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Robinson is chief at Oregon State

ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

USC couldn’t run down Washington last weekend but chased the media out of practice Monday in the aftermath of a game at Galen in which the guards (security) had to separate the guards (Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis).

UCLA was picked to finish first in the Pacific 10 Conference by near-unanimous consent but is tied for third with four games left after allowing 82 points at home to Washington State, a team that had to pass a collection plate to collect 44 points against USC in January.

Don’t get the wrong idea -- there is tremendous coaching going on in the Pac-10.

Picking a teacher of the year is going to be a tougher choice than Sean Penn versus Mickey Rourke.

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The kind of season it’s been: Herb Sendek, leading Arizona State to unprecedented mesas, comes up in discussions as, “Oh yeah, forgot about him.”

A former radio color analyst, leading a mirage at Arizona, may have to settle for the silver platter.

And Tony Bennett, the coach who led Washington State to its second (as in ever) win at Pauley Pavilion, doesn’t even crack our Pac-10 Billboard top five:

5Sendek, Arizona State.

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Why: Armed with James Harden, the league’s best player, Sendek has simply delivered on expectations. The Sun Devils were picked to finish second and presently sit in that spot, half a game back with first place on the line Thursday night at Washington.

A summa cum laude graduate of Carnegie-Mellon, Sendek is the smartest melon in the patch, even if some have compared his personality to industrial drainpipe.

In his third year in Tempe, Sendek has Arizona State on the brink of the NCAA tournament berth it should have received last year after going 21-13. The Sun Devils this year swept UCLA, holding the Bruins scoreless for the final 8 minutes 14 seconds of regulation in the teams’ first meeting. Sendek has won four straight against Arizona, a good note considering Lute Olson was 43-6 against UTEMPE.

4Lorenzo Romar, Washington.

Why: Washington is alone in first place after being picked to finish fifth. This is exciting news given the next outright Pac-10 title Washington wins will be its first. The Huskies have shared two conference crowns since 1979 but have not stood atop Mt. Rainier since claiming the Pacific Coast Conference in 1952-53.

Romar has orchestrated the rebound after last year’s 16-17 disappointment and unleashed the Pac-10’s most exciting freshman, point guard Isaiah Thomas.

3Mike Montgomery, California.

Why: The Golden Bears are tied for third with UCLA at 9-5 after being picked to finish eighth. Cal is 20-7 overall after a 17-16 season under bye-bye Ben Braun that also bid goodbye to Ryan Anderson and DeVon Hardin, both NBA draft picks.

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Montgomery, who coached Stanford for 18 years, has moved seamlessly back into the conference after a two-year detour to the Golden State Warriors.

Monty can move up, or down, in the next two weeks based on difficult closing games against UCLA, USC and the Arizonas.

2Russ Pennell, Arizona.

Why: Because this time last year Pennell was doing radio commentary for Arizona State basketball. Pennell joined Olson’s Arizona staff last spring and then was, quite unexpectedly, thrown into the head chair after Olson was forced to retire for health reasons on the eve of the season.

Pennell was only supposed to baby sit until Arizona found a real coach. Instead, he has the Wildcats at 18-9 overall and 8-6 in conference with a real chance of extending the school’s consecutive NCAA tournament streak to 25.

1Craig Robinson, Oregon State

Why: Because it’s not every century the future brother-in-law of a United States president moves to Corvallis and resurrects the worst major college program in America. A year after finishing 0-18 in Pac-10 play, Oregon State is 7-8 and 13-13 overall and only a half-game behind USC in the conference race.

Four schools are 7-3 in their last 10 Pac-10 games: Arizona, Arizona State, Washington and . . . Oregon State.

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Robinson thought winning two or three conference games this year would be an upgrade.

“We have obviously exceeded that more than I could have imagined,” Robinson said Tuesday. “To still have games that are very important to us, what more could you ask for?”

In other words, Robinson’s inauguration hasn’t been too shabby, either.

