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An optimistic but realistic run through of the UCLA basketball schedule this season.
There is a brand new website so let's suspend the old Bruins Nation rules and play Pollyanna with basketball. Don't worry, I won't go totally off the deep end but I will run through the season with the scale weighted toward optimism. Look a national magazine called Lindsay's Sports just picked us to win the PAC 12 and as number 10 in the nation.
Let's start with the Indiana State game and the reopening of Pauley. This represents a major PR opportunity for the Morgan Center and Chianti Dan Guerrero to showcase UCLA. While it would be nice to have Wilkes and Miller there as the newest basketball hall of fame inductees that played at UCLA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is an absolute must as he opened the original Pauley. Can UCLA actually put on a good show to showcase why UCLA is the number one basketball school of all time?
Since this is the optimistic post not only does UCLA pull off the hall of famers attend but it also helps us to close the deal on a key recruit, say Rysheed Jordan or Roddy Peters. This helps UCLA deliver another very good recruiting class after last year's great recruiting class.
UCLA wins easily the Indiana State game easily and Kyle Anderson shows us that the recruiting class is more than just Shabazz. He misses a triple double by a couple rebounds.
UCLA goes on to win the next two games over UCI and James Madison. UCLA wins the games in easy enough fashion that everyone gets to play and one of the games the leading scorer is Jordan Adams.
The schedule then goes to the Legends Classic. Still without Shabazz, UCLA stays with the more experienced Georgetown but loses the game in their first real road trip as they make a few youthful mistakes down the stretch. In the consolation game against Georgia, the bitter runner up in the Tony Parker sweepstakes, UCLA wins with one of the Georgia boys (Parker or Adams) turning in a big game in limited minutes.
UCLA has two more cream puff games against some Cal Poly schools. UCLA wins both and one of these games they hold the opponent to 45 points and 30% shooting despite the new running style.
The next game is the Wooden classic, where once again there is not enough focus on Wooden. This time it is for a more understandable reason as it is Shabazz Muhammad's first game as a Bruin after a six game suspension. This is the biggest game of the pre-conference season, versus San Diego State. ESPN covers it instead of ESPN U. Unlike last year when UCLA laid an egg on ESPN, this game is going to be well played.
This game is also big because it is for bragging rights for California and maybe even the west. Shabazz comes off the bench and goes for 1 for 5 in the first half. UCLA is down by 10 at halftime. At this point, some fans are angry with everything. The fans question the playing time of the Wears, the waistline of Josh Smith, and the chaos player that is Tyler Lamb.
The second half is a different story as UCLA comes back with Shabazz playing well and UCLA goes on a big run. The run is keyed by Anderson but features one of those upper classman as the game's leading scoring. Youth makes the team run and win but one of the upper classman is on the receiving end for the points. A bit of Wooden magic for the Classic.
Then UCLA plays a surreal exhibition game for some reason in the middle of the season. Hopefully no one gets hurt. Brilliant scheduling. (Sorry can't be optimistic on this one as there are only ways to lose here not win.)
Then UCLA plays their third tough game of the pre-conference season and there first true road game against Texas on ESPN. This game is very important for later in the season and RPI. Not a most win but close if UCLA wants to stay out west. As this is the optimistic post, I say UCLA wins this game as Texas gets cocky after last year's game when they said UCLA was soft. This UCLA team proves it is not soft and wins.
UCLA than cruises through Prairie View A and M and firmly establishes itself as the leader out west with wins over Long Beach and Fresno State.
Next are the classic trap games: a very good Missouri team over Christmas break with the PAC 12 about to start and the coach who has consistently beat Ben Howland Mike Montgomery's Cal team. No way we win both of these and since this is the optimistic post we don't lose both either. I say we lose to Missouri in front of a near empty Pauley over winter break but beat Cal.
UCLA beats Stanford easily to go to 2-0 in Pac 12.
UCLA splits its first road trip at altitude as the team fades down the stretch to Colorado but beats Utah.
UCLA gets a schedule break in not having to travel to Oregon this year, and plays Oregon and Oregon State at home. UCLA goes to 5-1 in Pac 12.
In front of a crazy Arizona crowd UCLA arrives. UCLA wins at Arizona. The Freshman provide the key to the game but the winning effort comes from Tyler Lamb off the bench with two key threes in the second half to seal the game. The ASU game is a breeze as is the next game against the trogans at home.
UCLA sweeps the Washington teams at home before turning to Cal on the road. In a foul fest UCLA which sees Anderson and Shabazz both with three fouls in the first half, UCLA turns to its upper classman. This time they are not up to the task. UCLA loses to Cal. (No way Howland beats Monty twice in a season.) UCLA bounces back against Stanford and beats a better than last year USC team on the road.
UCLA beats ASU again at home and on College Game day on ESPN show why they are an elite team against Arizona and beat the Wildcats handily.
UCLA closes the season out against the Washington schools. Winning the PAC 12 after a win against WSU, UCLA let's down against UW and loses again on the road to UW on the last game of the season. However, UCLA finishes the PAC 12 15-3 and wins the conference.
I won't predict the PAC 12 Tourney but I will say UCLA gets its coveted protected western seed so they get to play in a regional final at the Staples Center. Howland has been very good out west and it is worth noting Howland has lost one game as a lower seed in his tournament history at UCLA, the 2006 finals game to Florida.
Speaking of 2006, despite not starting for most of the season, Josh Smith plays with a passion and does his best Ryan Hollins 2006 impersonation during the tournament and UCLA goes to the final four with Smith playing close to his potential.
Optimistic? Yes. Unrealistic? No. UCLA should be able to go far this year with the talent on this team and Howland needs to make it happen or be gone.