The NBA Draft Blog Conference Season Previews continue with a look at a conference that has gone through some rough times recently – the Pac 10. With long-time stalwarts Arizona and UCLA having atypical seasons, it was up to Washington to show the nation that the conference still had talent. This year though, Arizona and UCLA are both improved, Stanford and Washington still have talent, as does Arizona State. Rebuilding is going on at USC, Cal and Oregon, while Oregon State and Washington State are going to be tough teams to play.
Part I will look at Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon and Oregon State.
The Good: Coach Sean Miller has been tasked with one of the toughest jobs in college basketball – rebuilding the storied Arizona program. His first season, as expected, was full of many ups and downs, but things will look much better this season, and in the foreseeable future. This season, Miller returns 4 out of 5 starters, including sophomore stud Derrick Williams. Williams is a very strong and athletic forward, with excellent post and finishing skills. While he mainly operates around the rim, look for him to start to stretch his game a bit with a short-to-mid-range jumper. He is an excellent rebounder, though he is still picking up defensive skills he needs to improve, such as not falling for head fakes and standing his ground in the post. Shooting guard Kyle Fogg is the one of the Wildcats’ main perimeter threats, along with forward Jamelle Horne, and is a good perimeter defender. Look for him to show some more playmaking skills this year with the departure of Nic Wise. Horne is another athletic forward who can create shots and has a nice stroke from 3. He does a great job on the defensive end, anticipating shots and passes, and grabbing boards and blocking shots. Solomon Hill is the fourth returnee and he is an effective slasher and rebounder, with the ability to finish in traffic. Lamont Jones will most likely take over Wise’s point guard spot and should do what he does best, creating plays and breaking down defenses. The bench has good depth with Brandon Lavender and Kyryl Natyazkho putting in solid minutes last season. They will be joined by newcomers Daniel Bejarano, Jesse Perry, and Jordin Mayes. Bejarano will give the Wildcats another shooter to help stretch defenses.
The Not-So-Good: This is still a young team, with 1 senior and a few juniors. It will be extremely telling if we see this group making the same mistakes they made last season. Post play can be an issue against teams with strong, and big, front lines. The only 2 players taller than 6’8 are Natayazhko and Alex Jacobson, neither who are strong post defenders. Finally, losing an experienced point guard like Nic Wise leaves the Wildcats with inexperience at the position. The pressure will be on Jones to show immediately that he can control the offense for the team.
The Question Mark: Will Miller adjust the Wildcats’ offense due to inexperience at the point? This is an extremely athletic group, and they will play at their best in an up-tempo system. Look for Miller to have the team get out and run at every opportunity, with multiple players pushing the ball up. 2 quick guards and a group of wings who can finish strong will make the Wildcats a tough group to stop in transition.
What Will March Bring?: A trip back to the NCAA Tournament is a strong possibility, along with 20+ wins – of course it is all dependent on the continued development of Williams and the other young players. If Williams plays as expected, he should be a first rounder next year if he comes out.
The Good: There are a lot of new faces in Tempe for Coach Herb Sendek – there are 11 newcomers on the roster this season. Luckily, 3 of the players returning were starters last season, including the team’s 2 leading scorers – Rihards Kuksiks and Ty Abbott. Kuksiks is one of the best shooters in the country, though his game has been very one-dimensional. He does stretch the floor however, and that is extremely important in Sendek’s offense. Abbott is also a very good shooter, though he is much better than Kuksiks at creating his own shot. Jamelle McMillan will assume the point guard spot from the departed Derek Glasser. McMillan is a natural leader and playmaker, seeing the court well and making smart passes. He is also a tough on-ball defender, with good lateral movement. Freshman Keala King could make an impact immediately on the wing, with excellent athletic ability and the skills to work in isolation. Center Rusian Pateev is capable of playing in the high and low posts, and has a very good shot.
The Not-So-Good: Obviously the amount of newcomers on the team is disconcerting, though there is plenty of experience among the starters. Coach Sendek will probably need to do a lot of experimenting to test the new players to see where they fit in the rotation and how they respond to certain situations. While Pateev is a decent offensive player, he struggles on defense, especially against quicker post players. Freshman Jordan Bachynski could eventually overtake him if he shows what he is capable of on the defensive end. Sendek is known for a very deliberate style of play, but he has stated that he may pick up the tempo, though it is yet to be seen how this group handles the adjustment.
The Question Mark: Who is going to step up and provide bench production? Guard Trent Lockett showed that he is capable of giving quality minutes off the bench, but it is the frontcourt which may cause concern. Freshman Kyle Cain and JC Transfer Carrick Felix will need to show that they can play within Sendek’s offense immediately to help shore up the forward position.
What Will March Bring?: Unless the newcomers get off to an amazing start, it could be a tough season for the Sun Devils. Luckily, the experienced starters will make sure it is not a disaster of a season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up as a .500 team this year. Abbott and Kuksiks should get looks from NBA teams next summer, though I am not sure they are ready for that level.
