UCLA received 33 of the 34 first-place votes in the league's preseason media poll on Thursday, suggesting the Bruins will dominate the league.
Rivals.com's preseason All Pac-10 team suggests otherwise. USC and Washington State both matched the Bruins with two selections apiece on the first and second teams. Arizona, Stanford, Oregon and Washington were all represented as well.
The freshmen team may be the most impressive group of any conference. Made up of five five-star recruits, each has the potential to leave school early for the NBA. That includes UCLA center Kevin Love, who many feel could give the Bruins the inside presence needed to capture a national title. Arizona State features wing James Harden, who turned down many perennial powers for the chance to ignite a turnaround at a rebuilding program.
Collison entered last season with a reputation as one of the nation's fastest players. Now, he's simply known as one of the nation's top point guards. In his first full year as a starter last season, Collison emerged as the catalyst for the Bruins' offense. He constantly attacked the basket and made good decisions in traffic. He ranked first in the league with 5.6 assists a game, second with a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio while averaging 12.7 ppg. Collison showed a much-improved outside shot, knocking down a league-high 44.7 percent of his 3-point attempts. He also led the league with 2.2 steals a game.
Expect Mayo to contend for the Pac-10 scoring title. The 6-5 guard has all the makings of a big-time scorer. A good outside shooter with deep range, Mayo possesses the explosiveness and athleticism to get to the basket and finish. Moreover, Mayo joins a team that is losing three double-digit scorers and desperately needs him to step up and take charge immediately.
There may not be a more versatile player in any conference. Weaver ranked second in the Pac-10 in steals (2.1 spg) and third in assists (4.6 apg) last season. The multi-dimensional veteran also managed to average 11.2 points and 5.6 rebounds a game. A great passer who prefers to give the ball up rather than shoot, his unselfish style is an ideal fit for the Cougars' balanced attack.
Budinger's decision not to enter the draft and stay in school was bad news for every opposing forward in the league. The former five-star recruit's size and tremendous leaping ability make him a tough matchup for most defenders. That showed last season when he averaged 15.6 points and 5.8 rebounds a game on his way to capturing the league's rookie of the year award. Look for those numbers to improve. With the loss of three of their four leading scorers, the Wildcats will be counting on him even more.
Blessed with a powerful frame, the athletic Gibson seemed to get better with every game last season. By the NCAA Tournament, Gibson looked like one of the nation's top big men. He averaged 17.0 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in postseason games versus Arkansas, Texas and North Carolina. Gibson completely outplayed UNC's Tyler Hansbrough, scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 boards against the Tar Heels while helping limit Hansbrough to a season-low five points. Gibson also led the Pac-10 with a 55.8 field-goal percentage last season.