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Washington State coach Ken Bone
(AP Photo/Dean Hare)

His team is 5-0 and receiving votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Still, first-year Washington State coach Ken Bone knows his Cougars haven't faced a test nearly as stiff as the one No. 17 Gonzaga will provide Wednesday night in Spokane.

"This," Bone said, "is exactly what we need."

As much as a victory would enhance Washington State's credibility, it would also stamp a band-aid on the Pac-10 and its dwindling reputation. Three weeks into the 2009-10 season, no major conference has performed as poorly as the Pac-10. Seven of the 10 schools have lost two or more games.

Oregon State – last year's Cinderella story – is 2-3. UCLA is 2-4 just two years removed from a Final Four berth.

Only unranked Washington State and No. 12 Washington – the defending conference champion – remain undefeated. With both teams facing formidable opponents on the road this week (Washington visits Texas Tech on Thursday) it's almost as if they're carrying the torch for the entire conference.

"We're about to find out what we're made of," Bone said.

Hopefully the Cougars will fare better than their Pac-10 brethren. As of Tuesday, the Pac-10 was 38-19 – not good when you consider the records of other leagues such as the 16-team Big East (79-11) and the Big 12 (60-11).

What's even more appalling is the list of opponents who have defeated Pac-10 schools.

UCLA lost to Long Beach State, Portland and Cal State Fullerton. Oregon State fell to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Sacramento State while Oregon lost to Montana.

Oral Roberts defeated Stanford. Nebraska topped USC. Then there's Cal. The Golden Bears were ranked No. 12 in the preseason polls but got absolutely throttled against Syracuse and Ohio State.

Has there ever been as sure of a thing as Washington repeating as Pac-10 champion? Hopefully the Huskies will use their non-conference schedule to prepare for the NCAA tournament, because it doesn't appear they'll be tested too much within their own league.

It has to be frustrating to Pac-10 fans to see how quickly their conference has fallen. Just two years ago the league had some of the top talent in the country with standouts such as Kevin Love, O.J. Mayo, Jerryd Bayless, Russell Westbrook, Chase Budinger, James Harden, the Lopez Twins and Jordan Hill.

Now the Pac 10's top player is a Washington State sophomore named Klay Thompson, who is good enough to contend for first-team All-American honors, but probably won't because he'll struggle to establish credibility playing Pac-10 opponents.

So make sure you watch Thompson – the son of former NBA great Mychal Thompson – against Gonzaga. Thompson scored 43 points against San Diego last week, and he'll try to do it again against the Zags, and then on Saturday when the Cougars take on a strong Kansas State squad in Manhattan.

"I'm excited for our guys," Bone said. "This will be good. We've beat some decent teams, but it's time to take a step forward and play some good competition. Unfortunately we're playing some great competition."

The Cougars won't hang their heads too low if they lose.

After Saturday, things will only get easier.


IN A ZONE

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J'Covan Brown is quarterbacking Texas.
(AP Photo/Erich Schlegel)

Dogus Balbay and J'Covan Brown – Last week's season ending injury to Varez Ward was much easier to stomach for Texas thanks to the presence of these two point guards. Look for Brown, a freshman, to eventually take command of the starting role, with Balbay and Florida transfer Jai Lucas contributing significant minutes off the bench.

Lazar HaywardMarquette (6-1) has been one of the more pleasant surprises in the Big East thanks to the performance of the 6-foot-9 Hayward. He is averaging 19.6 points for a Golden Eagles squad that lost Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal and Dominic James.

Bill Carmody – The Northwestern coach has done an excellent job in the wake of a season-ending injury to leading scorer and All-Big Ten candidate Kevin Coble. The Wildcats are 5-1 following last weekend's Chicago Invitational Challenge, where they won the championship with impressive wins over Notre Dame and Iowa State.

Next year's Maui Invitational field – After a mediocre tournament this season, the 2010 lineup couldn't be anymore impressive with Connecticut, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Michigan State, Virginia, Washington, Wichita State and host Chaminade.

