Pac-10 Primer (cont.)
5. Washington State
If coach Ken Bone can get his team to win on the road, the Cougars could be contenders. They return all five starters, including All-Pac-10 guard Klay Thompson, sophomore point guard Reggie Moore and all-defensive-team forward DeAngelo Casto. Thompson worked on improving his all-around game in the offseason.
6. Oregon State
Some think the Beavers could be the conference's surprise team, now that third-year coach Craig Robinson has stocked the roster with players who buy into his system. Senior guard Calvin Haynes, last season's leading scorer, is back. Perhaps the team's best player, redshirt freshman Roberto Nelson, has been plagued by academic issues but is expected to play.
The Bears won their first Pac-10 championship in 50 years by riding a strong senior class. Those guys -- including Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle -- are gone. In their place is youth: six freshmen, four sophomores and three juniors. The only returning starter is Jorge Gutierrez. Junior forward Harper Kemp and senior Markhuri Sanders-Frison should anchor the post. In addition to Crabbe, another key newcomer is freshman point guard Gary Franklin.
The Trojans were punched in the gut midway through last season, when then-athletic director Mike Garrett announced self-imposed sanctions on the team. Coach Kevin O'Neill's second season should be less dramatic. He will lean on senior forward Alex Stepheson and junior center Nikola Vucevic, who led the conference in rebounding last season with 9.4 boards per game. Expect to see transfer guard Jio Fontan, who arrived from Fordham last year, to see significant playing time.
Johnny Dawkins' team finished ninth in the conference in each of his first two years and may struggle to break the pattern this year. After all, the team lost Landry Fields, who led the Cardinal in virtually every category and was one of the top 10 scorers in the nation. Stanford will be led by a pair of junior guards, Jarrett Mann and Jeremy Green. And Dawkins will be grooming youngsters: His six-player recruiting class was considered one of the tops in the nation, highlighted by 6-10 forward Dwight Powell.
The biggest question new coach Dana Altman has is whether he'll have enough bodies to field a team. Four players transferred after Ernie Kent was fired, one signed a professional contract, one was lost to academic problems and two are starting the season sidelined with injuries. Junior guard Malcolm Armstead averaged 10.3 points per game last season. Altman, who arrived from Creighton, will only coach a handful of games at intimidating McArthur Court; the Ducks will move into their new arena in January.
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