It’s Championship Week in college basketball, otherwise known as the week of tournaments before THE Tournament. And honestly, it seems this year people only really care about two conference tourneys: the Big East and the Big 12 … and maybe the ACC based on history and hype.
This week we’ll be previewing those anticipated conference tournaments. But for now I’m doing the Pac-10, because that’s the one I know best, because I don’t want the Left Coast to get overlooked again, and, well, because I can.
5 THINGS TO WATCH FOR DURING THE PAC-10 TOURNAMENT
1. Derek Glasser will reincarnate Gerry McNamara
In 2006, G-Mac went on a one-man warpath in the Big East tourney, taking an underdog Syracuse squad to an improbable conference championship. In 2010, no team in the Pac-10 is assured an at-large NCAA bid, so winning this tournament is crucial. If there’s one player who can — and may have to — mimic McNamara and carry his squad, it’s Glasser. (And not just because he’s a White point guard.) James Harden‘s high school and college backcourt mate is the classic underrated overachiever, a four-year starter who is the heart and soul of the Sun Devils. Glasser (10.2 ppg, 4.8 apg) averaged 13 points per game in last year’s Pac-10 tournament, and dropped 22 in the first round of the Big Dance when Temple put Harden in a box. If ASU finds itself in a tight game this postseason, Glasser will have the ball in his hands to decide the outcome.
2. Washington’s backcourt has to step up
UW was a popular preseason pick to contend for a Sweet 16 or Elite Eight spot primarily due to their guards: sophomore scoring machine Isaiah Thomas, junior defensive demon Venoy Overton, and freshman PG phenom Abdul Gaddy. Although the Huskies finished the regular season a respectable 21-9 and sit third-place in the conference, they’ve been inconsistent all year and terrible on the road, while senior SF Quincy Pondexter has been the star. Thomas is on a roll, however, averaging 18.2 points over his last five games, and Overton has improved as a scoring threat while maintaining that defensive energy. But Gaddy (4.2 ppg, 2.3 apg) has been arguably the biggest bust of any ’09 high school All-American. At least two of the UW trio will have to show up and give Pondexter some help if the Huskies hope to secure a spot in the 65-team bracket.
3. Oregon’s emotional state
Be prepared for a bunch of “lame Duck” one-liners. Over the weekend, the rumor mill in Eugene was saying head coach Ernie Kent has already been fired — with some reports claiming Kent was told in late-February that he wasn’t returning next year — setting up a scenario at the Staples Center this week where the players could either go all-out for their coach, or just go through the motions. The Ducks (15-15) have a couple of seniors in Tajuan Porter and Joevan Catron who don’t want to go out without a bang, but they’ve also got a bunch of young guys whom Kent recruited who have been through a couple of bad seasons already and may be disillusioned with the whole thing. Oregon did just beat play-in opponent Washington State last Saturday, but that game was the emotional finale at Mac Court (closing its doors after this season) and the home-crowd advantage was significant. That won’t be the case this time.
4. Klay Thompson and Jerome Randle will drop savage buckets
The third- and fourth-leading scorers in the Pac-10, Thompson (19.6 ppg) and Randle (18.7 ppg) have to play big for their teams to have a chance to win. Washington State sophomore two-guard Thompson is a long-range sniper who watched Reggie Miller tapes growing up to learn how to move without the ball, and California senior PG Randle, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, is like a like a Black Steve Nash as a scorer, hitting over 40 percent of his threes and 90 percent from the line with some Chicago playground swag mixed in. If WSU beats Oregon in the play-in game, they’ll face No. 1 seed Cal in the first round. Randle dropped 39 points on the Cougars in a game earlier this year, while Thompson went for 28 against the Golden Bears in another meeting.
5. USC’s presence
Maybe you’ll see them in the Staples Center crowd, but you won’t see the Trojans on the court. As part of self-imposed sanctions stemming from the O.J. Mayo/Tim Floyd era, USC is banned from this year’s conference tourney in their own backyard. That’s good news for the rest of the conference, as the Trojans (16-14) had rallied around first-year coach Kevin O’Neill and were better than anyone expected. USC is one of the most athletic squads on the West Coast. Against Arizona State last week, their full-court press was a full-fledged problem: ASU was trying to inbound the ball in the final seconds and had to take three straight timeouts because the Trojans simply wouldn’t give them anything — and two other times ASU had nowhere to go on a inbounds play before getting bailed out with a foul call. Seniors Mike Gerrity, Marcus Johnson and Dwight Lewis are leaving, but the Trojans have 6-9 junior big man Alex Stephenson and conference Most Improved Player Nikola Vecevic returning, plus an incoming recruiting class headlined by two four-star signees from the L.A. area.