YCS College Basketball Preview-No Defense Edition

>> Wednesday

After previewing the top conferences outside the BCS, I'll start my preview of the big boys with the Pac 10.

Despite Ben Howland's best efforts at UCLA, defense still remains highly optional out on the west coast. After a relatively disappointing effort last season, Lute Olsen should lead the Wildcats back to their perch on top of the Pac 10.

1. Arizona: The departures of Chris Rodgers and Hassan Adams will allow Arizona to play as a team again this season. Leading the way will be a talented trio of wing players.

Forgoing a spot in the first round of last year's NBA Draft, sophomore Marcus Williams should be the go to scorer for Cats this season. A silky smooth 6'7 swingman, Williams already has a complete offensive game. He hit 44% of his three points attempts last season, and can take the ball to the basket when given an opening. As the main offensive option, he should significantly increase his scoring average of 13 points per game a year ago.

Joining Williams on the perimeter will be strong 6'4 junior guard Jawann McClellan. After a very promising freshman season, McCllelan struggled with injuries last year, which included missing the first semester last season due to personal problems. A crafty player with a solid outside shot, McClellan could emerge as one of the better players in the Pac 10 season. Freshman Chase Budinger, a phenomenal athlete, will get serious minutes off the bench.

The 6'7" Budinger has an incredible vertical leap fostered from his days as a star volleyball player. He has also developed a strong perimeter shot. Budinger would be starting almost anywhere else, but the Cats strong duo in front of him will likely relegate him to 6th man duty this season.

After an inconsistent first three seasons, talented point guard Mustafa Shakur finally started to play to his potential at the end of last season. The 6'3 lead guard came to Arizona with a heralded reputation as the best point guard in his prep class. However, he has struggled with balancing running the offense and looking for his own shot. Having finally settled in the floor general role, he should do a good job of setting up his talented wing players. Heady 5'10 freshman point guard Nic Wise should be a solid back-up to Shakur.

The Wildcats frontcourt will have to improve for Zona to have the season they're capable of. 6'10 senior forward Ivan Radenovic has a nice offensive game, averaging 12 points per game last season. However, Radonevic needs to improve his post defense. 6'10 senior center Kirk Walters has been a disappointment, and may struggle to keep his starting spot. Despite playing starters minutes all last season, Walters averaged just 3.5 rebounds per game. Sophomore Mohamed Tangara, a strong defensive player, may be the better option down low. The 6'9 Tangara has struggled with back injuries, but is the only man on Cats roster who can block shots.

If the Cats want to play smaller and move Radenovic to the center spot, 6'6 sophomore Fendi Onobun and 6'8 freshman Jordan Hill could earn significant minutes. Onobun originally planned to red-shirt last season, but the Cats weakness upfront forced him to play at mid-season. He averaged 3 points and 2 rebounds per game, and could be a nice option if given an opportunity. In normal circumstances, Hill may be a redshirt candidate. Hill has a lot of athleticism, but could use more bulk on his 210 pound frame.

If one of these guys emerge, the Cats could be a real dangerous team come March thanks to their excellent perimeter play. Like 2005, I expect the Cats to strongly rebound following a supbar campaign.

2. Washington: The Huskies will be extremely young, but their talent will overcome a lack of experience. Sophomore Justin Dentmon returns to man the point spot. The 5'11 guard has a very solid freshman season, averaging 8 points and 4 assists per game. Dentmon does a nice job of running the offense and can hit the open jumper.

Sharpshooter Ryan Appleby joins Dentmon in the backcourt. The 6'2 junior guard, a Florida transfer, primarily looks for his perimeter shot, hitting 42% of his threes last season. However, he also has good ball handling ability that allows him to occasionally slide over and play the point. Two talented freshman, Adrian Oliver and Harvey Perry, give the Huskies solid backcourt depth. The 6'3 Oliver can play either guard spot, and the 6'4 Perry has a reputation for being an excellent defender.

Freshman Quincy Pondexter has an excellent chance of earning a starting spot on the wing. The 6'7 Pondexter comes to Washington with a heralded reputation, ranking among the top 50 prep recruits in the class of 2006. Pondexter primarily looks to drive to the basket, but has an improving perimeter shot that will make him a complete offensive player.

Fellow freshman forward Phil Nelson has an excellent perimeter shot that should help him earn some minutes. With talented freshman center Spencer Hawes potentially missing the start of the season, the 6'8 Nelson may swing over to the four. Hawes, the #2 rated center in the class of 2006, will start once he's healthy. The 6'11 Hawes compares very favorably to Bucks center Andew Bogut, as he has excellent passing skills for a big man and can hit the perimeter shot. If he misses minimal time, Hawes has an excellent chance of being an all Pac-10 first team player.

Joining Hawes upfront will be the talented sophomore forward Jon Brockman. While slightly undersized for a post player at 6'7, Brockman gives relentless effort down low and should be a good complement to the skilled Hawes. Brockman averaged 8.4 points and 6.5 rebounds his freshman season, and has the potential to become a double-double guy.

