The optimist would say the Pac-10 is balanced this season.
California leads the conference with a 3-1 record but six teams are within one game of the Bears. The three last-place teams--Arizona, Washington and Washington State--are 2-3 and just 1.5 games off the lead.
The pessimist would say the Pac-10 isn’t very good this season.
None of the teams are ranked in The Associated Press’ media poll or Basketball Prospectus’ List. According to Jerry Palm’s collegerpi.com, the Pac-10 ranks eighth in RPI behind the other five BCS conferences as well as the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West.
However, most of the Pac-10 coaches expected the league to have parity this season and are not surprised the standings are so tightly bunched through two and a half weeks. They also expected it to be a bit of a down year in the conference following the talent drain of recent years.
“With the departure of so many players from last year and so many of them going to the NBA and to graduation, it’s just a young conference,” Oregon’s Ernie Kent said. “And what happens with young players is that some nights they have it figured out and other nights they don’t. When talking about freshmen and sophomores, it’s hard to get consistency. Therefore you are going to get a conference that is up and down a lot. I think again, like we said in the preseason, the conference has gotten better since the preseason, but all that means is that it’s going to be even more up and down the rest of the season and a lot will depend on who is ready to play every night.”
Rarely does a BCS conference not have a ranked team and that has led to the question of how many teams the Pac-10 will get into the NCAA Tournament. Palm and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi both project California as the only Pac-10 team in the field of 65 with Lunardi pegging the Bears as a No. 9 seed and Palm rating them as just a No. 12.
Southern California coach Kevin O’Neill admits the lack of a ranked team and such a dismal showing in the RPI is not a promising sign for the Pac-10 and some teams will need to make a late charge to get to the NCAAs.
“What happened to us is we didn’t get enough non-conference wins early,” said O’Neill, whose school has put a self-imposed ban on postseason play for this season because of alleged violations in the recruitment of O.J. Mayo.”When you get behind the 8-ball a little bit and don’t have those non-conference wins, it’s hard to climb back into the top 25 and if you lost at all, you’re out of it. Overall, as a league, we didn’t have what you call any key non-conference signature wins. That is usually what determines who is in the top 25 at this point of the season.”
Oregon State coach Craig Robinson believes the Pac-10’s best hopes to get multiple teams to the NCAAs is for separation to develop in the standings.
“I think it’s better to have the top three or four teams ranked and the bottom six teams fighting it out in order to get the last spot in the NCAA Tournament,” Robinson said. “I think having a year like this with so much parity, it’s good for all the teams from a competitive standpoint. I think the games will be good within the league but the national exposure is not as big. We will have to see what happens at the end of the year when the NCAA selection committee decides who gets to play.”
DePaul Job a Tough Sell
Assistant coach Tracy Webster is finishing out the season as DePaul’s head coach in the wake of Jerry Wainwright being fired Monday. Unless Webster can work miracles, the school will be looking for a new coach as soon as the season is over.
Whoever gets the job will have a tough task. The Blue Demons have gone a combined 59-81 during their five seasons since moving to the Big East from Conference USA and just 20-52 in conference games. They have also lost 23 straight Big East regular-season games.
Speculation has centered on a number of head coaches making the move to DePaul, beginning with Robinson. The First Brother-In-Law is a Chicago native and has had success at Brown and Oregon State. Southern Illinois’ Chris Lowery would be another strong candidate and Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobsen and Western Michigan’s Steve Hawkins would likely get serious consideration.
If DePaul goes the assistant coach route, Duke’s Chris Collins and Illinois’ Jerrance Howard would make good candidates. Collins is a Chicago native and son of former Bulls coach Doug Collins while Howard has recruited a number of Chicago high school players to Champaign.
A wild card might be DePaul legend Rod Strickland, who is an assistant coach at Kentucky. However, this is the first season Strickland has ever coached after working as director of basketball operations under John Calipari at Memphis and it would be seemingly overwhelming for someone with so little experience to step into a program in this much trouble.
Though DePaul is 7-9 overall and 0-4 in the Big East, Webster said he is not writing off this season and is instituting a more up-tempo style in an effort to shake his team out of its doldrums. DePaul’s adjusted tempo under Wainwright was 62.9, which ranked 329th among the 347 Division I teams.
The Blue Demons lost to Providence 79-62 on Thursday night in Webster’s debut and also learned that junior center Mac Koshwal will miss at least two weeks and perhaps as much as a month with a right foot injury. He had already sat out eight games with a left foot injury. Koshwal is averaging 15.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 34.4 minutes a game.
“I want to win,” Webster told the Chicago Tribune’s Brian Hamilton. “I’m used to playing this game and being around guys that would fight and would work. Sometimes the outcome isn’t the one you want, but as you know they put 150 percent in, it doesn’t matter.”
Of course, it’s impossible to give 150 percent but DePaul guard Will Walker believes effort has become a problem.
“The first seven or eight games we played so much harder than we've been playing,” Walker said. "We all tell each other before the game, ‘We're not going to let it happen again, we're not going to start off slow,’ and it keeps happening. Some of the guys that were here last year, we started saying, ‘Man, we're sluggish like last year, we have to get out of that mode.’ That's what Coach Webster is doing right now. He's picking up the pace so much more to try to get us out of that sluggish mode.”
Ellis Makes Quick Impression
Saint Louis freshman forward Cody Ellis had a double-double in just his second collegiate game and first career start, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds in 31 minutes of a 79-75 victory at Duquesne in double overtime on Wednesday night. Not bad for a kid who remained in his native Australia during the first semester awaiting the NCAA to rule him eligible while it investigated whether he had played in a league with professionals in his homeland.
“Two weeks ago, the kid is swimming in the ocean and it was 100 degrees,” Billikens coach Rick Majerus said. “He was sitting at home, trying his best to stay in playing shape, which is hard to do when you don’t have a team to practice with. The kid has a tan. How many college basketball players have a tan in January? He travels through 18 time zones to get from Australia to St. Louis then travels to another time zone to play in Pittsburgh and gets a double-double. To me, that’s amazing. It just shows what is to come from this kid once he’s settled in. Heck, he’s still learning his teammates’ names.”
Ellis’ potential is indicative of the entire Saint Louis roster. The Billikens have all sophomores and freshmen yet are 11-5 overall and 2-0 in the Atlantic 10.
“You’re looking at the youngest team in America and it is 11-5,” Majerus said. “You can’t help but get excited about the potential of our program. This is just the beginning. We’re going to have some more growing pains along the way but I think the long-term future is very bright for the Billikens.”
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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