|UCLA picked to win title in power-packed Pac-10|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 01 November 2007 13:54|
The defending champion Bruins received 33 of 34 first-place votes Thursday in a media poll. They totaled 339 points - 66 ahead of second-place Washington State.
The Cougars earned the other first-place vote. Their projected No. 2 finish was the team's highest placing since the media poll began in 1992-93. They finished second last year in coach Tony Bennett's debut season.
``I do like my team because we have a majority of returning players. That will hopefully help us,'' Bennett said. ``There's no substitute in a league like the Pac-10 for juniors and seniors.''
Oregon, the defending Pac-10 tournament winner, was picked third with 240 points, two ahead of fourth-place Arizona.
Stanford was picked fifth, followed by Southern California, California, Washington, Arizona State and Oregon State.
The league is loaded with lottery picks in a season when many expect the Pac-10 to land at least seven teams in the NCAA tournament.
``It's far and away the best conference in the country,'' said Arizona coach Lute Olson, beginning his 25th season in Tucson. ``It's going to be an exciting year. A lot of Rolaids for the coaches.''
Olson attributed the league's resurgence that began last year to the addition of Ben Howland at UCLA, Tim Floyd at USC, Herb Sendek at Arizona State and Bennett at Washington State.
``When I first came in, when somebody had an opening they usually hired an assistant from some other program,'' Olson said. ``Now the schools are hiring the best available head coaches they can get. It's the quality of the coaches that have come in and the recruiting ability of those coaches.''
Six Pac-10 teams played in last season's NCAA tournament, with half of those advancing to the second weekend. UCLA lost in the Final Four for the second consecutive year. The league had six players taken in the NBA draft, including four in the first round.
``It's a changing of the guard from East Coast to West Coast,'' Oregon coach Ernie Kent said.
The talent level is up considerably with Mayo and Love, along with fellow McDonald's All-Americans Jerryd Bayless of Arizona and James Harden of Arizona State, and Duke transfer Eric Boateng at Arizona State joining the league.
``We've never had a player like O.J. Mayo,'' Floyd said. ``He's a terrific talent, everything that he's advertised to be.''
Even with Mayo, the Trojans were projected to finish in the middle of the pack because they lost Nick Young, Lodrick Stewart and Gabe Pruitt, who combined for 43.8 points a game last season.
``We lost more than anybody in the Pac-10 last year,'' Floyd said. ``Hopefully we have gained more than anybody in the league.''
Across town at UCLA, Love will provide a scoring presence down low and at 6-foot-10 and 260 pounds, he'll make the physical Bruins even tougher.
``We're going to get more post feeds, that's for sure,'' Howland said. ``Kevin is very, very good inside. When he does command the double team, he's outstanding at kicking it out.''