Quality of teams coming into focus
Washington State freshman guard Faisal Aden is third in the Pac-10 Conference with 18.3 points per game. DEAN HARE / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Since the season began the second week of November, Pac-10 basketball teams have participated in 88 games.

What have we learned, big-picture, about its teams?

"Washington appears to be pretty good, and Arizona appears to be pretty good," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "After that, I think there's a bunch of hopefuls…

"Everybody's had a loss or two that would raise an eyebrow."

Two weeks before the start of the conference season, here's a look at the few facts we know:

• Washington State's a contender. The Cougars had the worst record in the league last year at 6-12 but have started this season 7-1 in nonconference play.

Guard Klay Thompson leads the league with 20.8 points per game, and freshman shooter Faisal Aden is third with 18.3 points.

Coach Ken Bone boasts league leaders in field goal percentage (Brock Motum), blocks per game (DeAngelo Casto), assist-turnover ratio (Marcus Capers) and assists per game (Thompson).

The Cougars have won at Fresno State and at home against Gonzaga, and have lost to No. 5 Kansas State by five points.

"To be a contender, I think we're going to have to get a lot better," Bone said. "I think we've got to be able to stay healthy."

• There won't be a repeat champion. Cal (5-4) has lost to Notre Dame, Boston College, San Diego State and Southern Miss. The last two games, Montgomery admitted, were scheduled before the Golden Bears knew how experienced - or good - either team would be.

"We do things that we can't afford to do at inopportune times," Montgomery said, "and I don't know that that's going to change."

• The Beavers aren't the sleeper. Many picked Oregon State to contend for an NCAA tournament bid, but the 4-4 Beavers have lost to Utah Valley, Seattle and Texas Southern. Their Sagarin Rating is 272 - almost twice as bad as the Pac-10's No. 9 team.

• The league has been bad in nonconference play - again. Pac-10 teams are 7-15 against power conferences. No Pac-10 team is ranked in the top 25 of either poll.

The league's marquee win is probably USC's victory at Texas, though UCLA had a near-miss at Kansas, and Washington lost to Kentucky and Michigan State.

"These games matter so much in November, when you're barely getting going and out of your first 20, 25 practices," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "It really is an advantage to have an experienced team of upperclassmen to return."

Lack of nonconference success last year doomed the Pac-10 to two NCAA tournament teams.

This year is not shaping up much better - the league is No. 7 in Jeff Sagarin's conference power rankings.

"The nation passed judgment on us in the nonconference schedule when we didn't have our full complement of players in the league," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "I think this year there are more players that are ready to go."


Read the Star's list of Pac-10 basketball questions that still need to be answered.