The Pac-10 Word with Seattle Times' Bob Condotta

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We're just a couple of bloggers, new bloggers at that, so our credibility is minimal. In order to get some real "stuff" on here, we've reached out to some esteemed beat writers who actually know what they're talking about. Writers whose name carries significant weight in the circle they work in.

With league play upon us, it's as great time to get the word from college basketball writers across the country and find out their take for what's ahead

In our second installment of "The Word," we talk to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. Bob has covered University of Washington basketball for the Tacoma News Tribune and the Seattle Times since 1997. He takes us on a walk through the world of Pac Ten Basketball, and admits his favorite place to watch a basketball game is not on U-Dub's campus.

What are your general thoughts / forecast on the upcoming Pac Ten season? The conference shapes up to be not as good as a year ago, when six teams made it to the NCAA Tournament and three to the Sweet 16. But it could make for a more exciting conference race than last season when UCLA took control pretty early and ended up 16-2, three games better than everyone else. The conference champ could have 4-5-6 losses this season, and there could be a lot of jostling back and forth for position. I also think only 4-5 teams will make the NCAA Tournament, so the battle in the final weeks for those spots should be intense, as well. But there's no doubt the conference isn't as strong this season as last year without the likes of Kevin Love, O.J. Mayo and the Lopez Twins off to the NBA.

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On Selection Sunday, who's in and who is out?
UCLA, Arizona State, USC, Arizona and whichever of Washington/Washington State wins their game to conclude the regular season on March 7.

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What will be the storyline title of the Conference when it's all said and
done?
That UCLA has outlasted everyone to win it for the fourth consecutive year. This isn't as good a Bruins team as the last few. But Ben Howland's teams always seem to get better as the year goes on and UCLA has one thing a lot of the others don't, a senior and proven point guard in Darren Collison. As soon as all those freshmen mature, the Bruins will pull it out.

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What teams do you see overachieving this season and what, if any, unheralded players could make a splash in league play? l looms as the surprise team in the conference this year thanks to a coaching upgrade in Mike Montgomery from Ben Braun and the health of all of their key players. Cal junior guard Patrick Christopher may be the best player in the conference few have heard of. And Cal's point guard, Jerome Randle, really seems to be thriving in Monty's system. I don't expect Oregon State to surprise in the sense that they will make any real headway in the conference race. But after going 0-18 last year, I think the Beavers, under new coach Craig Robinson, brother-in-law of Barack Obama, will be a lot better and could win 4-5 conference games. Junior forward Daniel Deane, a transfer from Utah, is a double-double player waiting to happen and the Beavers have gotten better now that sophomore guard Calvin Haynes is eligible.

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Which team will suffer more from their "lottery pick loss;" UCLA (Kevin Love), USC (OJ Mayo) or Stanford (The Lopez Brothers)? Stanford. The others still have a lot of talent on hand. The Cardinal is off to a nice start. But over the long haul, Stanford will find it harder to replace the inside presence of the Lopez Twins.

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Best rivalry going in the conference right now? USC-UCLA. UCLA is the favorite every year and USC is entrenched as an annual contender. They went 2-1 in three meetings last year with UCLA winning the rubber match by just three.

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Through your travels on the beat, which campus is your favorite to visit? Why? It'll sound traitorous to any UW fans reading this, but I'd have to say Oregon, especially for basketball. Mac Court is the best place to see a game in the conference and Oregon fans are always at a fever pitch when the Huskies come to town.

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During your career, what is the best team you have seen play live? Washington or an opponent, either one is fine. I'll pick one of each --- I covered the 1995 Final Four when UCLA won it all in Seattle so I'd say that is the best conference team I had a chance to really cover live. The best UW team was the 2004-05 version that had four future NBA players --- Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, Bobby Jones and Will Conroy. That's the team that went 29-6 before losing to Louisville in the Sweet 16 which was simply a bad matchup for the Huskies. UW fans will always wonder how good that team might have been had Roy not suffered a knee injury early in the season. He missed about three weeks and was never 100 percent when he came back.

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We love revering the former college basketball player who couldn't quite make it at the next level. Is there a player you absolutely loved watching at some point in your career, but now he's a complete afterthought to the common fan? Again, I'll pick a Husky and a Pac-10 player. For UW, I'll go with Jamie Booker. [He] was a guard from the mid-90s who was just a human cannonball on the floor, diving after loose balls, taking charges, etc. He never played in the NCAA Tournament and has been overseas forever so he's been pretty forgotten, even by UW fans. In the Pac-10, USC had a swingman in the early 2000s named David Bluthenthal who just always seemed to go off against the Huskies. Whenever I saw him I was sure he was headed to a long NBA career, and he always seemed to be having a lot of fun out there

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