What has happened to Pac-10 men's basketball?
This is shaping up as worst Pac-10 men's basketball conference since talent-deprived mid-1980s.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
The first Pac-10 men's basketball teleconference started a little late Tuesday, which, come to think of it, describes the Pac-10 basketball season.
Who stole in and turned the league into a struggling mid-major? Where did all the big men go? Where's a waiver wire when you need one?
It almost feels gratuitous to take shots at the league, 2009-10 version. It's like ripping FEMA during Katrina. It speaks for itself.
Most people didn't expect the league to be boffo this season, but not a lot of people thought it would turn into the Southland Conference, either. What we have is a league that's 50-36 against mostly tepid nonleague opponents, 5-19 against the other big-six conferences. Half the teams have records of .500 or poorer, not good in mid-December.
Eighteen times, the league has met a top-50 team in the Sagarin computer ratings, without a victory. Sagarin has the league at No. 8 nationally, behind the Atlantic-10 and Mountain West.
The best win by the league? Maybe Arizona State's 71-52 victory over LSU. But if you believe Sagarin, it's California's triumph over Murray State (rated 58th). It's going to be tough to build a promotional campaign around: "Syracuse is way out of our league, but we can hang with Murray State."
Worst I can remember the Pac-10 was in the mid-1980s, when there was a serious talent migration out of California, and it was considered déclasse to opt for a Pac-10 school. In 1985 and '86, the league had six NCAA entries without a victory.
One of those years, the Pac-10 postseason media guide came in the mail and by that evening, everybody was eliminated.
Aesthetically, this isn't looking a whole lot better.
Arizona State (7-3) and Washington State (8-2) have performed reasonably well. Cal (6-3), picked to win the league, has been injured and ill. Washington (6-2) hasn't shown it can function outside the cozy confines of Hec Ed.
The rest of the conference is pretty much a wreck in progress. Oregon State (4-4) was expected to contend for an NCAA berth, but coach Craig Robinson talked Tuesday about dealing with "a lot of pressure for kids that for years were never expected to win."
In any year, you're expected to beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Sacramento State, and OSU lost to both. Oregon lost to Montana and USC to Loyola Marymount.
"The skill things," said USC's first-year coach Kevin O'Neill, "we don't do well right now."
One of those is shoot the ball, a failing up and down the league. Oregon State, with a woeful team assist-turnover ratio of 0.58, shoots .266 on three-point attempts. USC is at .297. Washington is at .302.
Then there's UCLA, 3-6 despite a blowout win Tuesday night over New Mexico State. Forever the most-watched program nationally in the conference, the Bruins' epic problems have served to magnify the futility of the league.
The Bruins, who lost all three games in the 76 Classic tournament over Thanksgiving weekend in Anaheim, were getting .396 shooting on threes from veteran Michael Roll before Tuesday night. The rest of the team was at .205 beyond the arc. There was nobody on the roster hitting better than .700 at the foul line; the team percentage was .550.
UCLA is young at guard and simply shaky up front, having seemingly hit the wall after losing three underclassmen to the NBA two seasons ago and last spring, guard Jrue Holiday.
"It's hard to plan," insists UCLA coach Ben Howland. "Two years ago, the only one I knew for sure would have a good chance to leave would be Kevin Love. I had no idea [Russell] Westbrook and [Luc Richard] Mbah a Moute would be leaving early."
The bill has come due for the league's 13 first-round NBA draft choices in 2008-09. In the top 11 of those two drafts, 22 players total, the Pac-10 had eight.
Now, among the likely casualties is Arizona's 25-year streak of putting a team in the NCAA tournament. Says first-year coach Sean Miller, referring to that string, "Where we're at right now is not there."
He just spoke for an entire conference.
And what's more ...
Among the attrition around the league:
• Cal center Harper Kamp, undersized at 6 feet 8 but savvy, is out for the year after knee surgery. The Bears just got back veteran Theo Robertson after a foot problem.
• Stanford forward Josh Owens, last season's team leader in blocked shots and fourth-leading scorer, has been out with an undisclosed medical condition. Coach Johnny Dawkins said it's "really uncertain" whether he returns.
• USC expects eligibility clearance for both guard Michael Gerrity and forward Leonard Washington by the start of Pac-10 play. Gerrity has played at both Pepperdine and Charlotte.
• Oregon is without Matt Humphrey (knee) until January, while forward Joevan Catron has a lingering back problem. The Ducks open Pac-10 play at WSU New Year's Eve afternoon.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
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