This Week In The Pac: Basketball Is Down, But For How Long?

It was a relatively uneventful week for Pac-10 basketball, as the majority of the Pac-10 feasted on inferior competition for easy wins.  But the few brave programs that - through bravery or bad luck - scheduled a challenging opponent, found themselves on the losing end.  Arizona lost to BYU, Washington fell to Texas A&M and Cal lost twice as conference teams continually struggle to beat teams they are supposed to be on even footing with.  Oregon St. and USC notwithstanding, the Pac-10 has done a much better job this year of winning games they are supposed to win.  But until teams start winning games against more evenly matched opponents the Pac-10 won't pull themselves out of what we hope is just a momentary down cycle.

But what exactly has caused the down cycle?  Former Bear Sam Rayburn at Basketball Prospectus has an interesting take:

Pac-10 recruiting has suffered in part because of an unusually high number of coaching changes. Since the 2007-08 season no fewer than seven Pac-10 schools have changed coaches. Only Arizona State (Herb Sendek), Washington (Lorenzo Romar), and UCLA (Ben Howland) have held onto their head coach over that span -- and you may have noticed that's no guarantee of success either. In 2007 Bruins assistant Kerry Keating left Westwood for the head coaching position at Santa Clara. He was/still is considered one of the best recruiters in the country, instrumental to landing the likes of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love.

It's an important factor that hasn't been mentioned as much as other factors like attrition to the NBA.  But the more important question is when the Pac-10 will return as a power that gets more than 50% of its members into the NCAA tournament.  Next year's addition of Utah and Colorado may cloud things, but Rayburn sees reasons for optimism:

The Pac-10 now hosts future hall-of-famers Ben Howland and Mike Montgomery, exciting up-and-comers Johnny Dawkins and Craig Robinson, as well as Dana Altman and Sean Miller, successful head coaches looking to make a big impact in a new conference.

I'm not sure I'd include Craig Robinson in the 'exciting' category right now, but his point is still well taken.  If Dana Altman can prove himself at Oregon that would be nine programs that should be reasonably content with their coaching situation right now.  That may not be the case in four months, but for now the Pac-10 looks set up for a return to prominence.

Around The Pac

In which we take a look at a few of the more interesting and/or important games that happened last week

Texas A&M 63, Washington 62

I'm still pretty sure that Washington is the team to beat in the Pac-10, and the way they've destroyed mediocre competition backs that up . . . but at some point they're going to have to beat an above average team.  Right now their best win is over a Virginia team that was beaten badly by Stanford as well.  Granted, the loss to A&M was in College Station, but Washington still managed to miss their last opportunity for a solid non-conference win.  Not a great sign for the conference standard bearer in 2010-11.

In what could be a blueprint for how to beat the Huskies, A&M slowed the game down, won the battle on the boards and hung on with tough defense.  Now, weather or not any team in the Pac-10 has the talent, experience and coaching to follow that blueprint is a completely different question.

BYU 87, Arizona 65

Arizona was having a pretty solid non-conference start to the season, with the only blemish a hard-fought, respectable loss to Kansas.  So Wildcat fans were probably cautiously optimistic about a tough game against BYU . . and it was never close.  Like many other teams Arizona had no answer for Jimmer Fredette, but Arizona was beaten in every phase of the game.  AZ Desert Swarm remains confident:

Don't start the hand wringing just yet.  This game was bad, ok it was awful, but there is a long season ahead of the Arizona Wildcats.  There is every reason to believe that the Wildcats will make the big dance.  And all you have to do to gauge where the Wildcats are right now, is find a fan of any other team.  Then ask them if they want to play Arizona in the NCAA tournament.  Odds are, with the depth at every position, the answer will be a loud and fast no.

Washington St. 81, Gonzaga 59

This year's edition of the Zags just isn't up to their usual standard of excellent, but a dominating, 22 point win for the Cougs is still an impressive achievement.  And Klay Thompson is just adding piles and piles of evidence justifying my extreme fear.  Thompson dropped 21 in the second half and didn't take a ton of shots to get there.  Meanwhile, WSU held Gonzaga to below 40% from the field and forced 25 turnovers.  Yikes.  Cougcenter is giddy:

We saw a glimpse of what this team could be in the first half. Playing stellar defense - holding the Zags to a long scoring drought to open the game, and then raining threes to open up an early 19 point lead. Then we saw 2009 rear its ugly head. The Zags stormed back to make it a close game at halftime, and it looked like one of those "They came all the way back from 19 down!" type of contests.  Except the Cougs weren't having it. They stormed out of the gates to open the second half in similar fashion to the first.

The Cougars get the win of the week and Klay Thompson is my Pac-10 player of the week in what was an otherwise uneventful seven days of action.

Next Week

The week days are full of more Pac-10 vs. tomato can action with the exception of Oregon St. vs. Montana in a game that the Beavers are expected to lose by 17.  However the weekend gets much more interesting with USC at Kansas, BYU at UCLA, Stanford at Butler and Arizona at NC St.  Only Arizona is expected to win, but if USC or UCLA could pull the upset it would be a nice boost for the conference as a whole - believe it or not, right now the two best wins for the Pac-10 is USC over Texas at home and Cal over Temple in Orlando.

Comment starter:  Rank the Pac-10 coaches, and do you think any of them are trending towards the hot seat?

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