Sophomore Artem Wallace and redshirt freshman Joe Wolfinger have a chance to earn solid minutes, especially while Hawes is out of the line-up. The 6'8 Wallace is more of a banger like Brockman, while 7'0 Wolfinger can step outside and hit the perimeter shot.

Lorenzo Ramar has done an excellent job of turning Washington into a perennial Pac 10 power and the Huskies will be extremely dangerous come March.

3. UCLA: I highlighted the Bruins previously as a disappointing team, but they should still compete for the Pac 10 title and be a top 25 team. However, I do not believe they will be top 10 team like most prognosticators predict. They have severely underestimated the loss of point guard Jordan Farmar.

4. USC: The Trojans showed flashes of breaking out last season with wins over North Carolina, UCLA and Arizona. This season, I believe Tim Floyd's squad takes another major step forward.

Once Gabe Pruitt becomes eligible, the Trojans will boast one of the nation's better backcourts. The 6'3 guard is an extremely talented scorer, averaging 17 points per game last season. He'll likely shift to the point position as he prepares for his professional future, but will still be able to more of a scoring lead guard.

Before Pruitt becomes eligible, 6'5 freshman guard Daniel Hackett will run the Trojans offense. Hackett mostly playing shooting guard in his prep days, but showed the ability to play the point in AAU play and camps this summer. Initially a 2007 recruit, Hackett graduated early in part because of Pruitt's first semester ineligibility. Lodrick Stewart had a very strong junior season, and will be the Trojans best perimeter shooter once again. The 6'4 guard averaged 12.3 points per game last season, shooting 40% from three.

Nick Young, one of the country's best wing players, rounds out the starting backcourt. The 6'6 swingman averaged 17.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last year, and is an extremely good at getting to the basket. Young can even play the four in smaller Trojan line-ups. 6'3 sophomore guard Sead Odzic (a Skokie native) can also hit the perimeter shot, and 6'5 freshman swingman Dwight Lewis initially committed to Kansas.

The frontcourt still has many questions to be answered, but has a couple of players with nice potential. Sophomore RouSean Cromwell, an athletic 6'10 forward, showed some nice flashes while averaging 4 points and 4.5 rebounds a game his freshman campaign. Cromwell will be primarily called for his shot blocking and rebounding ability. 6'9 freshman Taj Gibson will be a strong challenger to Cromwell for the starting spot at the 4. Gibson plays stronger than his 210 pound frame, and could also be the solution the Trojans rebounding and post scoring problem.

6'11 senior Abdoulaye N'Diaye should man the center spot again this season. Like Cromwell, N'Diaye's primarily role will be to rebound and block shots. Bulky 6'8 sophomore Jeremy Barr may be a better scoring option down low, but his defensive and conditioning problems will likely limit the 265 pounder to spot minutes off the bench.

If Gibson can step in as an offensive post threat and Pruitt smoothly transition to playing the point, the Trojans should have a very nice season.

5. Oregon: Ernie Kent's squad has the talent to be a top 15 team. However, a severe discipline problem will likely relegate the Ducks to the NIT again this season.

Last season, the Ducks admitted to quitting on Kent before the start of Pac 10 play. A majority of the same crew returns this season. Senior point guard Aaron Brooks had a major drop-off last season, averaging 11 points and 4.4 assists per game. In his sophomore campaign the 6'0 Brooks averaged 15 points and 5 assists per game.

Junior guard Bryce Taylor also mightiy struggled last season, shooting just 27% from three and having his scoring average go from 12 to 9 points per game. The 6'5 Taylor came to Oregon with a reputation as an excellent perimeter shooter, but has yet to prove it at the college level.

6'6 wing Malik Hairston was the most heralded recruit Oregon had ever landed. He did average 15 points per game and shot a respectable 47% from the field last season. However, much of his scoring comes from isolated one-on-one plays. His NBA aspirations have prevented him from fully buying into Kent's system. 6'5 junior guard Chamberlain Oguchi supplanted Taylor in the Ducks starting line-up last season. Oregon's only strong perimeter defender, Oguchi will also be a solid perimeter threat.

The Ducks will once again be weak upfront unless a surprise contributor emerges. 6'9 junior forward Maarty Leunen showed signs of that last season, averaging 7 points and 6 rebounds per game last season. 6'6 freshman forward Joevan Catron should play some minutes at the four. 7'0 junior Ray Schafer and 6'10 redshirt junior Mitch Platt will rotate at the five, and the Ducks will hope one of them becomes as a solid contributor.

Talent will not be an issue, but if last season is any indication, the players and Kent are just not on the same page.

Others: Cal will struggle to replace Leon Powe's 21 points and 10 rebounds a game. However, NBA scouts love the potential of Bears center DeVon Hardin...The Lopez twins will make an impact at Stanford, but they do not have the backcourt play to compete for a Pac 10 title...Herb Sendek has the Arizona State program on the upswing, but the Sun Devils will take a few lumps while he rebuilds the mess Rob Evans left him.

All-Conference Team:
G Aaron Aflallo, UCLA
G Malik Hairston, Oregon
G/F Marcus Williams, Arizona
G/F Nick Young, USC
C Spencer Hawes, Washington

Player of the Year: Young
Newcomer of the Year: Hawes


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