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Originally published Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 8:10 PM

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California is the pick to win Pac-10 men's basketball race

Huskies are second in poll of media.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Latest from the Husky Football & Basketball blogs


LOS ANGELES — If California guard Jerome Randle could have skipped Thursday's Pac-10 men's basketball media day, he would have spent the day in the gym preparing for the season.

He hates the hype and the hoopla. Hates the polls and predictions. And he hates the media preseason rankings, which put the Bears atop the list ahead of defending champion Washington.

"I try to stay away from things like rankings and predictions," Randle said. "I really don't like reading about anything. I don't like to really hear about anything, but I guess that comes with the game of basketball. I just want to focus on basketball. I love the game and just focus on getting better day in and day out."

California, which hasn't won a Pac-10 title since 1960, received 350 points and 25 first-place votes to edge Washington, which had 330 points and seven first-place votes. UCLA was third and Washington State eighth. It's the first time in 10 years the Bruins or Arizona weren't picked to win the conference crown.

"There's a lot of balance and parity in the conference," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "Anybody can beat anybody on a given night in the Pac-10. That's one of the great things about this league."

Pac-10 coaches spent a lot of time Thursday countering a perception nationally that it's a down year for their conference.

"We've got to do a better job of promoting ourselves," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "This has never been a two-team conference and I don't suspect it will be this year."

Over the past three years, the Big East (21) is the only conference to send more teams to the NCAA tournament than the Pac-10, which is tied with the ACC with 18.

The Pac-10 has also had more NBA draft picks (27), more first-round picks (17) and more top-10 picks (eight) in the past three years than any conference.

Around the conference

Arizona: The Wildcats have nine players who are either freshmen or sophomores and new coach Sean Miller said it's possible the Wildcats' streak of 25 straight NCAA tournament appearances will be snapped because of the team's inexperience. Senior guard Nic Wise has had four coaches (Lute Olson, Kevin O'Neill, Russ Pennell and Miller) in four years.

Arizona State: Losing James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph to the NBA forced coach Herb Sendek to change the offense and rely on a balanced attack. Still it's a mystery where the Sun Devils will get points. Junior marksman Rihards Kuksiks (10.3 points per game) and senior point guard Derek Glasser (8.8 ppg.) are the leading returning scorers. Junior guard Ty Abbott, who had knee surgery, is expected to return in November.

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California: Randle, the odds-on favorite to win the Pac-10 MVP award, has a message for Isaiah Thomas, Tajuan Porter and Wise. "I know they're coming after me, and I'll be ready," he said. Montgomery said the Bears will have to improve their defense and toughness. Guard Theo Robertson has returned from offseason hip surgery and guard Jorge Gutierrez (foot) returned after missing the first eight practices.

Oregon: Contrary to reports, Ducks coach Ernie Kent said this is not the last season at Mac Court. The team plans to play nonconference games there in 2010 before moving to a new arena for the start of conference play in the 2010-11 season. Kent said Oregon is probably the most athletic team he's ever had. He called the Ducks "Tajuan Porter's team" and said center Michael Dunigan lost 40 pounds and is down to 242.

Oregon State: After guiding the Beavers to an 18-18 finish and 7-11 Pac-10 record, coach Craig Robinson said his biggest job is managing expectations. "Last year we snuck up on a lot of people. This year we won't be able to do that. It's a different mindset," he said. Senior center Roeland Schaftenaar added 25 pounds and has emerged as a team leader.

Stanford: Second-year coach Johnny Dawkins bemoaned the loss of four starters and freshman Andy Brown, who is out for the season with a knee injury. Senior forward Landry Fields, who had been a defensive stalwart, is the leading returning scorer and will be asked to carry the offense.

UCLA: Howland compares the team's rash of injures with the 2006-07 squad. That team finished first in the Pac-10 and advanced to the Final Four. This UCLA bunch, however, is much younger, and the injuries have limited practice time. Among the players missing time include: Guard Michael Roll (right ankle), guard Jerime Anderson (groin), center J'mison Morgan (left knee), guard Malcolm Lee (concussion) and forward Brendan Lane (left ankle). Howland hopes to have everyone back by Monday.

USC: Three Trojans (forward Leonard Washington, guard Mike Gerrity and forward Marcus Johnson) will miss the start of the season because of penalties, and the NCAA is still conducting an investigation into the program for misconduct. New coach Kevin O'Neill admitted, "I'm still learning a lot about our players." He identified forward Dwight Lewis as the strength of the team. "As he goes, basically we'll go," O'Neill said.

Washington State: The Cougars have 12 players who are either freshmen or sophomores and just one senior. New coach Ken Bone is implementing an up-tempo offense that will feature returning starters forward Klay Thompson and guard Reggie Moore, a freshman out of Rainier Beach High. Bone compared forward DeAngelo Casto to former Husky Jon Brockman.

Bears top poll
California was the preseason pick to win the Pac-10 men's basketball title in a poll of media covering the conference. Washington was second. First-place votes in parentheses.
Team Points
1. California (25) 350
2. Washington (7) 330
3. UCLA (5) 302
4. Arizona 221
5. Oregon State 218
6. Oregon 175
7. Arizona State 144
8. Washington State 123
9. USC 109
10. Stanford 63

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