| ||Sunday, October 31|
Special to ESPN.com
|The Pac-10 was strong last season, a fact that was blurred by the league's bizarre showing in the postseason. Considered the No. 3 conference in the nation, the Pac-10 placed four teams into the NCAA field (Stanford, Arizona, UCLA and Washington). However, only Mike Montgomery's Cardinal came away with an NCAA win before the mighty Cardinal suffered embarrassment at the hands of Gonzaga in the second round.
Three Pac-10 teams settled for the NIT (USC, Oregon and California), with the Golden Bears winning the NIT crown. The conference's postseason performance in 1999 was a shocker simply because it had shown so well in the previous five seasons. With so many veterans and talented underclassmen leaving the Pac 10 this past year, the conference has several question marks heading into Y2K.
Talented inside players like Mark Madsen of Stanford, Michael Wright and Loren Woods of Arizona, Dan Gadzuric and Jerome Moiso of UCLA, Brian Scalabrine of USC and Sean Lampley of California fill many Pac-10 rosters. But the story out on the Left Coast will be point guards. Several teams have voids at the point while the others have young, barely established floor leaders.
Only Oregon State's Deaundra Tanner has more than one season guiding a team under his belt. Oregon's Darius Wright, Arizona State's Alton Mason, Washington's Senque Carey and USC's Brandon Granville all ran their teams for most of, if not all of last season. All of these players showed promise at the point and had flashes of brilliance. Tanner is the best scorer of the bunch and the most consistent, Carey may be the quickest, and Wright can challenge to be the best distributor and handler.
The newcomers to the point are Washington State freshman Nick Graham (who is coach Paul Graham's son), UCLA's Earl Watson (who played in Baron Davis' stead some last season), freshmen Donte Smith or Shantay Legans at Cal, Arizona freshman Jason Gardner and often-injured Michael McDonald at Stanford. Watson should probably be among the most experienced, but has not been a full-time point guard. He and Gardner have the biggest shoes to fill. McDonald must stay healthy to be a full-timer -- he is the key to Stanford's title hopes.
The Pac 10 is a league with a large middle. Several teams are contenders, and there are precious few easy wins for the top teams. How the point guards perform will determine how good the Pac 10 will be. Look for Arizona, Stanford, UCLA and Oregon to fight it out for the top spot, with Oregon State, Southern Cal and Washington better than people think.All-Conference team
Deaundra Tanner, junior, G, Oregon State, 15.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg
Eddie House, senior, G, Arizona State, 18.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg
Alex Scales, senior, G, Oregon, 14.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg
Mark Madsen, senior, F, Stanford, 13.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg
Michael Wright, sophomore, F, Arizona, 13.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg
Player of the year: Mark Madsen
Newcomer of the year: Jason Kapono
Best backcourt: Oregon
Best frontcourt: Arizona
Team on the rise: Oregon
Kent has a fine group, and perhaps the most experienced team in the league. The Ducks have a very talented backcourt and a solid inside player in A.D. Smith. Oregon has really never been a Pac-10 contender ... until now.
Team on the fall: California
Sean Lampley will have to expand his game beyond rebounding and interior scoring. Ben Braun is an outstanding coach who will have this team playing better than its individual parts, but the Golden Bears may be a year away from contending. An NIT berth might be the realistic goal.
Unsung player: Brian Scalabrine, USC
Toughest road game: Oregon State