Huskies got a worthwhile win last week over Texas A&M. In their only two trips outside Edmundson Pavilion, they lost to Texas Tech and Georgetown.
Teams listed in predicted order of finish
1. Washington (9-2)
Coach: Lorenzo Romar (8th year, 154-83).
Top scorer: F Quincy Pondexter (21.9).
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Résumé: Huskies got a worthwhile win last week over Texas A&M. In their only two trips outside Edmundson Pavilion, they lost to Texas Tech and Georgetown.
Telling stat: UW has a plus-8.7 rebounding margin, best in the Pac-10.
Revelation: Pondexter has elevated his game significantly from a junior season in which he was the team’s fourth-leading scorer. His shooting, rebounding and free throw numbers are all up dramatically.
Shortfall: Freshman G Abdul Gaddy hasn’t been the immediate sensation some expected, shooting .315, but he’s back in the starting lineup and should be able to focus on playmaking and defending.
Bottom line: Home-body Huskies are tough to judge, but they’ve had spurts of dominance such as the blowout victory over Portland on Dec. 19. Perimeter shooting has been an Achilles — the UW is likely to see considerable zone — and G Isaiah Thomas has slumped recently. If Huskies can develop a reliable third scorer behind Pondexter and Thomas, they figure to be tough to dethrone in the Pac-10.
2. California (8-4)
Coach: Mike Montgomery (2nd year, 28-15).
Top scorer: G Jerome Randle (19.3).
Résumé: Bears’ losses are to teams with a combined 50-3 record, including unbeatens Syracuse and Kansas. There’s nothing approaching a marquee win.
Telling stat: Randle, who has been to the line more than any other Bear, shoots .932 on free throws.
Revelation: Chinese sophomore C Max Zhang (7-3) has been useful in his 13 minutes a game, leading the team in blocks (18) and changing shots inside.
Shortfall: Harper Kamp, a productive, savvy post defender who contributed heavily last year, is out for the season after knee surgery.
Bottom line: Cal’s respectable effort at Kansas Dec. 22 — it trailed by five with eight minutes left before losing by 15 — may be indicative of Bears’ potential. They have four scorers in double figures, and — notwithstanding Kamp’s injury — are relatively whole after senior forward Theo Robertson missed much of the preconference schedule with a foot injury. A definite threat to win the league.
3. USC (8-4)
Coach: Kevin O’Neill (1st year, 8-4).
Top scorer: G Mike Gerrity (14.8).
Résumé: Trojans enter the Pac-10 with more momentum than anybody, thanks to a two-week stretch in which they throttled Tennessee (then No. 9), beat Saint Mary’s and upset UNLV (20th).
Telling stat: Soph forward Nikola Vucevic (6-10), a bit player last year, is averaging 13.0 points and 9.8 rebounds.
Revelation: Gerrity, a 6-1 double-transfer (Pepperdine, Charlotte) is Pac-10 player of the week after becoming eligible only in mid-December. He’s shooting 53 percent.
Shortfall: Donte Smith is the one who will suffer with Gerrity’s arrival. He was struggling, with a negative assist-turnover ratio.
Bottom line: USC seems to have come out of nowhere, with Gerrity on board and F Leonard Washington back after being academically ineligible. With 2008-09 leading scorer Dwight Lewis on hand, Vucevic’s emergence and North Carolina transfer Alex Stepheson contributing heavily (10.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg), the Trojans suddenly look like a club that may challenge for an NCAA bid.
4. UCLA (5-7)
Coach: Ben Howland (7th year, 157-61).
Top scorer: G Malcolm Lee (14.5).
Résumé: It’s mostly brutal for the Bruins, who lost all three games (Portland, Butler and Long Beach State) in the 76 Classic in Anaheim in November. They have played better of late, however.
Telling stat: Bruins are shooting only .607 from the foul line.
Revelation: Freshman F Reeves Nelson (6-8) has been productive as a starter since Drew Gordon exited the program, averaging 12.8 points and seven rebounds over six games.
Shortfall: F Nikola Dragovic, a 38 percent three-point shooter last year, is at 22 percent.
Bottom line: Howland is caught with a youthful team, partly the result of early NBA departures and some recruiting mistakes on big men. They’ve also been peppered by injuries; seven players have missed at least a week of practice. But freshman F Tyler Honeycutt is back after a tibia injury, and this is a team that should make strides in the conference.
5. Washington State (10-2)
Coach: Ken Bone (1st year, 10-2).
Top scorer: Klay Thompson (25.0).
Résumé: Cougars’ best victory was last week against LSU. Their blowouts are against lesser competition. WSU blew a double-digit lead deep into the second half at Gonzaga.
Telling stat: WSU has shot 335 free throws, only 111 short of last year’s ending number. Thompson has shot 87, compared to 31 last season.
Revelation: Rainier Beach High product Reggie Moore has been dynamic as a freshman point guard, shooting well (.488 on field goals, .851 at the foul line) and holding a 2.4 assist-turnover ratio.
Shortfall: Australian freshman forward Brock Motum needs to develop strength and size. He’s averaging only seven minutes a game.
