Expectations are always high at UCLA. After all, John Wooden built the program and made it one of the most legendary in all of college basketball, while it sits in gorgeous Westwood with a top notch academic reputation. There is absolutely no reason that the Bruins shouldn't have expectations, and Ben Howland agrees.
"Every year is all about trying to win the Pac-12," said Howland.
Howland was optimistic at Pac-12 Media Day, touting the program's history and the potential of this season's team to live up to it. He often cited the team's "blend" of talent, from inside-outside play to the veteran players bringing along the highly touted freshman class.
Concerned about Larry Drew and the lack of a true backup point guard? Howland isn't, lauding Drew's improved decision making, how happy he is being back home and Norman Powell's ability to defend the point.
Josh Smith is in good shape and Tony Parker is coming along, while the Wear twins are good for some minutes, giving the team some frontcourt players. They're running and they have the depth to play with the tempo Howland wants, or at least so he says.
There may be some concerns about the Bruins, but Howland didn't seem concerned about any of it. He believes in this team, and he has the expectations that the team needs to make good after the last few years.
Coming off of a season that ended without a NCAA Tournament berth -- the second time in three seasons that happened -- UCLA and Howland badly need to have a big year. That begins with winning the conference.
The expectations do not stop there, though. The unbalanced conference schedule and added spotlight of having the Pac-12 Tournament in Vegas, as well as the extra emphasis that the committee has put on conference tournaments of late, means teams are making them a priority. It's a priority to Howland, who is circling it as a chance to not just make sure his team is peaking at the end of the season, but also to lock down a good seed and placement in the NCAA Tournament.
"The tournament becomes bigger with the unbalanced schedule," Howland said. "It used to be that everyone plays a round robin. That will be exciting having the Pac-12 tournament in Vegas and it becomes more and more critical in terms of your ability to get seeded high."
The West Regional is at Staples Center this season, a short drive from Westwood that would be packed full of UCLA fans if the Bruins can get there. If the Bruins are going to make a deep run in the tournament, a deep run that they should and need to make this year, it goes through Staples Center.
Everything starts with a Pac-12 title. Howland said as much. Next up is the Pac-12 Tournament. Take care of business there and the Bruins will be in position to make good on their potential, through Staples Center and putting UCLA back where it should be on the college basketball map.