November 3, 2007

Pac-10 loaded with power this season

Mayo, Love hope to lead L.A. revival | Notebook | All-Pac-10 teams

Preseason picks
Pac-10 predicted order of finish
1. UCLA*
2. USC*
3. Arizona*
4. Washington State*
5. Stanford*
6. Oregon*
7. Washington#
8. California#
9. Arizona State
10. Oregon State

Lorenzo Romar knows the history of Pac-10 basketball about as well as anyone. Washington's head coach since 2002, Romar was a player in the conference in the late 1970s and early 1980s and an assistant in the 1990s.

That's what makes Romar's comments at the Pac-10 media day on Thursday so extraordinary. Romar says the league is deeper than he has ever seen.

"I was fortunate enough to play in 1979 right when the Arizona schools joined the former Pac-8," Romar said. "I have never seen it this competitive from 1-10. There have been times when it has been tough at the top, 1-5, but never this tough from top to bottom."

We happen to agree. Eight Pac-10 teams are ranked in the top 33 of's preseason top 64, including the well-seasoned Huskies (No. 31).

The league is loaded with experience. UCLA, Oregon, Stanford and Washington State (who won a combined eight NCAA Tournament games last season) each return at least four starters.

The league is also loaded with young talent. Six five-star prospects signed with Pac-10 schools, including two apiece at Arizona and USC.

Here is's preview on the upcoming Pac-10 season.