Texas A&M – Picked to finish as low as sixth in the Big 12 in some preseason polls, the Aggies moved into the top 25 rankings this week following victories over a pair of ranked teams (Clemson and Minnesota) in last week's Phillips 76 Classic. Texas A&M's only loss is a 73-66 setback against No. 7 West Virginia.

Da'Sean Butler – While most of the recent headlines involving West Virginia have focused on Devin Ebanks, Butler is again proving to be one of the top players in the Big East. He averaged 18.6 points in leading the Mountaineers to the Phillips 76 Classic championship last week and is shooting 54.8 percent for Bob Huggins' undefeated squad.

Billy Donovan – Is Florida back? After missing the NCAA tournament the past two seasons, Donovan's Gators are off to a 6-0 start with wins against Florida State and Michigan State.

West Coast Conference – Speaking of Gonzaga … name a time in recent memory when they were as challenged in the WCC as they'll be this season. St. Mary's hardly seems to have missed a beat despite the loss of Patrick Mills, Portland made it to the championship game of the Phillips 76 Classic by defeating UCLA and Minnesota and San Diego owns wins against Stanford, Oklahoma and Houston.


IN A FUNK

Kansas vs. UCLA – Ugh. The two teams square off in Westwood on Sunday, but what once looked like a marquee game now looks as if it will be a dud. The Jayhawks are the country's top-ranked team. The Bruins are 2-4 following a loss to Long Beach State.

Butler – OK, can we finally stop talking about the Bulldogs like they're a top-10 team? Not that it was their fault, but the Bulldogs played a bad schedule last year and then lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Now they're 4-2 with defeats against Clemson and Minnesota (and close victories over Evansville and a bad UCLA squad). Just like last year, Butler is a good team, but far from an elite one.

Walk-ons who are scared to shoot – It's amazing how many shots are passed up in the final 60 seconds by players who have been riding the pine for the previous 39 minutes. The opportunities are rare. For Pete's sake, be aggressive and take advantage of them.

Demetri McCameyIllinois coach Bruce Weber was disappointed that his star point guard didn't perform better in losses to Bradley and Utah in the Las Vegas Invitational. McCamey was particularly bad against Bradley, when he had five turnovers and only 10 points on 4- for-13 shooting.

Mississippi State – Maybe this is bad karma from the Renardo Sidney signing, but some good talent is going to waste in Starkville. The Bulldogs – a preseason top-25 team – have lost to Richmond and Rider. John Riek can't become eligible soon enough.

Facebook and Twitter – Can't think of one reason why a college basketball coach would let his players have a page. Too much trouble and potential damage for everyone involved.

Oklahoma – The hits just keep coming for the Sooners, who appear to be one of the Big 12's worst teams following last week's losses to San Diego and Houston. Willie Warren is averaging 20.4 points but is shooting just 22.4 percent from beyond the arc.

Marquette vs. Florida State – The Golden Eagles are off to a 6-1 start, but Buzz Williams' squad had no business – none – losing to Florida State in the championship of the Old Spice Classic. Clearly the better team, Marquette seemed out of shape at the end and blew a 17-point lead.


ASK THE KING

There's always so much talk about who the best teams are in various conferences. But in your opinion, who is the worst team in each league?

It's still early, but here's a guess at who will finish at the bottom of each Big Six conference: Virginia in the ACC, Rutgers in the Big East, Iowa in the Big Ten, Nebraska in the Big 12, Arkansas in the SEC and Oregon State in the Pac-10.

Kansas center Cole Aldrich – a preseason All-American – is averaging just 10.8 points and 8.6 rebounds. What gives?

Aldrich is fine. Keep in mind that Kansas has more balance and depth than it did a year ago, meaning Aldrich may not get quite as many touches. Also, he's averaging only 24.6 minutes per game because the Jayhawks are annihilating their opponents. Aldrich's numbers will rise as the competition increases.

