Arizona was up and down a lot last year in the start of the Sean Miller era. Miller brings back a good forward trio headed up by sophomore Derrick Williams, giving the Wildcats the most stable base to build off of in this league. UCLA & Cal deserve respect more because of the achievements of their coaches--Ben Howland and Mike Montgomery will find a way to produce a team that plays hard and in a conference like this that alone puts them in the mix. It won't be the personnel--the Golden Bears lose all five starters from last year's Pac-10 champs and the Bruins come off a rough year with just the inside-out combo of Malcolm Lee and Reeves Nelson to build off. I'd rate Washington a step behind this group of teams, but with potentially explosive point guard Isaiah Thomas and a track record of recent success under Lorenzo Romar, the Huskies could make some noise.
Elsewhere, no one stands out, good or bad. Arizona State has a quality coach in Herb Sendek, who's produced winning teams both here and at N.C. State, so thinking he'll do it again with sharpshooting Ty Abbot and scoring swingman Rihard Kukskiks is a reasonable guess. Oregon has a new coach in Dana Altman, who won at Creighton, and if he can push center Michael Dunigan to become a real post threat, the Ducks can zoom up the ladder quickly. Oregon State & Stanford each have a lone gunman, Calvin Haynes and Jeremy Green, respectively. Kevin O'Neill's USC program has very little to work with and will take time to rebuild, but O'Neill has always been a master architect, both as an assistant and a head coach. Washington State can work with the duo of DeAngelo Casto and Reggie Moore. All in all, it adds up to a conference that anybody can win right now, if only because there's no real contender to hold down the fort.
The preseason tournaments start in earnest tonight with the Coaches vs. Cancer semi-finals at Madison Square Garden. Illinois-Texas and Maryland-Pitt is on the docket, with the championship and consolation going Friday.
Image from tucsoncitizen.com
Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.