Loose ends

Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun, who has had an interesting week, can become the seventh Division I men’s basketball coach to reach 800 career victories with a win tonight at Marquette. Calhoun’s career record stands at 799-339. He is 551-202 in 23 years at Connecticut, where he has won two national titles.

No word whether Calhoun, upon reaching the 800 milestone, will ask for a raise.

Calhoun’s recent postgame rant against a freelance reporter who questioned whether the coach deserved his $1.6-million salary in distressed economic times is must-see YouTube. Calhoun told the reporter, Ken Krayeske, that his program brought $12 million to the school last year. The Hartford Courant reports UConn actually reported only $7.3 million directly attributable to men’s basketball.

The surprise this year is not that Michigan State entered the week leading the Big Ten with an 11-3 record. The surprise is Michigan State has not won the regular-season title since 2001.

It’s already been a big school year for the Mountain West Conference, which crowned an undefeated football champion in Utah, which finished No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll. The Mountain West is also looking to become one of the few “mid-major” conferences likely to earn multiple bids to the NCAA tournament, with five teams in the mix -- Utah, Brigham Young, San Diego State, New Mexico and Nevada Las Vegas.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

THE TIMES’ TOP 25

Chris Dufresne’s rankings and comments:

Rk.; Team (Rec.); Comment (last week)

1 CONNECTICUT

25-2 Calhoun tells Rankman, “cCome back when you have some facts!” (3)

2 PITTSBURGH

25-3 Stop it already. (1)

3 OKLAHOMA

25-3 Playing without Griffin sort of like rowing a boat without oars. (2)

4 MEMPHIS

24-3 Named to host this year’s Miss (Conference) USA beauty pageant. (5)

5 N. CAROLINA

24-3 FCC issues ACC seven dirty words Williams can’t say on T.V. (4)

6 LOUISVILLE

22-5 Lopsided victory knocks Georgetown down to an unincorporated area. (7)

7 MISSOURI

23-4 Go ahead and make plans for your first NCAA trip since 2003. (8)

8 VILLANOVA

22-5 Tuesday at DePeter, Wednesday at DePaul, Thursday at DeMary. (9)

9 DUKE

22-5 Last time Duke played Maryland the Terps were the 44 in 85-44. (11)

10 MICHIGAN ST.

21-5 Can celebrate 30th anniversary of NCAA title after finding Magic on Reunion.com. (12)

11 ARIZONA ST.

21-5 Fourth straight win over Arizona persuades McCain to change Pac-10 party affiliation. (13)

12 MARQUETTE

23-4 Milwaukee scribe to ask UConn coach if he deserves free gym membership. (14)

13 CLEMSON

22-4 This week’s ranking comment under construction: pardon our dust. (10)

14 KANSAS

22-5 Griffin didn’t play meaning . . . you only kicked Oklahoma’s asterisk (16)

15 WAKE FOREST

20-5 Good news: scored 91 points against Duke! Bad news: lost by 10. (6)

16 XAVIER

22-5 Three Musketeers suspended this week for unswordsman-like conduct. (18)

17 GONZAGA

21-5 Rankman fun fact: Zags and Memphis only schools still undefeated in conference. (22)

18 ILLINOIS

22-6 Team honed offense last summer in a 40 (point)-and-under league. (19)

19 PURDUE

21-6 ESPN’s Berman says team’s fate tied to condition of Hummel’s back-back-back. (17)

20 WASHINGTON

20-7 Last time Huskies won Pac-10 title they were nicknamed the Pups. (20)

21 BUTLER

23-4 Loss to Loyola of Chicago not as bad as a loss to Loyola of Marymount. (21)

22 UCLA

20-7 Suffered tough losses last week to Washington State and UC Renardo Sidney. (15)

23 LOUISIANA ST.

24-4 Team’s SEC success is no surprise to the four people who saw it coming. (23)

24 TEXAS

18-8 Playing Oklahoma without Griffin turned game into Red River Revelry. (25)

25 PROVIDENCE

17-11 Win over Pittsburgh earns team Rankman’s coveted “deadline-beater” award. (NR)


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