Bottom line: Bone is happy with WSU’s adaptation to a more uptempo style, as offense has come easily to the Cougars, who are shooting .498 compared to .434 a year ago. The concerns are that WSU doesn’t have enough scorers around Thompson and that DeAngelo Casto, the only real inside force, doesn’t wear down or face foul trouble. Still, Cougars look promising for some sort of tournament berth.
6. Arizona State (10-3)
Coach: Herb Sendek (4th year, 64-48).
Top scorer: F Rihard Kuksiks (11.8).
Résumé: Sun Devils have mostly taken care of business against a modest schedule, but also have a 19-point blowout of LSU and lost to Duke only by 11.
Telling stat: ASU is shooting .484 and allowing only .380.
Revelation: Senior G Derek Glasser is showing he can play without James Harden and Jeff Pendergraft, shooting 48 percent on threes with almost a 3-1 assist-turnover ratio.
Shortfall: Freshman forward Victor Rudd (6-7), a highly regarded recruit from L.A. and Findlay Prep, got eligible in mid-November, but hasn’t yet translated his extreme athleticism to production. He averages seven minutes.
Bottom line: A consensus second-division pick, Sun Devils are as surprising as anybody in the league, doing it at both ends. They’ve been most surprising offensively, with a nifty 1.29 team assist-turnover ratio — 2.52 by their top three scorers, Kuksiks, Glasser and Jamelle McMillan. ASU has to be considered a serious first-division threat.
7. Arizona (6-6)
Coach: Sean Miller (1st year at UA, 6-6).
Top scorer: G Nic Wise (16.3).
Résumé: ‘Zona’s traditionally nasty preconference schedule was more than the Wildcats could handle, as they lost to Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, UNLV, Oklahoma and, in a 30-point home shellacking Monday night, to BYU.
Telling stat: ‘Cats are shooting only .444.
Revelation: Former USC commitments Derrick Williams and Solomon Hill, both forwards, are the real deal as freshmen, combining to average 24.3 ppg.
Shortfall: Ukrainian center Kyryl Natyazhko has been inconsistent and is getting only 13 minutes a game.
Bottom line: Miller has installed motion offense and man-to-man defense but inherits the residue of the turmoil around Arizona in recent years. The Wildcats have a 25-year streak of getting to NCAA tournaments, but that will end this season unless they can win the Pac-10 tournament. On the bright side, they’re young, as battle-tested this year as any Pac-10 team, and could find their way to the first division.
8. Oregon (8-4)
Coach: Ernie Kent (13th year, 227-161).
Top scorer: G Tajuan Porter (11.0)
Résumé: Against one of the league’s fluffier schedules, Ducks haven’t done much to distinguish themselves, losing to Portland and Saint Mary’s, and getting blown away at Missouri.
Telling stat: In a recent two-game stretch, every UO point was scored by a freshman or sophomore.
Revelation: Freshman E.J. Singler (6-6) has been a pleasant surprise, a savvy, hard-nosed player who has led the Ducks in rebounding the last three games.
Shortfall: Ducks have been injury-plagued as Porter just returned from an ankle sprain, forward Joevan Catron is iffy going forward with a back problem and guard Matt Humphrey is out at least well into January with a knee injury.
Bottom line: In a key year for Kent, the Ducks badly need to get production from center Michael Dunigan, especially in a league without big men. He has showed signs, averaging 18.7 points the last three games. Unless Dunigan develops, Porter shoots judiciously and the Ducks get healthier, this is a second-division team.
9. Oregon State (6-5)
Coach: Craig Robinson (2nd year, 24-23).
Top scorer: G Seth Tarver (13.4).
Résumé: One of the gloomiest in the league, with bad losses against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Sacramento State and Illinois-Chicago.
Telling stat: Beavers have only a 0.66 team assist-turnover ratio.
Revelation: After a major jump last year to competitiveness, few would have foreseen OSU’s struggles with a veteran team .
Shortfall: Freshman G Roberto Nelson, among the most talented players in the program, only began practicing recently but can’t yet play because of a drawn-out eligibility issue with the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Bottom line: Beavers are turning it over significantly more (3 ½ per game) than in their CBI-winning season, and shooting the three more poorly (.322). They’re asking a lot of Tarver, who leads them in scoring, rebounds and assists, but unless he or somebody else settles them down, OSU looks bound for the second division.
10. Stanford (6-6)
Coach: Johnny Dawkins (2nd year, 26-20).
Top scorer: F Landry Fields (23.4).
Résumé: Cardinal has shown more in its losses than its wins, taking Kentucky to overtime and losing competitively to Oklahoma State, Northwestern and Texas Tech.
Telling stat: Stanford allows a league-worst .459 field-goal percentage.
Revelation: Fields has blossomed into a complete player, having led the Cardinal in scoring and rebounding in all but one game.
Shortfall: F Josh Owens, possibly the best athlete on the team, is sidelined with what is believed to be a heart condition and may not play again for Stanford.
Bottom line: Cardinal has gotten 40 points a game from Fields and G Jeremy Green, but it’s questionable whether there will be consistent scoring elsewhere on a team that lost four of its top 2008-09 starters. Dawkins wants to play fast, but doesn’t yet have the pieces to achieve it.