Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Continuing our look at the Pac-10 at the midway point, here's a look at the bottom half of the conference, and our picks for mid-season honors:

#6. Stanford Cardinal (14-5/6-3)

The hottest stock in the conference. The big boys are rounding into shape, and Trent Johnson has finally parked his son's butt on the bench. The win against UCLA was no fluke - the Cardinal can hang with anyone in the conference provided their guards don't give games away with turnovers and ill-advised shots (we're looking at you, Anthony Goods). Tonight's game with Gonzaga will be a nice measuring stick.
1st half MVP: Lawrence Hill. 15.9 ppg on 55% shooting? Not what we expected. Hill (right) has been the heart and soul of the Cardinal, and his ability to create off the dribble has helped the Lopez twins play an even larger role on the offensive end.
Pleasant surprise: Robin Lopez. Brook was supposed to be the better of the two twins, and probably will be over time as he fully recovers from his back injury. Meanwhile Robin is shooting 53% from the field and looks like a pretty polished Pac-10 big man.
Important number: 12. That's how many blocks Brook Lopez had against USC. The Cardinal are 2nd in the nation in block % thanks to their imposing duo up front.
What they need to fix: Mitch Johnson will never be a good point guard, but he's got to stop losing games for the Cardinal. His old man has finally taken him out of the starting lineup in favor of the big lineup of both Lopezes, Hill, Fred Washington and Anthony Goods. That's a start, but Johnson still plays 25+ minutes and has got to be something other than a turnover machine during those stretches.
Reasonable expectation: An NCAA bid.

#7. Washington Huskies (13-7/3-6)
If Stanford is the hottest stock in the conference, we think Washington is the best buy (along with Arizona). The Huskies have under-performed in the first half of conference play, but showed signs of getting their act together in the win over Oregon. It hinges on Justin Dentmon and Ryan Appleby, who can help squeeze the Huskies into the Tourney with an improved second half. If they simply take care of the basketball and play better defense, Washington could prove to be a tough matchup for teams down the stretch.
1st half MVP: Jon Brockman. Freshman Spencer Hawes has been great, but Brockman (left) makes this team go, averaging 9.5 rebounds a game and contributing more than 13 ppg.
Pleasant surprise: There really aren't any. Quincy Pondexter had a terrific start but has struggled a bit in conference play. We knew Hawes would be terrific, and he's lived up to expectations. The backcourt has been a major disappointment.
Important number: 42.6. That's Washington's offensive rebound %, fourth best in the nation. This team lives off second shots, and opponents who can control the defensive glass turn the Huskies into a very ordinary team.
What they need to fix: Defensive efficiency. The Huskies don't surrender lots of points because they play at a fast pace. They surrender lots of points because their defense stinks on ice. Their guards are a step slow and can be taken off the dribble.
Reasonable expectation: We think the Huskies might be able to get it together to qualify for the NCAAs, but that's about it. Even that result would be a disappointment, regardless of how young these Huskies might be.

#8. California Golden Bears (12-9/4-5)
Ben Braun is keeping his charges together with duct tape and chewing gum, and there's reason to believe the Bears can pull an upset or two in the second half of the season. That would get them into the NIT, which would be a pretty good outcome considering their injury woes.
1st half MVP
: Ryan Anderson. A week ago Ayinde Ubaka might have been the pick here, but his bout with the flu left Cal really short-handed against the LA schools. And besides, Anderson is pretty valuable as the only reliable scorer taller than 6'5" on the team.
Pleasant surprise: Anderson, again. Everyone else has played up to expectations.
Important number
: 78.6. That's the Bears' FT %, and it leads the nation. Cal has kept themselves in game after game at the line.
What they need to fix: Cal does a very poor job turning their opponents over. The Bears rank near the bottom of the NCAAs in steal and block %. Given their physical shortcomings and lack of depth, it's difficult for the Bears to trade possessions over a full forty minutes.
Reasonable expectation: 16-17 wins and an NIT berth.

#9. Oregon State Beavers (9-13/1-8)
Boy, this is one disappointing team, and unlike ASU you can't blame it on youth. OSU starts one freshman in Josh Tarver and the other four starters are upperclassmen.
1st half MVP: Marcel Jones. Jones (left) is sixth in the Pac-10 in scoring at 16.5 ppg and also pulls down 6 rebounds per game. He's frankly the only scoring threat on the Beavers (including Mr. Outside, Sasa Cuic) - shut down Jones, and you beat the Beavers. Hell, you probably beat them even if he goes off for 25.
Pleasant surprise: Kyle Jeffers has been a force on the offensive glass, and the lone shot-blocker inside. He doesn't add much offensively (6.5 ppg) but that's OK given that Jones and Cuic are black holes.
Important number: 59.1 - which is OSU's awful % from the foul line. Every one of their starters is 65% or worse from the stripe. To compound matters, the Beavers rarely get to the foul line in the first place, ranking 319th in the nation in free throw rate %.
What they need to fix: Josh Tarver needs to play much better in the second half of the season. It's hard to be efficient offensively when your 3rd leading shooter averages 37% from the field (and 26% from three).
Reasonable expectation: One more conference win (against the Sun Devils in February). Lots of alumni heat on Jay John in the offseason.

#10. Arizona State Sun Devils (6-14/0-9)
Mr. Excitement has brought his snoozy brand of basketball to the desert, and as expected the first half of the season has been a learning experience for the Devils. And by learning experience we mean zero conference wins.
1st half MVP: Jeff Pendergraph. Well, there's not a lot of competition. Pendergraph (right) continues to be one of the most dangerous scorers in the conference off the glass: he averages 59% from the field and leads the conference in offensive rebounds with 84.
Pleasant surprise: Freshman Derek Glasser has stepped in and done an OK job at the point, ranking 125th in the nation in Assist Rate.
Important number: One. That's how many seniors rank in the top nine Devils in terms of minutes played. This may be a brutal transition year, but things look much brighter for ASU in '07-'08.
What they need to fix: Everything? The Devils don't do anything particularly well right now. Sendek's offense depends on movement away from the basketball and high-percentage shots. The Devils are shooting 48.5% from the floor, but only 30.5% from three. Worse, they throw up a lot of threes - 38.4% of their shots are from beyond the arc. They've got to find ways to get the ball inside to Pendergraph and Atuahene or hope the kids (Shipp and Polk) become much more reliable from the perimeter.
Reasonable expectation: Winning a conference game.

* * * * * * * * *

Mid-Season Pac-10 Awards:
Player of the Year: Aaron Brooks, Oregon
Coach of the Year: Tim Floyd, USC
Freshman of the Year: Ryan Anderson, California (suck it, Budinger)

All-Pac 10 (ten selections):
Arron Afflalo, UCLA
Ryan Anderson, California
Jon Brockman, Washington
Aaron Brooks, Oregon
Darren Collison, UCLA
Taj Gibson, USC
Lawrence Hill, Stanford
Derrick Low, Washington State
Ivan Radenovic, Arizona
Mustafa Shakur, Arizona

Honorable Mention (another ten):
Spencer Hawes, Washington
Marcel Jones, Oregon State
Maarty Leunen, Oregon
Robin Lopez, Stanford
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA
Jeff Pendergraph, Arizona State
Bryce Taylor, Oregon
Kyle Weaver, Washington State
Marcus Williams, Arizona
Nick Young, USC


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