That was kind of the point of my column today.
Here's a skimmer's version for the blog:
The Pac-10 title: This issue will likely be settled tonight when the league's top two teams meet: No. 7 Stanford at No. 3 UCLA (8 p.m. on FSN). The Bruins' current one-game lead can be traced back to their Jan. 24 win at Stanford, 76-67. However, UCLA coach Ben Howland is quick to point out that Cardinal forward Brook Lopez was relatively new to his team then, just having cleared up his academic problems. Now he is up to full speed – perhaps the best player in a conference that is stuffed with good players. Still, the hunch here is that the fully focused Bruins playing at home will defend their conference title.
All-conference team: Nine Pac-10 players project as first-round NBA picks, so that means at least four ultra-talented players won't merit a spot on the all-league first team. That overload of skill makes it almost impossible to pick a clear all-league five. However, it also makes it pretty difficult to be far wrong. I'd line them up like this: an all-freshman backcourt of Arizona's Jerryd Bayless and Southern California's O.J. Mayo, and a frontcourt of UCLA's Kevin Love, Stanford's Brook Lopez and Cal's Ryan Anderson. Having watched Washington's hyper-productive Jon Brockman all season, there may be no greater indication of the league's strength this season than my inability to fit him on the first team. Or UCLA's Russell Westbrook, who might be a lottery pick. Or any Cougar. What a league.
Player of the year: Once again, there are a lot of solid cases to be made. And if the award were called "most valuable player," it was be hard to bypass Brockman. But it's called "player of the year," and I think the most skilled, most game-dictating player I saw this season was Brook Lopez, who is averaging 19.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in league play.
Freshman of the year: The best freshman I saw opposite the Huskies this year was Bayless, who has the versatility and fluid game of a Brandon Roy. However, based on the total Pac-10 season, there's just no overlooking Love's 18 points, 11.9 rebounds, 58.4 shooting percentage, 1.25 blocked shots and his team-oriented outlook.
Coach of the year: No one did more with less than ASU's Herb Sendek. In only his second season after starting on the ground floor, the Sun Devils' rebuilding is ahead of schedule: 18-10 overall, 8-8 in the league, a sweep of the arch rival Arizona Wildcats and on the NCAA bubble. Assuming freshman James Harden returns, Arizona State could climb among the league's elites next season.
Post-season chances: UCLA, Stanford and Washington State already have punched their tickets to the Big Dance, and Southern California seems certain to join them. However, each of the Arizona schools likely need at least one more win, and the Wildcats might need two in order to extend their 23-season streak of NCAA tournament appearances. Oregon could get on the bubble by sweeping the Arizona schools. Washington, California and – heh, heh – Oregon State would need to win the Pac-10 tournament to make the Big Dance. However, Washington has worked its way onto the NIT bubble and may have already done enough to satisfy the College Basketball Invitational. Cal seems CBI-bound unless the Bears do something special in L.A. – either in their final regular season games this week and/or in the league tournament next week. Let's say six NCAA bids, one NIT, and two CBI with only the bad-news Beavers sitting home.
Coaching changes: There could be a surprising amount of coaching turnover for such a solid league. At WSU and USC, the success of Tony Bennett and Tim Floyd already has gotten the attention of suitors: Indiana in Bennett's case; Louisiana State in Floyd's. Something also will have to resolve at Arizona where Lute Olson's possible return would force interim coach Kevin O'Neill to decide whether to return one seat down the Arizona bench or try for more elsewhere. Meanwhile, interim coach Kevin Mouton will be replaced at OSU, while Oregon's Ernie Kent and Cal's Ben Braun may be coaching for their lives this week and next.