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The Pac is back on the national hoops scene Washington schools bring up the rear Washington schools bring up the rear

Friday November 17, 2000

The Pac-10 has risen again in the last few years, with UCLA and Arizona both winning national championships in the recent past and Stanford busting into the top echelon of teams on a regular basis. 

The most interesting battle this year will be for the middle-of-the-pack spots, as Arizona, USC and Stanford look too good and experienced to fall far. UCLA is, as usual, talented but troubled, and could be in for a disappointing year. Cal, Oregon, Arizona State and Oregon State will battle for the conference’s final one or two spots in the NCAA Tournament, with Washington and Washington State looking up at the pack. 


1. Arizona 

The Wildcats are definitely the class of the Pac-10. The question for them is, are they the class of the entire country?  

Their starting lineup is simply unbelievable. It all starts with sophomore point guard Jason Gardner, who controls the offense and can distribute and score with equal efficiency. He is joined in the backcourt by Gilbert Arenas, an underrated scorer who had 71 steals last year. Small forward Richard Jefferson will look to regain his freshman form after struggling with a broken foot last year. Arizona coach Lute Olson calls Jefferson the most athletic player he has ever had.  

While Jefferson flies, power forward Michael Wright does the dirty work, rebounding, defending and muscling the ball into the hoop. The center of the lineup is 7-1 Loren Woods, a shot-blocker supreme who could be a lottery pick if he stays healthy. 

The bench will gain some needed power with the return of forward Eugene Edgerson, who redshirted last season to concentrate on his teaching degree. 


2. USC 

In late January, the Trojans were actually in first place in the Pac-10, remarkable considering both Arizona and Stanford ended up with No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. But injuries took them out of the race and dropped them out of the postseason. But with all five starters back and a more experienced bench, coach Henry Bibby has a good shot at his best season at USC. 

The strength of this Trojan team is scoring, with five returning players who scored more than 13 points per game last year. Senior forward Brian Scalabrine is the leading returning scorer in the conference and can score inside and outside. Shooting guard Jeff Trepagnier can score, defend and rebound and can also move into the small forward spot. Sam Clancy is a bit undersized for a power forward at 6-7, but he plays with a determination few can match. David Blumenthal rounds out the frontcourt, which lacks a true center, but he lead the team in rebounding last year and is the team’s best post-up player.  

Pint-sized point guard Brandon Granville (5-9) broke the school record for assists last season, but suffered from lack of a dependable backup and wound down at the end of the year. Bibby brought in juco transfer Robert Hutchinson to spell Granville, which should make him stronger going into the postseason. 


3. Stanford 

Stanford will have a solid squad this year, but replacing departed leaders Mark Madsen and David Moseley will be very tough. Coach Mike Montgomery will look to several players so fill the leadership void. 

When Montgomery landed the Collins twins, Jason and Jarron, four years ago, they were supposed to be the centerpieces of the program. But while Jarron, now a senior, has been a solid presence, Jason has struggled with injuries and played only one full season. If Jason can stay healthy and eat up space on the interior, it will allow Jarron to move outside more and show his skills.  

Casey Jacobsen was a revelation as a freshman last year, leading the team in scoring. But with defenses focusing on him this year instead of Madsen, will he be as effective? Point guard Mike McDonald isn’t much of an offensive threat, averaging less than five points and shooting just 36 percent from the floor. Teams may throw constant double-teams at Jacobsen and make him earn every basket.  

The bench is nondescript. Curtis Borchardt provides size and little else, forward Justin Davis is an athlete with few skills, and the guards don’t scare anyone. Look for rugged freshman Teyo Johnson to get some serious minutes as a rebounder. 


4. UCLA 

The Bruins lost talented underclassmen Jerome Moiso and Jaron Rush to the NBA Draft, and almost lost center Dan Gadzuric and wingman Jason Kapono as well. But with those two back, UCLA is still one of the most talented teams in the conference. Talent, however, doesn’t always translate into wins, as coach Steve Lavin found out last year. 

