UW men picked to finish 8th in Pac-10

  • By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
  • Thursday, November 1, 2007 11:41pm
  • SportsSports

LOS ANGELES — Coach Lorenzo Romar didn’t seem insulted that his Washington Huskies were picked eighth in the annual Pacific-10 Conference men’s basketball poll released Thursday.

Someone has to be eighth, he noted.

And a pretty good someone at that, as coach after coach at Pac-10 media day called the conference the best it has ever been and the best in the country.

“If it wasn’t us, they would have had to pick someone else,” Romar said. “In our case, we finished seventh with Spencer Hawes, we lost Spencer Hawes, I guess people think, ‘Well, if you can’t finish any better than seventh when you had him…’ So, we’ll see how it plays out.”

Romar seems to believe it will play our better than that. Hawes was the only major departure from last season’s 19-win team, while the other starters are all back with more experience and will be supplemented by another well-regarded recruiting class.

And if Romar needs any reminder of how wrong the media can be, he need look only across the state to Pullman.

Last season, the poll placed Washington State last in the league. Instead, the Cougars finished second with a 26-8 record overall, 13-5 in league play, made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament and within a whisker of the regionals.

With only one key player departed, this time around the media picked the Cougars second behind UCLA in the conference race. WSU was the only team besides the Bruins to get a first-place vote.

Oregon was picked third, Arizona fourth, Stanford fifth, USC sixth, California seventh, Washington eighth, Arizona State ninth and Oregon State last.

Now, Bennett expects his team will deal with this season’s high expectations well as they did with last season’s low ones.

“I think our guys knew who we were as a team and we knew that we were kind of knocking on the door and we had some experienced players coming back and we knew we were going to be competitive and we had a chance to be good,” he said. “I think the same holds true this year. So we’ve been selected higher, we’re in a different spot, but I think our kids are realistic about who we are as a team and we know how good this league is.”

Last season, the Pac-10 tied its previous high with six teams invited to the NCAA tournament. Three of those advanced to the Sweet 16.

Four Pac-10 players, including Hawes, were taken in the first round of the NBA draft. However, much more talent returns. Six teams have at least four starters back. Ten Pac-10 players — more than from any other conference — are among the 50 national Wooden Award nominees, including guards Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver from WSU and forward Jon Brockman from UW.

Also joining the mix are several exceptional recruiting classes, including perhaps the two top freshman recruits in the country: O.J. Mayo of Southern California and Kevin Love of UCLA.

The recruitment of Mayo is an example of how talent sometimes multiplies at a school or throughout a conference.

“I really just saw with the players this would be the toughest conference in college basketball this year,” Mayo said, explaining he came west “to have the opportunity to play against the best and really see where you stand as a ballplayer.”

It is, Arizona coach Lute Olson pointed out, a mixed blessing.

“The conference, I said a year ago, was going to be the best it’s ever been,” Olson said. “But this year it’s even better because of all the guys coming back and the recruiting classes. It is far and away the best conference in the nation and by far and away the best conference top to bottom that it’s ever been. It’ll be fun for the fans and the media, but a lot of Rolaids for the coaches.”

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