2007 Pac-10 Tournament Preview

2007 Pac-10 Tournament Preview

2007 Pac-10 Tournament Preview
by Jordan Adams - 03/05/2007

Ah yes, things are so much more laid back on the West Coast. That's the appeal of the Pac-10 and this offensive inclined conference, or at least don't mention that tidbit to Washington State. The rise of the Cougars this season makes the claim that you don't have to be all scoring to win out on the pacific coast. In fact, you could say Ben Howland inspired the West Coast Defense when his Bruins became quite possibly the best defensive minded program since he arrived from Pittsburgh.

Those Bruins come in as the top seed, as UCLA clinched the regular season title thanks in large part to a perfect home record this season. By winning the league tournament they will lock in one of the coveted No. 1 seeds, but some will argue they already have regardless of their result this weekend. But as dominant as they have been, five or six teams have the firepower to win this tournament.

Arizona is beginning to mold into the team they should have been all year, while Wazzou, Oregon and even USC could make their way into Saturday's title game. And don't count out the Cardinal or the suddenly hot Washington Huskies. It's going to be mayhem in Los Angeles, and expect guard play to dominate the headlines.

THE FAVORITE:
UCLA - Only four losses all season, so know that these Bruins are a legit title contender. They have solid interior players, but the bulk of their scoring comes from the perimeter. Aaron Afflalo and Darren Collison will make or break this team in March, but also expect a lot from Josh Shipp. It seems the majority of time this team struggles against higher scoring clubs. So expect tough games if they meet Arizona or Oregon.

THE CONTENDERS:
Oregon - After Aaron Brooks and the Ducks came out of hibernation they started to show signs of the team that snuck into the top 10 over a month ago. They love the three ball, but that could wind up being the death of these Quackers. They do however have the guard play to cut down the nets in the Staples Center.

Washington State - Only these Cougars make playing in the 40s intriguing. Well, this Washington State team may not be bringing sexy back, but their defensive focus and mindset is putting Pullman, Washington back on the map. You probably couldn't name more than two players on this team, but who cares? These guys are just winning.

THE SLEEPER:
Arizona - Clean slate, clean slate, clean slate. Leave the regular season in the regular season because these 'Cats will make some noise in March, starting this week. But then again, they could flop out in the first round. Yes, they are that inconsistent, but I'd like to think this squad can do damage, especially with three of the more gifted players in the country in Marcus Williams, Ivan Radenovic and Chase 'Great White Hope' Budinger.

OPENING MATCH-UPS:
#8 California vs. #9 Oregon State - The Bears have showed promise at times, winning over Washington and Oregon. And they did sweep the season series with the Beavers, a team that won only three conference games.

#7 Washington vs. #10 Arizona State - You can't smoke UCLA and then drop the ball against lowly ASU. Well, you can, but it would be so unlike a Lorenzo Romar squad. The Huskies are young but talented, and the duo of Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman down low will be too much here.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:


Personally, this is my favorite conference tournament. UCLA should find itself in the title game, but drawing Arizona or Oregon in one of the semifinals could easily be a championship in its own right. And the Ducks and Wildcats could simply wear each other out the previous game and make it that much easier for the Bruins to advance. Don't be surprised if USC makes some noise and meets fellow Los Angeles foe UCLA in the title game, but in the end it will be Ben Howland's team that takes this bracket.

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Re: 2007 Pac-10 Tournament Preview

Breaking down the Pac-10
Tue, Mar 6, 2007
By Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- The Pac-10 usually finds itself down the list when conferences are being evaluated at this time of year.

Not this season.

Lute Olson, completing his 24th year at Arizona, called the Pac-10 the toughest its ever been during a conference call Tuesday.

Ernie Kent, finishing his 10th season at Oregon, added: ''I think it's the No. 1 conference in the country. If it's not No. 1, it's No. 2.''

The Pac-10 tournament starts Wednesday at the Staples Center.

Southern California's Tim Floyd said he couldn't imagine a better seventh-place team in the nation than Washington, prompting Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar to say: ''I wouldn't say I disagree. If they had a tournament for all seventh-place teams, hopefully we would hold our own.''

And Ben Howland, coach of top-seeded UCLA, expressed the opinion that six Pac-10 teams are a lock to play in the NCAA tournament, no matter what happens in the conference tournament.

That's usually the mantra of the Big East, Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference about now.

''I was in the Big East for four years - that's a point of reference for me,'' Howland said.

Six Pac-10 teams have played in the NCAA tournament only once before - in 2002. Five were chosen on four occasions, most recently in 2003. Three played in 2004, and four were picked in each of the past two years.

Seven of the league's 10 teams have at least 18 wins, and those seven went a combined 71-12 against non-conference opponents.

''Hopefully we'll be rewarded for being a very, very tough conference,'' Kent said. ''We've kind of beaten up on each other.''

Perhaps that explains why only four teams are ranked among the nation's top 25 this week - No. 2 UCLA, No. 13 Washington State, No. 18 Oregon and No. 24 USC. Each of the top seven teams were ranked at one time or another this season.

Eighth-seeded California (14-16, 6-12 Pac-10) faces ninth-seeded Oregon State (11-20, 3-15) and seventh-seeded Washington (18-12, 8-10) meets 10th-seeded Arizona State (8-21, 2-16) Wednesday night to begin the tournament. Oddsmakers have Cal favored by 4 1/2 points with a total of 131 and Washington favored by 6 points with a total of 126 1/2.

Four games will be played Thursday. The semifinals are Friday night and the finals Saturday.

''I feel like we should be in the (NCAA) tournament - win or lose,'' said Stanford's Trent Johnson, whose team appears to be the only one of the top six that could be bypassed.

UCLA won the Pac-10 regular-season and tournament championships last year, and reached the finals of the NCAA tournament before losing to Florida 73-57.

The prevailing sentiment is that UCLA is even better this season, but Floyd said he can see as many as seven teams winning the conference tournament.

''They're more experienced, to begin with,'' Olson said about the Bruins. ''The second thing is they've had another year to play in the system. The key to UCLA a year ago and this year is how they defend.''

Romar also pointed to the Bruins' ability on defense, and added: ''I think Darren Collison has done a marvelous job replacing Jordan Farmar (at point guard). I thought that would be where the biggest dropoff would be. There hasn't been a dropoff at all.''

Romar said he believes his team has to win the conference tournament championship to earn an NCAA tournament berth. That would mean winning four games in four days on a neutral floor, something no team has done in the five years all 10 schools have been included in the Pac-10 tournament.

''Who knows what the committee will do? At this point, we can't rely on anyone else,'' he said. ''We feel like we have to go out and win four, and that's how we're approaching it. You go in, you know the next time you lose, you're probably out of the NCAA tournament.''

A team of Romar's has accomplished such a feat. In 2000, his first season at Saint Louis, the Billikens entered the Conference USA tournament following an 84-41 loss at Cincinnati, and then had to face the Bearcats in the second-round.

But Saint Louis took advantage of an injury to Kenyon Martin and upset the Bearcats, then won two more games to take the tournament title and earn an NCAA tournament bid.

Romar said that Saint Louis team was a veteran squad, while the current Huskies are very young.

''I think this team is coming in with some momentum - we won our last two games against quality teams,'' he said.

The Huskies beat USC and UCLA to complete the regular season, but both games were at home, where they won 17 games. Washington's only road victory was a 66-61 triumph at ASU.

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