It’s been a down year for Pac 10 basketball.
Stanford is running away and thinking national championship, while several other teams have at least five conference defeats. Here’s a look at the strengths and weaknesses of some of college basketball’s better teams in the Pacific 10.
STANFORD: Like that old car rental ad used to say, "There’s Stanford and there’s not exactly”¦" Stanford has been the elite of the Pac 10 from start to finish, doing everything right. You want defense? Try allowing 60 points per game at home and 62 on the road. Road play? Stanford started 7-0 straight up and 6-0 against the spread. The rebounding margin per game is No. 1 in the Pac 10, almost twice that of No. 2 Arizona, and the Cardinal are the top defensive team holding opponents to 40 percent shooting.
On nights when the outside shots aren’t falling, it’s nice when you’ve got a big frontcourt to go to. Stanford has 6-foot-8 junior Josh Childress (12 ppg, 7 rpg) and 6-foot-10 junior Rob Little. They can shoot from long range, as well, with sophomore Chris Hernandez and Matt Lotich. The duo average over four assists per game. Last month they traveled to Arizona and won 82-72 as a +3 dog. The great defense has led to a 7-4 "under" the total mark.
ARIZONA: While Stanford plays great defense, Coach Lute Olson’s Wildcats like to get out and run with opponents. Arizona averages 91 points per game at home and 82 on the road. Which explains why the ”˜Cats started 7-1 "over" the total on the road. This is a young team that may be a year away, however, which partly explains the fact they lost four of their first nine road games.
Still, they are not lacking for height or talent. 6-foot-6 sophomore Andre Iguodala runs the break, along with junior Salim Stoudamire and sophomore Hasan Adams, while 6-foot-10 junior center Channing Frye crashes the boards. Arizona leads the Pac 10 in scoring (87 ppg) for the second straight season, and is second in field goals and three-point shooting. While they’re currently playing second fiddle to Stanford this season, no one will want to play this group in March.
OREGON: The Ducks were led by guard Luke Ridnour last season, but this year another Luke keeps Oregon rolling. Luke Jackson, a 6-foot-7, senior leads Oregon in scoring (21 ppg), rebounds and assists. Talk about a do-it-all player! Jackson teams with 6-foot-11, 250-lb sophomore Ian Crosswhite to form a strong low post punch. These two guys are why Oregon is No. 1 in the Pac 10 in shooting (48 percent).
They also lead the league in three-point shooting, behind the senior leadership of guard Andre Joseph and are looking forward to the return of guard Aaron Brooks from a wrist injury. This is a very tough week for the Ducks, who will need to rise to the challenge. Oregon plays at Cal on Thursday (Feb. 26) then has to travel to Stanford on Saturday.
CALIFORNIA: The Bears have a nice frontcourt duo of 6-foot-8 freshman Leon Powe and 6-10 senior Amit Tamir. Powe leads the Pac 10 in rebounding. They have been strong at home, but the defense gives up 72 ppg on the road where they lost five of their first seven games. They are also the worst free throw shooting team in the Pac 10.
Cal had its biggest win of the season recently, upsetting No. 12 Arizona at home 87-83. The Bears get to play two home games this Thursday and Saturday against both Oregon schools, before wrapping up the regular season with games at Washington and Washington State.
WASHINGTON: The Huskies have a young inside-out punch of 6-5 sophomore Brandon Roy and junior guard Will Conroy. Roy (13 ppg) leads the Huskies in scoring and rebounding, while Conroy is second in scoring and dishes out over four assists per contest. Washington is not a strong defensive team (82 ppg allowed on the road), but wins with a wide-open offense.
That offense is second in the Pac 10 in scoring behind Arizona, and they are fourth in field goals and three-point shooting percentage. The final four games of the regular season, however, are one heck of a challenge for Washington, playing at Arizona, at Arizona State, then home to play Cal and Stanford.