Who has the edge in this weekend's North Carolina-Kentucky showdown?

Even though the game is in Lexington, I'd say the Tar Heels have a slight advantage. Both teams are in the building stage, but Kentucky is lagging slightly behind Roy Williams' squad simply because of its youth and because the Wildcats are adjusting to a new coaching staff. Kentucky, though, is just as talented as North Carolina and will be the better team by the end of the season.


THE CLIPBOARD

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Mac Koshwal is on the shelf.
(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

North Carolina coach Roy Williams notched his 600th career win in Sunday's victory over Nevada. After the game he complained about the stands not being full. … Purdue's No. 4 national ranking is its highest in more than a decade. The Boilermakers were ranked fourth in 1995-96. … Two Big East teams have taken major injury hits during the last week. DePaul's best player, forward Mac Koshwal, is out indefinitely with a cracked bone in his foot. And Villanova's Jay Wright has acknowledged that touted freshman Mouphtaou Yarou could be out for the season after testing positive for hepatitis B … St. Louis prep standout Bradley Beal, the seventh-best player in the Class of 2011 according to Rivals.com, committed to Florida on Monday. Beal chose the Gators over Kansas. Beal was the second top-10 player from his class to pledge to the Gators. The other is eighth-ranked Austin Rivers from Winter Haven, Fla … Good to see Norm Roberts off to such a good start at St. John's. The Red Storm is 5-0 with impressive wins over Siena and Temple. Even more impressive is that they've done it without Anthony Mason Jr., who is due back soon from an injury … Nice road win at USC for Doc Sadler and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who were decimated by graduation. On the flip side, what a terrible loss for the Trojans … Alabama's JaMychal Green had a huge dunk in the closing seconds to help the Crimson Tide defeat Michigan on Sunday. A sophomore, Green is averaging 16 points and 7.8 rebounds for upstart Alabama, which also owns solid wins over Providence and Baylor … Iowa State standout junior college transfer LaRon Dendy (knee) didn't play in Saturday's loss to Northwestern and is questionable for Wednesday's game against Northern Iowa. Forward Marquis Gilstrap has been battling bronchitis coach Greg McDermott said. All-American candidate Craig Brackins may be "coming down with something." … Kentucky sophomore DeAndre Liggins has yet to play this season for undisclosed reasons. Liggins played in all 33 games for the Wildcats last year and averaged 4.3 points. Speaking of Kentucky, coach John Calipari caused a few chuckles when he complained about his team's eight turnovers in Monday's win over UNC-Asheville. "Eight turnovers isn't enough," Calipari said. "You need 11 or 12. If you have eight turnovers it means you're not being aggressive enough."


THE WEEK AHEAD

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Pat Knight and the Raiders are rocking.
(AP Photo/Donna McWilliam)

Thursday: Washington at Texas Tech – The Red Raiders are undefeated, but are they for real? Pat Knight's squad will certainly be taken more seriously if it can defeat the Pac-10 favorite.

Friday: Colorado at Oregon State – Even though the Beavers are struggling, this would be a huge road win for Jeff Bzdelik and the Buffaloes, who appear to have one of the country's most improved teams.

Saturday: North Carolina at Kentucky – Easily the most-hyped game of the season to date, but this matchup would be much more interesting in March – or April.

Sunday: Villanova vs. Maryland in Washington D.C. – Can Gary Williams' Terps bounce back from a horrendous showing at the Maui Invitational and beat the Big East favorites?

Monday: Long Beach State at Texas – The Longhorns continue to gear up for showdowns against North Carolina and Connecticut by playing a team that squashed UCLA.

Tuesday: Butler vs. Georgetown at Madison Square Garden – The Bulldogs have fallen off the national map, but they can climb right back with a victory over Greg Monroe and the Hoyas.

Wednesday: Connecticut vs. Kentucky at Madison Square Garden – Another marquee opponent for the Wildcats, who could get a huge confidence boost with a victory in New York.


