By Craig Edwards
If your favorite college football team is doing well (like the Oregon Ducks), then there's something you may not have noticed this November. However, if your team isn't doing so good (like my WSU Cougars), then you've actually been waiting with great anticipation for that same something.
It's two simple words... COLLEGE BASKETBALL.
Yes, the college basketball season is upon us, with most teams tipping-off their non-conference schedules this week.
If you live on the East Coast, start investing in those caffeine sources now, because if you want to watch the best basketball this year, you'll have to stay up late. That's because the Pac-10 will be the best conference in college basketball this year, with a legitimate chance of sending 7 teams to the NCAA Tournament.
That being said, how is the conference going to play out? Here's how I think the teams will finish.
Just to be different, let's start at the bottom and work our way up.
10. Oregon State
Sorry Beaver fans, but this is your spot. OSU head coach Jay John faces an uphill task, one that could see him heading to the unemployment line. Senior Marcel Jones will have to carry this very young squad. However, I don't think he'll be enough to outdo the more experienced teams in the conference, unless those teams have really bad nights.
9. Arizona State
The Sun Devils have seen a couple of good recruiting classes over the last couple of years. Look for them to be what Wazzu was a few years back, a team that is down right tough to play. It probably won't translate into a lot of wins this year, but should over the next couple of years.
The Golden Bears get this spot because... well, because somebody has to. They're a scary team, who could very well sneak into the NCAA Tournament depending on what happens in the other power conferences.
The Cardinal would be a lot higher, but Brooke Lopez forgot how to get to his classes (it is called "College" basketball for a reason). His indefinite suspension deprives the Cardinal of perhaps its main scoring threat. Lopez's twin brother Robin is enough of a defensive presence to stop teams, but somebody will have to make up Brooke's scoring load.
The Huskies would be higher if Spencer Hawes had stayed this year, but he's playing in Sacramento now. That being said, the Huskies still have loads of talent. If they can overcome the problems that have plagued them since losing Brandon Roy, they'll be right in the mix.
The Wildcats lose their big trio from last year (Ivan Radenovic, Mustafa Shakur & Marcus Williams made up almost 44 points a game), but with those three guys, Zona really underachieved. This may be a case of addition by subtraction, as it allows others like Chase Budinger to shine. On the downside, coach Lute Olson has taken leave for personal reasons. I don't know how that will affect his squad.
Everyone seems to have fallen in love with this team, thanks in large part to Special Guest Star OJ Mayo (if you have any doubts that he's one year and gone, erase them now). Some analysts have even picked them to finish in second place. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. The Trojans lost Nick Young to the NBA, who was the player that really made the them dangerous. It will be interesting to see what Mayo can do, but he's not building a dynasty at Southern Cal.
Before Duck fans accuse me of homerism, let me say that I like this Oregon team (as much as I can like any UO team). They have 4 starters back from last year's Elite 8 squad. Unfortunately though, none of them are named Aaron Brooks. I think losing him will cost the Ducks two or three games they won last year, which is enough to keep them in third.
2. Washington State
Good news: Almost everybody is back from last year. Bad News: The Cougs aren't surprising anyone. In fact, expectations are high on the Palouse. They do have the players to do it, as Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low lead an experienced team. This is probably the best defensive team in the conference, even without Ivory Clark.
Last year's champs aren't giving up their crown without a fight. Add Lake Oswego's Kevin Love to the mix, and this team is awesome. They have the firepower of Oregon with the defensive toughness of Washington State. They're my pick (outside the Cougs of course) to win it all in March.