Pac-10, impact freshmen, familiar coaches in new spots mark new season Print
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Thursday, 01 November 2007 09:24
NCAAB Headline News


 When facing a map of the United States and asked to put the push pins where the best college basketball is played, it wasn't often you would look left. It's different this season.
The preseason honor often reserved for the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 or any league in the Eastern or Central time zones, heads west to the Pac-10, and it's well earned.
``I don't remember a year, top to bottom, every team in this league is capable of winning on any given night,'' California coach Ben Braun said. ``Where else can you say that our seventh-place team last year was ranked No. 10 in the country during the season? Think about that. We have some good teams.''
There aren't too many other head turners as the 2007-08 season nears.
There are a few freshmen who are considered ``can't-miss, one-year wonders capable of leading a team deep into the NCAA tournament.''
There are a number of coaches who had to fill out new address forms, some who were making the move before they were fired, others looking to step up or return home and one, Rick Majerus, deciding to leave the television analyst seat for one on the bench.
There will be the usual teams in the Top 25 all season, and the same argument in March when a school from a power conference gets left out of the NCAA tournament field for a mid-major school.
It all gets under way Nov. 5 with a doubleheader in Memphis, and it ends April 7 in San Antonio's Alamodome.
Florida starts the season looking for a third straight national championship, a task made almost impossible by the departure of the five starters who won the two titles.
``This may sound off the wall, but their goal should be to be the type of team that we've had here the last two years,'' said Gators coach Billy Donovan, who left for the Orlando Magic for about a week before returning to Florida. ``And not that there's five pros on our team or anything like that, but how they played the game. These guys in this program have a great model to look at, and that should be the goal: to play the game like those guys played and let the chips fall where they may.''
UCLA was knocked out the NCAA tournament by Florida in the last two Final Fours. The Bruins do have four starters back from last season - losing All-America Arron Afflalo. Freshman big man Kevin Love provides an inside presence that makes the Bruins the favorite in the Pac-10.
``Back-to-back Final Fours are great, but our team is looking forward to the challenge of taking the next step,'' UCLA coach Ben Howland said.
All but two Pac-10 teams likely will reach the postseason; six were in the field of 65 last season. As the season starts, it looks like matching the seven bids from 2005 is a possibility.
``We could have an abundance of teams ranked this year, maybe six preseason and maybe eight by the time the conference is over,'' Braun said. ``It wouldn't surprise me.''
Arizona, with Chase Budinger back as the focus of the offense, should extend the longest current streak of NCAA tournament appearances to 24, but the Wildcats are considered a middle of the Pac team this season, another sign of the league's depth.
Washington State has four starters back from the team that won 26 games and earned Tony Bennett national coach of the year honors. Stanford has almost everybody back, including 7-foot twins Brook and Robin Lopes. Oregon has four starters back from the team that won 29 games and lost to Florida in the regional finals.
Spencer Hawes, but a lot of players who gained experience as freshman and sophomores and won 19 games last season are back.
There are other conferences looking at big bid numbers four months before ``on the bubble'' becomes the dreaded description of teams waiting to hear their fate on Selection Sunday.
The ACC (with favorites North Carolina and Duke), Big Ten (Michigan State and Indiana), Big East (Georgetown and Louisville), Big 12 (Kansas and Texas) and Southeastern (Tennessee and Arkansas), along with the Pac-10, should provide the majority of the 34 at-large teams in the tournament.
It will be another season of Memphis dominating Conference USA while staying near the top of the national poll. All five starters are back for the Tigers, and freshman point guard Derrick Rose, like Mayo and Kansas State's Michael Beasley, could be the first-year impact player who wins and leaves for the NBA.
``O.J. has created quite a buzz,'' Trojans coach Tim Floyd said. ``He's been one of the most talked about high school athletes over the last decade, and with that come expectations. He's a great talent, but I want to remind people that he is a freshman.''
M to Kentucky; John Beilein from West Virginia to Michigan; Bob Huggins from Kansas State to West Virginia.
Majerus will go from being heard to being seen again. The last time he coached was at Utah three seasons ago. He briefly accepted, then turned down the job at Southern California. Now the 59-year-old takes over a Saint Louis program that hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2000 and is opening a new arena next season.
``I saw this as an opportunity,'' he said when he got the job. ``I don't think I forgot how to do it. I love practice and I love the kids and I like the game.''
Majerus won't be the only coach being closely watched. The NCAA announced officials will enforce the rule that keeps coaches in front of the benches, not on the floor where quite a few seem to be spending a lot of time, and limits their ability to complain and the language used during those complaints.
Can Florida make it three in a row? Will any of the freshmen come in and become the face of the sport for one season just as Greg Oden and Kevin Durant did? Which coaches will prove they made the right move?
All questions will be answered by early April.
 

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