This should be the year the Arizona seniors get a ring - a Pacific 10
Conference championship ring that is.
Their three years without one is the biggest drought in the Lute Olson
era and all the Wildcats have said that winning a Pac-10 title is on their
to-do-list for the new season.
With that in mind, here's how the race for second place should turn out.
Last year: 22-8, 12-6 (T-2nd), Sweet 16
This year: Brevin Knight is wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform this
year. That hurts. However, four starters return to the team that pulled
off the second biggest upset of the tournament - a 72-66 win over Wake Forest.
Added to the mix is one of the nation's best recruiting classes with the
celebrated Collins twins, Jason (6-10) and Jarron (6-9) who the Cardinal
considered important enough to put on the cover of the media guide.
True freshman on the cover of the media guide? That's confidence.
Prediction: A sweet return to the round of 16.
Last year: 24-8, 15-3 (1st), Elite Eight
This year: The fabulous freshman who won the NCAA title in 1995 are seniors
now. Two of them, Kris Johnson, and Jelani McCoy were suspended in the off-season
for breaking team policy. Johnson is on the way to making ammends but without
McCoy, the Bruins lack size. They added a recruiting class that includes
Baron Davis, a point guard who draws comparisons to Mike Bibby. That's a
lot of hype. He'll be asked to back it up quickly with non-conference tests
against North Carolina, New Mexico, Louisville and Duke.
Prediction: They'll make the tournament. How far they go depends on senior
Toby Bailey. If he goes into March concerned only about his draft standiing,
the Bruins will exit early.
Last year: 17-11, 10-8 (6th), NIT
This year: This is a team that has gone 16-12 and 17-11 the last two
years, has a roster that includes two 7-footers, and a coach who played
for and coached with Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. So, how has this team not made
the NCAA Tournament?
How's this for evidence: The Huskies turned the ball over 20.6 times
a game last year.
Prediction: If they can hold on to the ball, expect Washington to play
well into March.
Last year: 23-9, 12-6 (T-2nd), Sweet 16
This year: Ed Gray, last season's conference player of the year, is gone.
So is power forward Tony Gonzalez, who now plays football for the Kansas
City Chiefs. In fact, the Bears don't return a single starter. So how will
they finish fifth? Because they do return Pac-10 coach of the year Ben Braun.
If anybody can make the Bears respectable, it's Braun who once crafted a
Tournament upset of Duke and almost upset UNC in the 1997 Sweet 16.
Prediction: The Sweet 16 may be a stretch, but a return to the Tournament
is in the cards.
Last year: 7-20, 3-15 (9th)
This year: The Beavers would be even better if it weren't for the transfer
of sophomore point guard Carson Cunningham. Cunningham gave Bibby a run
for Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors but moved back to his native Indiana
and now plays for Purdue. Still, the Beavers return four other starters.
Prediction: A year away from greatness.
Last year: 17-11, 8-10 (7th), NIT
This year: New coach Ernie Kent returns to his alma mater to coach an
Oregon team that has seen postseason action two of the last three years.
The Ducks return just one starter - Jamal Curry - to their lineup but athletic
7-footer Mike Carson joins the starting five. However, Kent knows a thing
or two about coaching big men. He was coach at St. Mary's last season with
7-foot-3 center Brad Millard.
Prediction: A second-straight NIT berth.
Last year: 10-20, 2-16 (10th)
This year: Bill Frieder is gone so the ASU bench won't be half as fun
to watch. If the Sun Devils can shake the injury bug that has plagued them
the last few years and if they can keep their best players off the police
blotter, they could rise above eighth place. If not, it could get ugly.
Prediction: New coach, same old Sun Devils.
Last year: 13-17, 5-13 (8th)
This year: This team is going nowhere. Just two starters return and as
many as four newcomers will be expected to contribute to a team that last
year was worst in the conference in rebounding and steals.
Prediction: Losses up the Wazzu.
Last year: 17-11, 12-6 (T-2nd), NCAA 1st Round
This year: Elias Ayuso is the only returning starter of note and he only
averaged 8.9 points a game last year. Jarvis Turner, a member of last year's
All-Pac-10 freshman team will provide size but don't expect much from the
Prediction: A bad basketball team to go with the bad football team in
a town were nobody will notice anyway as long as the Lakers keep winning.
The Associated Press Top 25
1. Arizona (1-0)
2. Kansas (4-0)
3. Duke (2-0)
4. North Carolina (3-0)
5. Clemson (3-0)
6. South Carolina (2-0)
7. UCLA (0-0)
8. Purdue (3-0)
9. Kentucky (1-0)
10. Xavier (2-0)
11. New Mexico (4-0)
12. Connecticut (3-0)
13. Fresno State (2-0)
14. Iowa (2-0)
15. Stanford (1-0)
16. Utah (3-0)
17. UNC Charlotte (0-1)
18. Temple (2-0)
19. Oklahoma (3-0)
20. Rhode Island (1-1)
21. Mississippi (1-0)
22. Louisville (0-0)
23. Indiana (1-1)
24. Illinois State (2-1)
25. Georgia (3-1)