Gadzuric struggled with his conditioning last year, only playing 22 minutes per game. If he can stay on the court more, he will be a force. Kapono is an athletic wingman who averaged 16 points as a freshman last year, and point guard Earl Watson has finally grown into the floor leader the team needs, dishing out six assists per game. But the rest of the lineup is a mish-mash of inexperience and disappointments, and the Bruins will be hard-pressed to win consistently with such an unsettled bench. 


5. Cal 

See Cal preview on page 17. 


6. Oregon 

The Ducks won 22 games last year, as coach Ernie Kent made the team into a run-and-gun powerhouse. But after losing three starters, no returning player scored in double figures last year. If Kent can find two or three players to fill the basket, the Ducks could go back to the NCAA Tournament. 

The most likely candidates to do so are wingmen Frederick Jones and Anthony Norwood. Both are talented players who will see more playing time this year, so look for them to step up. The frontcourt is crowded but unproven. Center Flo Hartenstein does the dirty work, and Kent says forward Bryan Bracey should be one of the most improved players in the conference. If highly-regarded recruits Luke Jackson and Luke Ridnour can give the Ducks some firepower from the guard spots, Kent could keep the momentum going. 


7. Arizona State 

How do you replace an Eddie House? Well, you don’t. House carried the Sun Devils on his back for much of last year, including pouring in 61 points against Cal. Coach Rob Evans will have to spread the scoring around this year, as other player averaged double figures in points, and there is no go-to player on the roster. 

The frontcourt is a mixture of combo forwards (Shawn Redhage, Tommy Smith) and immobile post players (Chad Prewitt, Utah transfer Tyson Johnston). Smith has the biggest upside, but looked lost at times last season. The backcourt hopes rest on shooting guard Donnell Knight, a super athlete who came on strong at the end of last year. The point guards, senior Alton Mason and sophomore Kyle Dodd, are just guys. 


8. Oregon State 

Many experts were picking the Beavers as the surprise team in the Pac-10. But that was before highly-touted juco transfer Philip Ricci went down with a leg injury. Ricci, who will now redshirt the season, was sought by programs like Arizona and UCLA before committing to Richie McKay’s team, a major recruiting coup for the up-and-coming coach. 

The Beavers will look to point guard Deaundra Tanner for both scoring and ball distribution. The senior has become on of the top guards in the conference. Both two-guards, Josh Steinthal and Adam Masten, are three-point specialists who offer little else. The frontcourt, a strength with Ricci, is now suspect. Center Jason Heide has struggled with injuries the last two years, and talented sophomore Brian Jackson is very hot-and-cold. Three newcomers will struggle to contribute meaningful minutes. 


9. Washington 

Coach Bob Bender rebuilt the program, culminating in a Sweet Sixteen appearance three years ago. But the Huskies have come back down to the bottom of the conference. There is little talent on the roster, and the presence of five seniors only helps if they’re good players. These guys aren’t. 

Guard Michael Johnson is the closest thing Washington has to a scorer, and he didn’t even average 10 points last year. The point guards will be freshmen C.J. Massingale and Curtis Allen, not a good sign in a talented position in the conference. None of the big men showed much last year, with Will Perkins and Marlon Shelton being the best of a nondescript bunch. 


10. Washington State 

The Cougars were simply awful last year, winning just one Pac-10 game and only six overall. Their best returning player, guard Mike Bush, may be academically ineligible. The best thing about this team is that with so many new players, they can start fresh and forget about last year. 

Point guard Marcus Moore may have been the best player on last year’s team. But coach Paul Graham chose to redshirt him, saving him from the embarrassment of playing for such an awful team. If he lives up to his promise and Bush is able to play, the Cougars could improve. They will be joined by Miami (Ohio) transfer J Locklier, a 6-10 center who is a force in the paint. Senior Eddie Miller and sophomore Milton Riley will play alongside Locklier, but don’t look for much production from them. A late addition is Paulo Rower, a 7-1, 310-pound Brazilian who Graham says “has great hands and can run.”