There are a plethora of contenders when it comes to the best ballers in the Pac-10 this year. No, it’s not the same quality as last year, with the likes of Kevin Love, O.J. Mayo, and Jerryd Bayless taking over the league, but there are still a number of high-profile hoopsters across the ten conference teams. From Jon Brockman to James Harden and everyone in between, we’ll countdown the Top 11. On to the list.
11. Nic Wise, PG, Arizona. The junior has had a solid year, averaging 14.8 PPG and 4.7 APG. As one of Arizona’s big three (along with forwards Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill), Wise has been a target of opposing defenses all season long and has responded nicely. He’s come on strong as of late, posting five straight games of double-figures scoring, including 27 and 26 in big wins over USC and UCLA, respectively.
10. Jeff Pendergraph, PF, Arizona State. Pendergraph, a 6’9″ senior, has done everything he possibly can to get the NBA to notice his game in this, his final collegiate season. Averaging nearly a double-double at 13.8 PPG and 8.2 RPG, Pendergraph has dominated opposing frontcourt players, utilizing a litany of dunks and high-percentage shots to abuse his constituents. He set the tone for his season early on, notching 31 points and hauling in 11 boards in ASU’s first Pac-10 game of the year, against Stanford on January 2nd.
9. Taj Gibson, PF, USC. Like Pendergraph, Gibson is an intimidating presence inside, standing 6’9″ and relying on power moves to take control of the opposition. Unlike Pendergraph, Gibson is only a junior, meaning there’s a chance he’ll be disrupting the league for one more season after this. The Trojan forward has poured in as many points as his counterpart Pendergraph, averaging 13.8 PPG over the course of the year. The difference is in the rebounding, however, as Gibson has pulled in 9.3 RPG to Pendergraph’s 8.2 .
8. Isaiah Thomas, PG, Washington. The fabulous first-year guard has all but wrapped up conference Freshman of the Year Honors with his strong play this season. Averaging 15.9 PPG, the 5’8″ frosh has been a consistent scoring threat for the Dawgs, with six games of 20 points or more so far. He has stumbled a bit in recent games (a nine-point performance against Oregon State, and a four-point showing against USC), but if I.T. can rebound down the stretch, he’ll put the cherry on top of a fine freshman season.
7. Darren Collison, PG, UCLA. The senior leader of the Bruins, Collison has been a steadying force in his four years on campus. He’s been as reliable as ever this year, averaging an even 15 PPG to go along with 5 APG. The 6’0″ guard is the conference leader in dishes right now, and will be sorely missed in Westwood in the ’09-’10 season.
6. Justin Dentmon, SG, Washington. After three inconsistent years on Montlake, J.D. has finally put it all together in his senior season. Thriving in the off-guard role, Dentmon has recorded a career high in scoring this year, averaging 15.8 PPG. The big difference from past seasons lies in his improved long-range shooting. Last year, J.D. knocked down 85 treys all year. This year, he’s obliterated that mark, having connected on 118 longballs with four regular season games remaining.
5. Jerome Randle, PG, California. Despite his small stature, Randle, a junior, has put up big numbers for the Cal Bears this year. He currently sits in second place in the conference in both points and assists, averaging 17.8 and 4.9, respectively. After posting mediocre totals under head coach Ben Braun in his first two seasons, Randle has found his niche as a scorer and distributor in new coach Mike Montgomery’s system.
4. Jon Brockman, PF, Washington. Despite a letdown in his stats from a year ago, the bruising senior has still managed to maintain his lofty status as one of the elite players in the Pac-10. Counted on to provide a double-double each night, the 6’7″ forward has contributed a solid 14.6 PPG and 11.3 RPG so far this year. His performance has been up-and-down in recent games (three single-digit scoring efforts and three double-digit efforts in his past six contests), but that hasn’t prevented the Husky leader from being mentioned as one of 30 Naismith Award finalists.
3. Jordan Hill, PF, Arizona. The second member on our list from Arizona’s big three, Hill has been a force underneath for the ’08-’09 Wildcats. The 6’10” junior has NBA written all over him and will likely leave Tucson a year early after posting 18 PPG and 11.1 RPG so far this season. Hill has failed to reach double-figures scoring only once this season (and, in fairness, he did put up nine points in that game), and has recorded season highs of 30 points and 22 rebounds.
2. Chase Budinger, SF, Arizona. The third and final member of ‘Zona’s big three, Budinger has followed up an impressive sophomore campaign with a career year in his penultimate college season. Though, like Hill, Budinger will likely leave for the NBA before his four amateur seasons are complete, he will depart on a high note, having averaged 17.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 3.4 APG this year. Budinger is arguably the most athletic player in the Pac-10 (he’s also an Olympic-caliber volleyball player), and his strong numbers have come to reflect that athleticism.
1. James Harden, SG, Arizona State. When it comes to scoring, no one is better at it in the Pac-10 than James Harden. At 21.2 PPG, Harden leads the conference in that category. He has benefited from five (FIVE!) 30-plus-point scoring efforts, and even has a 40-point outing to his credit this season (against UTEP, on November 30th). Harden is no slouch in other facets of the game, either; he sits among the Top 15 in steals, assists, and rebounds, as well. A surefire All-American, the sophomore sensation will likely find his way out of Tempe after this year and into an NBA arena near you (unless you live in Seattle, in which case your nearest NBA arena is in Portland) next year.