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Originally published November 2, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 2, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Pac-10 Basketball | Nation's eyes look out West

About as predictable as the ending to a Disney movie is any conference preseason media day, where coaches invariably tout their league as...

Seattle Times staff reporter

LOS ANGELES — About as predictable as the ending to a Disney movie is any conference preseason media day, where coaches invariably tout their league as the best it has ever been.

But unlike some of those movie endings, and lots of media days, there was nothing fanciful about the Pac-10 basketball season kickoff event Thursday when all 10 coaches trotted to the podium and asserted the conference's dominance.

This is one year everybody truly seemed to believe it.

"It's far and away the best conference in the country, in my opinion," said Arizona coach Lute Olson. "Far and away it is the best it has ever been top to bottom."

Exhibit A? Six Pac-10 teams ranked in the preseason Top 25.

California coach Ben Braun, meanwhile, presented the Washington Huskies as Exhibit B. He noted that UW was ranked in the top 10 a year ago but Thursday was picked to finish eighth in the Pac-10 media poll.

"That should tell you how good this conference is," Braun said.

Also predictable was the team tabbed to win the conference — two-time defending champion UCLA, which got 33 of 34 first-place votes. The Bruins are widely considered a national title contender with four starters back from a team that made it to the Final Four last season. Now add highly touted incoming center Kevin Love to that lineup.

Washington State got the other first-place vote and finished second, followed by Oregon, Arizona, Stanford, USC, Cal, Washington, Arizona State and Oregon State.

For the Cougars, it was their highest placing since the poll began in 1992-93 (their previous high was fourth in '95-96), though hardly surprising considering all WSU has back from a team that went 26-8 a year ago. Forward Ivory Clark is the only significant loss.

For Cougars coach Tony Bennett, it was a vast difference from a year ago when his team was tabbed last.

"When we were picked 10th in this league, it didn't shake us," Bennett said. "We knew we were going to be competitive. The same holds true for this year. We are selected higher, but our kids are realistic. If we are not playing well, we are susceptible."

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UW coach Lorenzo Romar said he had no real issue with his team's low selection, noting the strength of the league and saying "someone had to be there."

UW forward Jon Brockman, however, said he was "a little surprised. But the first thing I thought about it was 'sweet.' It's a great spot for us to be in being the underdog and a team people don't expect much out of because we are going to bring it this year and we are going to surprise a lot of people."

Brockman and WSU guard Derrick Low represented the two state schools, and sat for a while together at a table largely ignored.

Instead, the media horde descended on Love and USC guard O.J. Mayo, generally considered the top two incoming freshmen in the country and two more reasons why the Pac-10 might be stronger than ever.

Love, a 6-foot-10 center from Lake Oswego, Ore., is touted as an example of the Pac-10 being able to keep the best West Coast players home. Mayo, a 6-5 guard from Huntington, W.Va., is touted as an example of the conference finally being able to attract players from outside its region.

"What I see is a changing of the guard from the East Coast to the West," said Oregon coach Ernie Kent, whose team advanced to the Elite Eight last year with two key players from Detroit.

Six teams return four or more starters, another returns three, and everybody at least two. Five of the 10 all-conference players from last season return (including Brockman, Low and WSU's Kyle Weaver). Throw in some impressive recruits led by Love and Mayo, and some say this could be a year when the conference could have a record number of teams invited to the NCAA tournament. The record is six, which has happened twice, including last season.

"If everyone does what they are supposed to, I think we could get seven, maybe eight," Romar said. "I think there could be seven without an argument."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Pac-10 poll
First-place votes in ( ); points: 10 for first, nine

for second, etc.

Team Points
1. UCLA (33) 339
2. WSU (1) 273
3. Oregon 240
4. Arizona 238
5. Stanford 205
6. USC 184
7. California 140
8. Washington 132
9. Arizona State 81
10. Oregon State 38

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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