This football season has been absolutely horrendous. Cougar fans would like to forget it as quickly as possible whether by watching replays of the 1998 Rose Bowl or by continuously banging their head against a hemlock tree. Either way is a very effective method, although the latter does require a quick trip to your local emergency room. So let the Park Bench sooth your pain with their Pacific 10 Conference Men's Basketball preview. The top and bottom of the conference seems to be solidified but the middle could be fairly fluid. One loss at the end of the season could spell the difference between post-season dancing or post-season sulking. So here are your expert conference predictions and yes, once football season is over and these teams stop playing cupcakes, there will be basketball predictions as well.
*=NCAA Tournament berth
1. UCLA Bruins*
This one is a no-brainer. Although the Bruins lost center Kevin Love, they still retain and the best defender in college basketball, [db]Darren Collison. Add steady senior Alfred Aboya and sensational freshman Jrue Holiday and you've got a recipe for yet another conference title under Ben Howland.
Key Non-Conference Game: December 4th at Texas
2. Arizona State Sun Devils*
Here's a team that has been slowly building towards success. Herb Sendek is a very underrated head man and his Devils are looking to have quite a bit of success this year. Senior Jeff Pendergraph will be looking for an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time in his playing career and since James Harden decided to stick around, there's no reason why that shouldn't happen. Unless they both tear their right ACL. Which there is no plan for (erases phone records).
Key Non-Conference Game: December 20th vs. Brigham Young
3. USC Trojans*
Although they lost Davon Jefferson and O.J. Mayo, Southern Cal has reloaded with another superb recruiting class, highlighted by small forward DeMar DeRozan. The continued presence of Taj Gibson down low (one of my favorite non-Cougars) should help the Trojans to a stronger finish this year than last. Plus, if Tim Floyd throws a fit in Pullman for the third straight year, my basketball year will be complete.
Key Non-Conference Game: December 4th at Oklahoma
4. Arizona Wildcats*
This is a real wildcard. Although the Cats lost their top scorer in Jerryd Bayless, they kept the next two guys, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. Arizona was also able to - temporarily - keep Jeff Withey wrangled in, a young center who could use some muscle but should make a quick impact. But how the quick departure of Lute Olson will effect the team this year is still to be seen, but they've already lost a number of recruits so this may be a make it or break it year.
Key Non-Conference Game: December 14th vs. Gonzaga
5. Washington Huskies*
The only real senior the Huskies lost was Ryan Appleby and he came off the bench most of the time. Jon Brockman will lead a team with a number of threats including Quincy Pondexter, Venoy Overton, Justin Dentmon and sensational freshman Isaiah Thomas (not the New York Knicks guy). The crutch of this team: free throws. Their terrible shooting may have cost them a number of games. The big question mark will be if head coach Lorenzo Romar can discipline his players better than in recent years.
Key Non-Conference Game: November 24th vs. Kansas
6. Washington State Cougars*
The loss of three key seniors can not be understated. Kyle Weaver guarded and quieted many of the conference's best scorers. Derrick Low could pull the trigger from anywhere. Robbie Cowgill was a great presence down low. The Cougars have reloaded with seven freshmen but adjusting to the Bennett system of play will take time so the Cougars will lean heavily on seniors to lead them to the promised land for the third straight year.
Key Non-Conference Game: December 10th vs. Gonzaga
7. Oregon Ducks
It was make or break for the Ducks last year and although they made the tournament, they broke. All their seniors had already graduated and were taking underwater basket weaving just to stay in school and use up their eligibility. They have just three upperclassmen on a 15-man roster. Head coach Ernie Kent will be coaching for his job, as always but the Ducks are just too inexperienced to win enough games to make to the Big Dance. Enjoy the NIT.
Key Non-Conference Game: November 25th at Alabama
8. California Golden Bears
No more Devon Hardin or Ryan Anderson spells disaster for the Bears. Had Anderson decided to stick around, this team would have much more hope for the coming year. It will take head coach Mike Montgomery a few years to get the program turned around. Luckily though, he didn't have to move his office stapler and printer too far from his last gig with the Golden State Warriors
Key Non-Conference Game: December 10th at Utah
9. Oregon State Beavers
First order of business for president-elect Barack Obama when he takes office: executive order issuing Oregon State a pity win in conference. Craig Robinson is lucky to have a brother-in-law with so much power. The Beavers didn't lose an players to speak of and the Tarver brothers have to be itching for a few conference victories.
Key Non-Conference Game: November 24th vs. Yale
10. Stanford Cardinal
Who did the Cardinal lose? Everybody. Three of their top five scorers, their head coach and a couple good bench players. Nothing will come easy for Stanford team that could really struggle to win even one conference game.
Key Non-Conference Game: December 28th vs. Texas Tech
Last Week: 5-0
Arizona is already bowl eligible and based on how well (giggles) their defense contained a woeful Cougar offense, look for the Ducks to run and pass all over them.
Gordon Bombay Should Be the Coach 38, Ginger Is Our Coach 17
Sorry Stanford, it won't happen again this year. USC won't overlook you much like Drew Carey does to the salad bar.
We Learned Our Lesson 45, Still Missing John Elway 10
Going out on a limb here is a complete understatement. Oregon State is tough to beat at home in November but California is just the team to do it.
The East Bay Bears 28, The Jacquizz Express 24
The boo birds will be out at Husky Stadium for Tricky Rick. He probably doesn't care though, he's got money on the game.
U-C-LLLLLLLLLLLLL-eh? 34, People's Republic of Scott Woodward 5
And now, your Cougar football picks:
Arizona State 35, Washington State 14 says younger sister and tattletale Kelsey Preston (I mean come on, what little sister actually tells on an older brother for giving her an Indian burn? And just for the sister: Go Sonoma State Seawolves!)
Washington State 27, Arizona State 24 says the man who many say has been a personal hero to Jake Peavy and Shawn Merriman, the great Ryan Callahan.
The good news: the Cougar offense is finally starting to shine and scored 28 points against the second best defense in the conference. The bad news: Arizona State's running backs are all healthy for the first time this season. Although the Cougars probably won't get the win, it'll be closer than many people think.
Arizona State 38, Washington State 31
Obscure Pick of the Week! Not really obscure but I'll be making the eight mile trek over to Moscow to watch the battle for the Governor's Cup.
Boise State Broncos 56, Idaho Vandals 13
A very big congratulations to the women's soccer team who qualified for the NCAA women's soccer tournament this week – the program's first post-season berth in six years. After having watched this team the two years previous to this battle and not earn the bid they deserved was heartbreaking but I suppose the third time is the charm. It has been an absolute thrill watching these women all year long as they marched towards this prize they deserved so much. I can think of no team that deserved this tournament berth more than you all did. Head coach Matt Potter and his assistants, Jason Goodson and Allison Scurich have done a great job all year coaching this phenomenal team. Good luck down in Portland, make every Cougar proud.
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