington (7-4)

Scorer: 6-7 junior Jon Brockman, 18.9 (third)

The skinny: The Huskies lost Spencer Hawes to the NBA, but Brockman appears to have improved, averaging 10.9 rebounds. … UW has some veterans - Brockman, Ryan Appleby, Justin Dentmon and Quincy Pondexter. But, again, it's a tough league. … Washington is giving up 72.2 points (ninth in the Pac-10) and .473 shooting (by far the worst in the conference, with UO at ninth at .418).

Of note: Seven-foot Joe Wolfinger, from Portland, is one of the team's best 3-point shooters.

Washington State (11-0)

Scorers: None in the top 20 of the Pac-10.

The skinny: That's right, the No. 4 Cougars don't have a big scorer, but they boast plenty of balance - 6-2 senior Derrick Low and 6-10 junior Aron Baynes are at 11.8 points per game, with Kyle Weaver (11.2), Taylor Rochestie (9.9) and Robbie Cowgill (9.5) right behind. … The Cougs allow a league-low 51.7 points and .372 field-goal shooting. They score only 69.3 points, but shoot a league-high .513 from the field and .772 on free throws.

Of note: 'We don't blow people away with our talent,' Bennett says.


Picking the Pac-10

Team • Record • Comment

1. UCLA 13-5 Kevin Love bonds with Final Four team

2. Washington State 12-6 Team basketball personified, under Tony Bennett

T3. USC 11-7 Good luck competing with athletes

T3. Oregon 11-7 Veteran leadership, but depth is a concern

5. Arizona 10-8 Super frosh Jerryd Bayless leads the way

T6. California 9-9 Ryan Anderson leads better offense

T6. Stanford 9-9 Options other than Lopez twins?

8. Arizona State 6-12 Still not good enough for NCAAs

9. Washington 5-13 Will struggle with defense

10. Oregon State 4-14 Who else could be 10th?