The Good: Besides Oregon, no team has a bigger rebuilding job than the Cal Golden Bears. Gone are Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson, and Jamal Boykin. Combined this group accounted for around 60 points and 20 rebounds a day. While the remaining players don’t cause much excitement, the group of freshmen that Coach Mike Montgomery has brought in should keep Cal near the top of the Pac-10 in the upcoming years. Led by guards Gary Franklin, Allen Crabbe and Alex Rossi, the Cal recruiting class may be the best in the Pac-10. Franklin is a score-first point guard, though his court vision and passing are under-rated. Franklin has a nice shot from the perimeter, and has the ability to beat defenders quickly off the dribble. He still needs to improve his decision-making, which should come with experience. Rossi is an excellent perimeter shooter, can shoot off the dribble or off a screen, and has slowly improved his ability to find holes in the defense. He has good size and needs to work on using it to his advantage. Crabbe has very similar skills to Rossi, though he needs to work on getting stronger. Crabbe is the better defender, and has the potential to guard either guard position. Jorge Gutierrez returns and was effective at times as a second point guard on the floor.
The Not-So-Good: The frontline is thin with Harper Kamp returning from sitting out the year for knee surgery, Bak Bak who missed the second half of last season due to academics, and Markhur Sanders-Frison as the lone returnees. Freshman Richard Solomon and transfer Robert Thurman will need to provide help on both ends of the floor to keep the Bears competitive in a the Pac 10 this year. The largest team improvement will need to be on defense and rebounding, so look for Montgomery to focus on that and have his team play a style that emphasizes this.
The Question Mark: There are a lot of things we could put here, but I think the biggest question is going to be how Kamp plays this season? While it may seem odd to focus on a player who has averaged about 4 points and 3 rebounds for his career, Kamp is the kind of big man who will make the rest of the team better. He has very good court vision and knows how to find open teammates for easy shots. Also, he has the skills to be an effective scorer around the lane and has proved his toughness over the years.
What Will March Bring?: There is talent here, but they are young, and there will be growing pains. Montgomery will get the best out of them though, and I have a tough time seeing them with less than 14-15 wins.
The Good: Talking about rebuilding jobs, Dana Altman is in for quite a test. He does have some talent to start with this season, including a few returning starters. Malcom Armstead is the leading returning scorer and one of the most disruptive defenders in the conference. With Tajuan Porter gone, Armstead will be the Ducks go-to shooter, though he doesn’t have Porter’s range. Forward Jeremy Jacob is an effective scorer in the post, though undersized, and has no problem mixing it up for rebounds. EJ Singler is a good all-around player, with the ability to score, rebound and pass, though he needs to shore up his perimeter defense. Freshman point guard Johnathan Loyd will battle for minutes immediately with his lightning speed and his ability to make plays on both ends of the floor.
The Not-So-Good: There isn’t a lot of depth here and the talent level needs some improvement, especially among the big men. Newcomer Martin Seifirth could help, though he is more of a project at this level. Perimeter shooting needs to become more consistent, though with no inside presence, open looks may be at a premium. Look for Singler to be used in different positions this season to maximize his productivity.
The Question Mark: Again, a lot of questions, but what people want to know is will Altman be able to turn the program around? Short answer is yes. Altman is an excellent coach and recruiter, and is well respected by the basketball community. Oregon is still a Pac 10 school with significant resources. The fan base will need to be patient, which I know is tough after the last few seasons, but this will take a few years to pull off.
What Will March Bring?: An early start on off-season recruiting. 10-12 wins seems most likely, though a good chance we see a breakout year from Singler.
The Good: Coach Craig Robinson has done a good job getting the Oregon State program on solid footing and will look to take the next step to winning program this season. There is still work to do, but things are certainly looking up. It starts with last year’s leading scorer Calvin Haynes. Haynes is a decent shooter, though is very good at finding holes in the defense. He showed improved ability from deep last season, though his shot selection still needs work. He is paired in the backcourt with Jared Cunningham, who is not much of a scorer but plays very tough defense. Joe Burton is an undersized post player, though he is very tough and a good rebounder for his size. He has a wide body and should look to use it in the post more this season. Omari Johnson and Daniel Deane provide more size and strength to the improving frontcourt, though neither is very good on the offensive end. Freshman Devon Collier may be the most talented forward on the team, though his play is very inconsistent. Fellow freshman Ahmad Starks will provide some speed in the backcourt and the ability to score in traffic.
The Not-So-Good: Scoring is an issue for this team, though part of that is due to a very deliberate offensive style. There aren’t many perimeter shooters on the team, so the team relies on various cut and screen techniques to get to the rim. Defensively, the team improved over the course of the season, though they are still susceptible to getting beat up and down the court by quicker teams. There will also need to be a focus on rebounding, as they are often overmatched at forward and center.
The Question Mark: Besides Haynes, where is the scoring going to come from? I am not sure there is much of an answer for this. If guard Roberto Nelson ever becomes eligible, he would surely help, but for now, the team will need to try and grab buckets wherever it can.
What Will March Bring?: If the defense stays consistent, this team should finish around the same as last season – 14-16 win range.
That’s it for Par I our look at the Pac 10. Make sure to check back tomorrow for the Part II, including Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington and Washington State. As always, leave your comments, feel free to contact me – ed (at) nbadraftblog (.) com, and follow NBA Draft Blog on Twitter – @NBADraftBlog