Andrew Skwara's Pac-10 breakdown
Team on the rise
USC. The Trojans' run to the Sweet 16 in the 2007 NCAA Tournament was no one-year fluke. Coach Tim Floyd and his staff are stockpiling the program with the kind of talent normally reserved for elite programs. The Trojans landed the nation's No. 3 recruiting class for 2007, a group led by longtime prep phenom O.J. Mayo. The Trojans have received a commitment from the No. 2 overall prospect in the class of 2008, guard Demar DeRozan from Compton, Calif. The Trojans are also in the hunt for the No. 1-ranked prospects from the class of 2009 and 2010, Renardo Sidney and Jeremy Tyler. Both came to USC's Galen Center, which opened last season, for midnight madness. If the Trojans stay this hot on the recruiting trail, soon there will be two powerhouse college basketball programs in Los Angeles.
Team on the decline
None. Oregon lost star guard Aaron Brooks, but it didn't make sense to say a team returning four starters from an Elite Eight run is on the decline. Ducks coach Ernie Kent, who signed a five-year contract extension in the offseason, has the program headed in the right direction. The same can be said for every other program in the league besides Oregon State, which has struggled since last reaching the NCAA Tournament in 1990. Even Arizona State looks to be on the rise. Second-year coach Herb Sendek reeled in five-star wing James Harden, the kind of player around whom a program can be built.
Coach on the rise
Tony Bennett (Washington State) and Tim Floyd (USC). There have been first-year coaches who enjoyed more success, but perhaps none surpassed expectations more than the 38-year-old Bennett. Nobody expected much from the Cougars in 2006-07. The Pac-10's longtime cellar-dweller was picked to finish ninth or 10th in the league by nearly every preseason publication. The Cougars ended up in second, tied a school record set in 1941 with 26 wins and won the school's first NCAA Tournament game in 24 years. Bennett, who was's 2006-07 national coach of the year, deserves a large chunk of the credit. Nearly every key player enjoyed the best season of his career. Floyd's coaching stock is also moving up at a rapid pace after leading the Trojans to a surprising run to the Sweet 16, where they nearly knocked off top-seeded North Carolina. The Trojans were great on defense, holding opponents to 39.0 percent shooting from the field and 31.0 percent from 3-point range. Both stats led the Pac-10. The Trojans have been even better on the recruiting trail, landing a handful of elite prospects over the last two years.
Coach on the hot seat
Jay John, Oregon State. There are few positives to draw from John's first five seasons in Corvallis. The Beavers finished above .500 only once in that period. The program reached a new low last season, going 11-21, the worst record of John's tenure. The Beavers went 3-15 in league play. Nobody is asking John to get the Beavers into the NCAA Tournament, but they must become more competitive. Another finish near the bottom of the league, which looks likely considering the Pac-10's depth, could cost John his job.
Best offensive player
O.J. Mayo, USC. If the NBA hadn't put a new age limit into place last year, Mayo already would have played in his first NBA game by now. Instead, the 6-5 guard brings his polished game to the Trojans, who are desperate for offense after losing three double-digit scorers (Nick Young, Gabe Pruitt and Lodrick Stewart). A dangerous scorer, Mayo is a good outside shooter (ignore his 4-of-17 shooting performance in the 2007 McDonald's All-American game) who can also attack the basket and get to the free-throw line. Mayo, who will turn 20 before the season begins, also has great vision and has the potential to be a good distributor.
Best 3-point shooter
Tajuan Porter, Oregon. How can a 5-6 guard get his shot off in the college ranks? That's not a question being asked anymore in Eugene. The diminutive Porter knocked down a Pac-10 freshman record 110 3-pointers last season, a key factor in a 29-win campaign at Oregon - which included a Pac-10 Tournament title. Armed with remarkable range, many of Porter's 3-pointers came from beyond the NBA line. He hit 43.7 percent (110-of-252) of his attempts from beyond the arc, which ranked fourth in the league.
Best defensive player
Darren Collison, UCLA. Bruins coach Ben Howland doesn't have to worry about finding a way to get on-the-ball pressure on opposing point guards. That's because he has Collison. The fastest player in the Pac-10 (both of Collison's parents were sprinters in the Pan-American Games), the 6-1 junior excels at hounding other floor generals. He averaged a league-high 2.2 steals a game last season.
Best player you don't know yet
Frantz Dorsainvil, Oregon. The Ducks will be a bigger, more physical team thanks to the addition of this 6-8, 260-pound junior college transfer. Dorsainvil, a native of Haiti who grew up in Montreal, isn't much of a scoring threat. However, he's a good rebounder who creates havoc around the basket. That kind of size and game will complement athletic wing Malik Hairston and big man Maarty Leunen, who both like to operate on the perimeter.
Deepest bench
Washington State. Here's a scary thought for the rest of the league: Bennett has more options to tinker with than last season. Not only do the internationally inclined Cougars return every starter, but they also add guards Thomas Abercrombie (from Australia) and Nikola Koprivica (Serbia). Each is expected to play significant minutes. Abercrombie is coming off a redshirt year and Koprivica is healthy after missing most of last season with a knee injury. Freshman Fabian Boeke, a 6-11 forward from Germany, is also expected to contribute.
Impact newcomer
Kevin Love, UCLA. If the Bruins fall just short of a national title again they've been to consecutive Final Fours it won't be because of the lack of a dominating big man. The 6-10, 260-pound Love,'s top-ranked center from the 2007 class, will give the team a new dimension. A great rebounder, Love excels at getting position around the basket. Also a terrific outlet passer, he'll help ignite more fast breaks.
Freshman sleeper
Angelo Johnson, USC. Five-star prospects O.J. Mayo and Davon Jefferson have garnered nearly all of the attention when it comes to UCS's 2007 recruiting class, but Johnson could also play a key role. The Trojans coaches were elated to learn that the lightning-quick 5-10 point guard, who was part of the 2008 class, became eligible in September. With guard Daniel Hackett out with a broken jaw that may force him to miss some games, Johnson may be asked to start immediately. Even when Hackett returns, expect Johnson to be a significant part of the rotation.
News and notes
Stanford power forward Brook Lopez, one of the league's top big men, is indefinitely suspended for violation of team rules. While it is unclear how long Lopez will be out, he'll miss at least nine games because of academic issues. Cal center DeVon Hardin, a projected first-round draft pick, chose to pull out of the draft and stay in school. Cal point guard Jerome Randle is expected to miss three weeks after recently undergoing a kidney biopsy. Washington guard Ryan Appleby recently fractured his thumb and will be out for roughly six weeks, which means more playing time for Stanford transfer Tim Morris. Porter is expected to move over to point guard on a full-time basis to replace Brooks. Arizona guard Jawann McClellan lost 15 pounds in the offseason in an effort to cure the nagging knee problems that slowed him down over the final month of last season. Oregon State boasts one of the nation's top transfers in former Kansas forward C.J. Giles. ... Stanford and Oregon State both played exhibition games in Italy this past summer and Washington did the same in Greece. No freshmen were allowed on the trips.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for He can be reached at

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