Pac-10 Primer: Washington is the favorite, but Arizona's dangerous
If healthy, UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt may be the conference's best player
If Ken Bone can get Washington State to win on the road, the Cougs could contend
Will new Oregon coach Dana Altman even have enough bodies to fill a team?
Player of the Year: Derrick Williams, Arizona
The dynamic forward averaged 15.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season and won the Pac-10's Freshman of the Year award. Expect much more out of him in his sophomore year. A hard-worker, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Williams has gotten bigger and stronger over the summer. Williams is the reason some observers think Arizona should be favored to win the conference rather than Washington -- which is led by another player of the year candidate in guard Isaiah Thomas.
Impact Freshman: Allen Crabbe, California.
Crabbe, a 6-6 guard, was California's Gatorade Player of the Year coming out of Price High in Los Angeles. He's already being called an NBA prospect. Cal coach Mike Montgomery usually doesn't like to rely on freshman, but Crabbe's too talented to ignore. He's not the only standout freshman in the young Pac-10. UCLA has McDonald's All-America center Joshua Smith, Stanford will lean on acclaimed forward Dwight Powell, and Arizona State's Keala King should make an impact.
Breakout Candidate: Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA.
The versatile sophomore forward spent much of last season battling various injuries. But at the end of the season Honeycutt put together four double-double games, providing a glimpse of what could be possible when healthy, which is him becoming the best player in the conference. The 6-8 Honeycutt led the Bruins in rebounds, steals and blocked shots last season and is working on his shooting consistency
Inside the Numbers: 3-12
That was the record of Pac-10 teams against ranked teams in nonconference play last winter, and it proved to be a barometer of the overall weakness of the conference. By the time the Pac-10 play began, all the teams were struggling and had failed to impress anyone. The conference was a woeful 9-24 against other so-called BCS-conference teams. If the Pac-10 expects to send more than two teams to the NCAA tournament this season, it needs to take care of business early.
Lorenzo Romar's squad is the unanimous pick to win the conference, returning four starters from the team that lost to West Virginia in the Sweet 16. Junior point guard Isaiah Thomas will need to assume the leadership gap left behind by the graduation of Quincy Pondexter. Sharing that job will be senior forward Justin Holiday, an all-conference defender and outside shooter. With three seniors and four juniors, the Huskies have plenty of experience.
The Wildcats didn't make the NCAA tournament for the first time in a quarter century. But second-year coach Sean Miller has four starters returning, including star forward Derrick Williams. Also back are shooting guard Kyle Fogg and sophomore point guard MoMo Jones, who has lost weight and has reportedly made great strides.
The Bruins are coming off a difficult year: They finished 14-18, just their third losing season since 1948. And in June, UCLA basketball lost its patron saint, John Wooden. Last season, Ben Howland felt the impact of early departures and recruits who didn't match their hype. If Tyler Honeycutt can stay healthy and Malcolm Lee continues to lead the team in scoring, expect the Bruins to improve. Point guard is the biggest concern: Howland brought in junior college transfer Lazeric Jones to improve depth at that position.
4. Arizona State
Herb Sendek earned Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors last season by getting his Sun Devils to surpass expectations, finishing second in the league. Despite a seven-player recruiting class, the Sun Devils also have key experience returning. Three senior starters -- guard Ty Abbott, point guard Jamelle McMillan and Latvian forward Rihards Kuksiks -- are the core of the team.
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