The College Basketball Notebook

December 21, 2010 6:38 AM

Washington's The Best In The Pac-10

JustinHoliday.jpgWashington was in contention in the Pac-10 throughout last season, ultimately finishing second and making it into the NCAA Tournament. Even though star forward Quincy Pondexter is gone from that team, this year's Huskies look ready to step up and win the Pac-10 when the league begins conference play after Christmas.

The Huskies have replaced Pondexter with a solid forward combination of Justin Holiday and Matthew Bryan-Amaning, both of whom rebound and score in double figures. The backcourt is in good hands, as little Isaiah Thomas averages 15 points per game and Abdul Gaddy distributes the ball. What makes this team particularly interesting is the presence of Azi N'Diaye, a 7-footer who's only averaging 16 minutes per game, but is already a rebounding factor. If he gets more minutes and becomes a defensive force, that could be the difference between Washington being a good Pac-10 team and a real factor on the national scene.

Cal won the league a year ago and if you go solely on December resume, theirs is the best. They've beaten Temple and also have a road win at Iowa State. The losses are mostly respectable ones to the likes of Notre Dame, Boston College and San Diego State, with another to Southern Miss mixed in. They draw Kansas tomorrow so there's no doubt Mike Montgomery's team enters league action thoroughly toughened and sharp. My question about them is whether they have the component parts to become a championship team. There's a good foundation of forward Harper Kamp and guard Jorge Guiterrez, making a nice inside-out combination. They have a post presence in Markhuri Sanders-Frison. Whether they get Washington's depth will come down to the development of freshmen forwards Allen Crabbe and Richard Solomon and whether Montgomery can figure out a way to get Guiterrez some backcourt help.

Arizona is a work in progress, built around the superlative talents of Derrick Williams, who scores 19 ppg and grabs seven rebounds a game. Head coach Sean Miller is working with a lot of young players, mostly sophomores--as is Williams--to fill in the gaps around him. Right now, no one has really stood up. Miller's a good coach and may find a way to ride Williams to the NCAAs, but this is a team a year away from being a real contender.

UCLA & USC not only share a city, their basketball teams share similar profiles. Each team is very balanced, getting contributions from all five starters, but lacking depth. Each is led up by a forward, Tyler Honeycutt for the Bruins and Nikola Vucevic for the Trojans. Neither has really played well in December--the Trojans have lost to Rider, Bradley, Nebraska and TCU, while the Bruins have fallen to Villanova, Virginia Commonwealth and Montana. Each has dropped a very close game to Kansas. In summation, each has the pieces to contend, but has yet to put them together consistently. My regard for UCLA coach Ben Howland is high enough to think he'll do it. I'm not as sure of USC and Kevin O'Neill.

A conference like this, where no one is really outstanding, always offers the possibility of a dark horse. Washington State offers the best shot. The Cougars have already beaten Gonzaga and been competitive against Kansas State. They also have an elite player in all-everything Klay Thompson, who averages 21 ppg, and both rebounds and distributes. Thompson has some help in Faisel Aiden, scoring 17 ppg and DeAngelo Casto who rebounds and scores in double digits. These three players log a lot of minutes, so they need to get some depth and this program has to prove it can win consistently in league action. But they're worth keeping an eye on.

Some other players worth noting are Arizona State's Trent Lockett, a forward, who's averaging a line of 16/7 per game, Oregon's Joevan Catron (17/7) and Stanford's Jeremy Green who scores 16 per game. Overall, the talent base in the Pac-10 looks better at forward than at guard, a likely explanation why conference teams don't mesh as well as their component parts sometimes look, as its guards that make things run well.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in the NFL, coverage of college basketball.  and bowl commentary in college football. 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.

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