We continue our look at College Basketball Conference play with a closer look at the Pac 10 this week. Arizona was in everybody’s pre-season Top Five, but they’ve had an extremely difficult season, while Stanford is the only team to beat Duke and are undefeated and number one in the nation. UCLA is beginning to play to the level of their talent, and USC is a good team with a legitimate chance to be dancing come March.
One look at Arizona’s roster and it’s immediately clear that the Wildcats have a wealth of talent. But the Wildcats are finding out that talent doesn’t necessarily insure success. The death of Lute Olsen’s wife, and his subsequent departure from the team, has left Arizona scrambling to find a winning combination. Senior forward, and team leader, Eugene Edgerson didn’t accompany the team on their trip north over the past weekend, and may not play again for Arizona. He has been unhappy with his playing time over recent weeks and is reevaluating his hoops career. The fact that the Wildcats have played one of the toughest schedules in the country hasn’t helped their record either. They’ve already lost to Purdue, Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi State and Stanford, all teams who’ve spent time in the Top 25 this season. Still, Arizona has too much talent to continue losing. Their starting lineup is loaded with future pros in Michael Wright, Loren Woods, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Gardner, and they have solid players like Richard Jefferson, Luke Walton and Justin Wessell to fill out the rotation.
Stanford did not play a difficult non-conference, at least not until they played Duke. That was the game that really served notice for the Cardinal. They trailed throughout, but were able to rally in the second half, behind backup guard Julius Barnes, and beat the Dukies at the end. Since conference play began, the Cardinal are playing terrific basketball. Stanford is a team built on great size, with the Collins brothers, Jarron and Jason, and fine shooters in Casey Jacobsen and Ryan Mendez. With both of the Collins twins in the starting lineup, Stanford has never lost, and they provide the Cardinal with interior scoring that allows their shooters to find open spaces on the floor. Jacobsen may be the top shooting guard in the nation. He is shooting 50% from three-point range, and leads the team, averaging almost 18 points per game. Mendez is a sweet-shooting forward, who has the size to get his shot off in almost any situation. He is the team’s fourth leading scorer, behind Jacobsen and the Collins boys, and is hitting just under 50% of his field goal attempts. Michael McDonald is the team’s point guard, and he is also a dangerous shooter, while Curtis Borchardt, Tony Giovacchini and Barnes give Stanford some serious depth.
UCLA is an inconsistent team, making them extremely unpredictable, but they have a couple of the best players in the country, and can compete with any team on any given night. They are coming off a big win over cross-town rival USC, and are playing very well right now. Jason Kapono has had a tough year. He is shooting just 42% from the field, and has had trouble dealing with the extra attention opponents are giving him this season. But Kapono is still one of the best shooters in the country, and is the kind of player who can control a game all by himself. Point guard Earl Watson is averaging nearly 16 points and six assists per game, as well as shooting the ball well. The rest of the Bruins’ roster is littered with talented, but young or underachieving players. UCLA is still waiting for center Dan Gadzuric to deliver on his promise. He is leading the team in rebounding, and averages almost 13 points per game, but he shoots well under 50% from the free throw line, and disappears against strong competition.
The other L.A. team, USC, is thinking about the tournament after coming close the last couple of seasons, but losing to Northwestern earlier in the season won’t help. In spite of that loss, USC has the ability to win a lot of games the rest of the season. The Trojans’ biggest strength is their frontcourt, where their three leading scorers reside. Sam Clancy leads the way for USC, with averages of 18 points and seven rebounds. Brian Scalabrine contributes more than 15 points per game, while David Bluthenthal goes for about 15 a night, while leading the team with over eight boards per game. The backcourt is a little bit questionable, especially since they missed Jeff Trepagnier throughout much of the season.
All four of these teams should be in the NCAA Tournament in March.