ASSISTANT OF THE WEEK

Kentucky's John Robic. Whenever you see John Calipari, there's a good chance Robic is close by. Robic has long been linked to Calipari, having spent 13 seasons as his right-hand man at Massachusetts, Memphis and now with the Wildcats. Robic also spent six seasons as the head coach at Youngstown State, and he was a graduate assistant on the 1988 Kansas team that won the national title.

KOTC: How did you and Cal first meet?

Robic: We both worked the Five-Star basketball camp. He's four years older than me, so he was a coach there and I was a counselor. We're both from Pittsburgh, so we hit it off. He went to Kansas, and after he left there I went to Kansas and worked for Coach (Larry) Brown. In 1988, when Cal got the Massachusetts job, I got a job as his assistant and have been close with him ever since.

KOTC: How much time did you two spend apart?

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Robic

Robic: About nine years. He left and went to the New Jersey Nets, but I stayed at UMass and worked under Bruiser Flint for three years because I wanted to try to become a college head coach. Cal offered me the chance to go to the Nets in a video/scouting type of role, but I wanted to try to become a head coach in college, and it worked out that I did.

KOTC: How did you get back together?

Robic: The greatest thing ever is that, the day after I got fired at Youngstown State, he called me and said, 'We've got a job for you at Memphis.' It was probably the best call I've ever received, knowing that you're out of a job and wondering what you're going to do with your wife and three kids. He's a loyal guy. We had a good run together at UMass and a good one at Memphis. Hopefully we're in for another one, too.

KOTC: How are you adapting to Lexington?

Robic: Fine, but my family is still in Memphis. Being away from them is the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I've been here since April and, right now, I only get to see them two days a month. My oldest daughter, Hayley, is a senior in high school. She's graduating this year. I've got another daughter that's a freshman and one that's a seventh grader. It's hard, but my wife has been great about it. Everyone will move down here once Hayley graduates.

KOTC: Totally different subject, but name the player you worked the hardest for in recruiting.

Robic: The way our staff looks at it is that everybody contributes. No one really stakes a claim to a certain kid. It's a staff thing. We all just to chip in anyway we can. But there have been some battles for a lot of good players. Since we changed our style of offense, it attracts the type of players that we want to get. We've been really fortunate with the last three point guards that we've gotten (Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall). They've really flourished under coach.

KOTC: What do you like to do on your days off?

Robic: My biggest hobby is spending time with my family. You can never do too much of that. Otherwise, I like being outside, hanging out and maybe playing some golf. I can usually get Cal out there for nine holes with his bad hip. I can't get him to play the whole 18, though.

KOTC: What about you? Are you any good?

Robic: I'm not bad. I'm about an eight (handicap). I didn't get a chance to play a lot this past summer, but the clubs are always in the car.


PIT STOPS

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Barbecue in New York? Why not?
(AP Photo/Jamie Martin)

Blue Smoke, New York – This barbeque joint in the Big Apple prides itself on ribs and brisket, but the sides are what had me at hello. Mashed potatoes and onions, spicy cheese fries, hush puppies with jalapeno marmalade, blue cheese and bacon dip and a heaping helping of macaroni and cheese … I didn't try all of them, but a checklist has begun.

Lakewood 1st and 10, Dallas – If you're a hole-in-the-wall-sports-bar kinda person, this is the place for you in the Big D. Laid back atmosphere, stiff drinks and great bar food. You can't go wrong with the patty melt, BLT or beef nachos, but Thursday rib nights are hard to beat. Oh yeah, Yankees fans aren't welcome.

Gus's Good Times Deli, Knoxville – Thanks to co-owner Aaron Hale for hooking me with up the best – and, admittedly, only – steamed roast beef sandwich I've ever had. The burgers are just as much a calling card at this legendary campus eatery, which stays open until 4 a.m. and also sells beer and smokes, not that I was interested.

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