Sports Illustrated and Sporting News each recently posted previews of the Pac 10 and each picked Southern California to finish 8th. Honestly, I find it difficult to believe that seven teams will finish ahead of SC. This team has its issues to be sure, specifically outside shooting and a lack of depth, but on the flip side the Trojans are extremely athletic, will be excellent on defense, and feature the best front court in conference with Alex Stepheson and Nikola "Kid Euro" Vucevic. So let's take a look at the shortcomings each of the teams ranked ahead of USC face coming into this season.
Washington: There is no doubt about it, the Huskies look good on paper and return every player save for one, but oh what a big one it is. Swingman Quincy Pondexter led the team in scoring (19.3 PPG) and rebounds (7.4 RPG) and his departure means that the pressure will be on Isaiah Thomas (NR) to produce most of the team's offense. The Huskies have good outside shooting too, but they really lack size down low and will need some of their recruits to help out Matthew Bryan-Amaning on the boards.
UCLA: Let's see... They lose two starters, one of whom led the team in scoring and assists while shooting 42% from beyond the arc. There are serious questions at Point Guard with the eventual answer being either the disappointing Jerime Anderson or a JC transfer. And most of their success depends upon how much Malcolm Lee improves. Tyler Honeycutt should be very good, but they will be hurting for depth up front big time if recruit Josh Smith hasn't dropped that extra poundage he's been carrying around the last couple years. In my eyes it is a complete joke that this team is being picked by most to return to the NCAA tournament.
Arizona: Derrick Williams will be the best player in conference but outside of him the Wildcats lack a legitimate post threat. Moreover if you're expecting Jamelle Horne to make some big leap as a Senior you are kidding yourself as he actually regressed in scoring and rebounding going from his Sophomore to Junior year. But hey, a team that lost its starting PG and is relying mostly on unproven sophomores should be a certain lock to dance once March rolls around... right?
Arizona State: This has to be a joke... Two starters are gone along with their 6th man. The starting lineup will have only one player taller than 6'6" and only one bench player who has played at the college level taller than 6'3". I just find it really hard to believe that a platoon of 3 point shooters with no front court or high major recruits will be sitting near the top of the conference at the end of the year.
Washington State: Let's face it, in the 2009/2010 season Klay Thompson was the only guy on this team that could create scoring opportunities on his own, and much of the Cougars offense relied on all of the attention Thompson draws. Reggie Moore and DeAngelo Casto are good supporting players, but WSU is really lacking in talent. If you take away Klay they're actually a lot like ASU and will likely live and die by outside shooting. Basically 2010/2011 looks to be much of the same story as last season.
Oregon State: Say goodbye to 3 starters, and welcome back the combined 18.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, and 2.6 APG that Calvin Hayes and Jared Cunningham return to the team. Yes indeed, the Beaver's starting backcourt will feature two players that dished out 2.6 assists each game between them. For OSU's sake let's hope that Roberto Nelson lives up to the hype, as he is finally cleared to play, as the trail of mediocrity behind him is very long.
California: Cal loses 5 players from last season, 4 of which were starters including Pac 10 player of the year Jerome Randle. The total production of those 5 was 62.4 PPG, 19.2 RPG, 10.2 APG. Mike Montgomery is a great coach but there is no way he will come even close to replacing that kind of production. I think this choice must be an elaborate joke.
USC finishing 8th? The Trojans will likely start MoJo, Bryce Jones, Marcus Simmons, Alex Stepheson, and Kid Euro with Jio Fontan available once conference play roles around. With Donte Smith available as a spot shooter off the bench and Evan Smith in reserve to spell our bigs it is simply bewildering to me that anyone could think that 7 teams will place ahead of SC. I guess we will just have to wait and see how it all pans out.