A holiday extra for you: Our first Pac-10 writers roundtable.
Five writers who regularly cover Pac-10 basketball — including myself — provide their opinions on five topics as we prepare to enter conference play.
Other participants are Percy Allen of the Seattle Times (who covers Washington), Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times (UCLA), Bob Clark of the Register-Guard in Eugene (Oregon) and Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic (Arizona State).
Our thanks to Haller for organizing the roundtable and compiling the answers.
1. At this point in the non-conference season, what’s surprised you most?
PERCY ALLEN: Regardless of what the coaches may say, I’m surprised the
conference hasn’t improved from last season. The scarcity of meaningful
nonconference wins is alarming and suggests we’re looking at another year when
the Pac-10 sends just two teams – if that – to the NCAA tournament. At this time
(Dec. 14), there’s not a Pac-10 team that’s ranked and I don’t know when that
will change. I wouldn’t be surprised if we went through the Pac-10 season
without a team in the polls.
BEN BOLCH: Oregon’s not-so-terrible start. Having been picked by the media to
finish last in the Pac-10, the Ducks didn’t figure to have much to showcase when
they opened Matthew Knight Arena next month. But Oregon has won pretty much
every game it should have won and nearly upset ninth-ranked Missouri. Senior
forward Joevan Catron has blossomed into one of the better big men in the
conference and sophomore forward E.J. Singler has stepped up as a formidable
rebounder. Coach Dana Altman appears to have the Ducks poised for a run at the
middle of the Pac-10, and that’s saying something in the wake of the mess left
by predecessor Ernie Kent.
BOB CLARK: Faisel Aden. I thought he was supposed to be a backup for Klay
Thompson. He’s the third-leading scorer in the league. He’s making 43 percent of
his threes. His addition has me wondering if the Cougars can go from last in the
league to contending for first. Next up might be Cal’s competitiveness, ignoring
that five-point first half. I didn’t see how the Bears would score points, but
maybe that was discounting the coaching of Mike Montgomery. On the other end, I
thought both Oregon State and Arizona State would be better than they’ve shown.
I know they’re both counting on a lot of new players, but some of those results
have been mystifying. And disappointing.
JEFF FARAUDO: Probably the fact that Oregon is better than I expected, and
Oregon State is worse. Not sure why, especially with regards to the Beavers. But
they have been awful against an awful schedule.
DOUG HALLER: Washington State. I picked them sixth in the preseason media poll,
partly because of how it finished last season (last in the Pac-10) and also
because I didn’t know what junior-college transfer Faisal Aden would bring. As
it turns out, the Cougars are much improved, especially on defense, and Aden is
one of the Pac-10′s top scorers. Add in Klay Thompson, who’s playing at an
All-American level, and Reggie Moore, possibly the conference’s top point guard,
and the Cougars are a conference contender.