UCLA has had their way in the Pac-10 in recent years, and throughout history for that matter, but not this season as the Bruins find themselves in the middle of a tight race.
Unlike last season, it has been a free for all for supremacy in the Pac-10 with UCLA, Washington and Cal smacking heads, surprising Arizona State, plus hard-charging Arizona. Here's a look at the strengths and weaknesses of some of college basketball's best teams in the Pacific 10 Conference.
Ben Howland has another talented team, especially in the backcourt with seniors Darren Collison (14.8 ppg) and Josh Shipp (12.7 ppg). Howland knows how to teach defense and the attacking Bruins allow 62 ppg, second best in the Pac-10. They have more competition this season and aren't as strong as a year ago after losing center Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
After allowing 42% shooting last season, the Bruins allow 43.6% this year. With a reputation as a dominant defensive team, notice the Bruins recently went on a 9-1 run over the total. UCLA has road trips to Stanford and Cal this weekend. Their last road trip was a disaster, losing twice in the state of Arizona as chalk each time. UCLA is 65-49 ATS the last four years while making back-to-back Final Four appearances.
After going just 16-15 last year and starting 2-3 this season, the Huskies have been on a tear. 6-7 senior Jon Brockman (14.9 ppg, 11 rpg) mans the frontcourt, but the backcourt makes this team fly, averaging 80 points behind 5-foot-8 freshman Isaiah Thomas (16.5 ppg) and senior Justin Dentmon (15.8 ppg). These guards attack the basket.
Washington is tops in the Pac-10 in scoring and rebounding. The Huskies lead the conference in both free throws made and attempted during conference play. In fact, Washington has made more free throws than any other Pac-10 team has attempted. The Huskies have held a particular advantage in home games, attempting an average of 38 free throws at home, compared to 21 for their opponents. They are on an 8-1 run over the total.
Arizona State Sun Devils
The Sun Devils had 19 wins last season, then became the first Pac-10 team to reach 20 this year. They are doing it with defense, allowing 59 ppg, plus allowing 43% shooting in conference play. 6-9 senior Jeff Pendergraph (13 ppg, 8 rpg) mans the frontcourt, but the guy who makes the offense hum is 6-5 sophomore James Harden (21.3 ppg), a likely NBA lottery pick.
Arizona State is second in the conference from the line at 74%. Coach Herb Sendek's squad just topped UCLA and USC and now has a road trip to face both Washington schools this weekend. The Sun Devils are 4-0 SU/ATS as a dog, plus on a 7-2 run under the total with that defense.
California Golden Bears
The Bears have used a strong home court edge and a three-guard attack to have strong season. The three-guard offense leads the team in scoring behind junior Jerome Randle (18.4 ppg), 6-5 junior Patrick Christopher (14.6 ppg) and 6-6 junior Theo Robertson (12.4 ppg).
The streaky Bears went 1-4 SU/0-5 ATS, then turned around and went 3-0 SU/ATS. That included an impressive 22-point comeback victory over Stanford, 82-75. The Bears continue to pace the nation in three-point accuracy, connecting on 45.9 percent of their attempts. Bettors beware: Cal just went 0-3 SU/ATS in three straight as a dog. They also went four straight Pac-10 games over the total.
The Wildcats stumbled in midseason under interim coach Russ Pennell, but have caught fire the last month while on a sizzling 7-0 SU, 6-1 ATS run. Arizona relies on the frontcourt scoring punch of 6-7 senior Chase Budinger (18 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and 6-9 senior Jordan Hill (18 ppg, 11 rpg).
Arizona snuck into the NCAA Tournament last season to extend its nation-best streak of appearances in the big dance to 24 years. The Wildcats already have defeated three nationally ranked opponents this season and put themselves in position to keep the streak alive. Oddly, Pennell is not likely to win the job permanently, although he has a shot to win Pac-10 Coach of the Year!