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Hoops Expectations & (rough) Predictions ...

Just 7 more days to go till we get our first taste of Ben Ball for the 2006-07 season. The excitement around Coach Ben Howland's basketball program is palpable around Westwood and all around the Bruins Nation. While UCLA has to do some crowd building to watch Dorrell's listless, boring, and mediocre football program by goading students with free tickets to the Rose Bowl, Ben Howland's basketball team is rocking it by breaking records in student ticket sales. That's right, apparently this year's basketball student sports package has already broken a record by selling over 6,000 tickets. This Sunday, Coach Howland is going to open up the practices for students. Here are the the details for opens hoops practice this Sunday:

Sunday, Oct. 29: Men's Basketball Practice Open to Students
- Pauley Pavilion - Gate 10 (upper level) opens @ 3:15pm
- Admission is free to all students; bring valid Bruin card
- Watch a sneak-peak Bruin scrimmage followed by a dunk exhibition
- Den T-shirt distribution will take place 2:30pm-3:15pm outside Gate 10.  Med, Lrg, & XL sizes will be on hand w/ Bruin card. Your next chance to pick up your Den Shirt will be prior to the Men's Basketball game on 11/15 outside of Gate 15
- Wear your Den t-shirt to practice & show your school pride

Well, I don't think there will be any problem showing pride for Ben Ball. And the students just may need it after being the subjected to Dorrell football the evening before. BTW, if any of you go to this practice and take pictures, please feel free post them in the diaries or email them directly to us.

In any event, last year after two exhibitions, I gave some rough predictions for the 05-06 season. So, I thought given the excitement building for Ben Ball, we should get started early this year. Here are my very rough predictions (emphasis added) for this season:

Wed 11/15 BYU (W)
Mon 11/20 Chaminade^ (W)
Tue 11/21 UK or DePaul^#
Wed 11/22 Maui Final^#
Tue 11/28 Long Beach St. (W)
Sun 12/03 UC Riverside (W)
Tue 12/05 CS Fullerton (W)
Sat 12/09 Texas A&M+ (W)
Sat 12/16 Oakland (W)
Tue 12/19 Sam Houston St. (W)
Sat 12/23 Michigan (W)
Thu 12/28 Wash. St (W)
Sat 12/30 Washington (W)
Thu 01/04 @Oregon St. (W)
Sat 01/06 @ Oregon#
Sat 01/13 @ Southern Cal (W)
Thu 01/18 ASU (W)
Sat 01/20 Arizona (W)
Thu 01/25 @ Cal#
Sat 01/27 @ Stanford#
Thu 02/01 Oregon (W)
Sat 02/03 Oregon St. (W)
Wed 02/07 Southern Cal (W)
Sat 02/10 @ West Virginia (W)
Thu 02/15 @ Arizona (L)
Sat 02/17 @ ASU (W)
Thu 02/22 Stanford (W)
Sat 02/24 Cal (W)
Thu 03/01 @ Washington (L)
Sat 03/03 @ Wash. St. (W)

Wed-Sat:03/07-10: Pac-10 Tournament

Thu 03/15-4/2 MADNESS

^ denotes Maui Invitational
+ denotes Wooden Classic
# denotes the game I see as toss ups that can go either way

So, as it stands right now, I have penciled in 23 wins in this regular seasons. I expect Washington and Arizona to be our main competition this season for the Pac-10 regular season (and tourney) championship.

By the end of last season, Ben Howland owned Lute. Ben owns him. Given Lute?s comments after the third time the Bruins dismantled Olson?s team in the Pac-10 tourney, Lute sounded like a beaten man. He knew his days of beating Lavin-coached unprepared, shaky, and disorganized (kind of like how Pom Pom Carroll feels about Dorrell?s football team) talented UCLA teams were over. But, still we expect the Mildcats to put up a fight. They are going to have tons of fire power with Marcus Williams and Mustafa Shakur returning to the squad. Plus, they will add Jawann Mcllelan, who is returning from an injury, and the freshmen phenom Chase Buddinger, who has Lute going ga ga over in Tucson. But the question is, will these guys be able to play defense and at the same time handle Coach Howland?s ferocious defense, which is now the foundation of the most dominant college basketball program in the West Coast? Howland's inside the jersey defense left such a mark on Lute last season that he is now trying to bring a little defensive mentality to his offensive oriented street ballin' team. lol Whatever, Lute. I will go with our coach.

As for the Huskies, they are also coming back with a formidable squad. They are going to be led by Carrot Top, er, I mean Ryan Appleby, Justin Dentmon, and Jon Brockman. And they are also adding Spencer Hawes, probably the most hyped incoming freshman in the Pac-10 besides Buddinger and our very own James Keefe. Although Hawes is recovering from arthroscopic surgery (HT the Dish), he should be ready to go by the Pac-10 season. I expect them to put together another offensively explosive Romar coached squad. Although I don?t expect that this time they are going to get away with a win at Pauley. The UCLA-Washington games are going to be exciting, and must-see TV for any junkies of college hoops.

As for rest of Pac-10, I don?t really care. I think after 1 or 2 more recruiting cycles, I thoroughly expect UCLA to own this conference. No matter what BS Pink from cross-town spews about Zona being the favorite to win the conference, we are going to own this baby for years to come under Ben Howland.

Your coach, my coach, our coach, Photo: Alexander Gallardo/LA Times

Anyways, for now I think those two teams - Zona and Washington - will be favored against Bruins on their home courts. And, although I have those games as UCLA losses, I know full well that with Coach Howland in control there are very good chances the Bruins will be able to win both of those games, and make my predictions look a little silly.

I have marked 5 games as toss ups. They are:

- second round and final games in the Maui tournament
- road games at Oregon, Cal, and Stanford

It will be interesting to see what kind of teams Kentucky, Cal, Stanford, and Oregon will have this season since they have their own issues to address. A Tubby Smith coached Kentucky ball club, which is under a lot of pressure this season, will bring it should the Bruins match up with them in the second game of the season.  And road games at Maples and Haas Pavillions, and at McArthur Court, are tough propositions for any good basketball team.  At this point I think it will be prudent to temper our expectations a bit and hope that we will able to win the majority of those 5 games (5 counting the Maui final if we get to that point). Again, those are games Bruins could easily go 4-1 and 5-0 in.  We will know after the Kentucky game (again, should that match-up materialize) what kind of ball club we will have during the post-Jordan era in Westwood. Again, it is the definitive sign of discernible progress under Howland when I am marking these difficult Pac-10 road games and match ups against elite opponents (i.e. Kentucky) as "toss ups" when just last year I was marking these games as losses. Just shows how our confidence level has increased in this major revenue program, which had cratered into the abyss just four years ago under a young, incompetent so-called on the job training head coach.

Anyways. As for UCLA, as I have already mentioned before we have a few issues to address on our own end, which include the play of our front court, and the depth at point guard.  However, given the talent we have on our roster this year, and the invaluable experience these kids accumulated during that magical tourney run last year, I think we can probably look forward to a season in which, unless something catastrophic happens, our Bruins should be in position to put together a top-1- regular season going into the Dance with somewhere in range of 25-28 wins, and a high seed, hopefully, in the Western region.

One thing I know with Coach Howland in charge is that I have no worries.  We don't have to impose any expectations on him because, given his track record, it is pretty clear he himself sets the expectations a lot higher, and does what it takes to deliver upon them.

Just sit back and enjoy the "growing" and "learning" process of a Ben Howland coached basketball team unfold on the basketball court, instead of hearing about it through empty coaching clichés during post game press conferences.

I cannot wait for hoops.

Just 7 more days till Ben Ball folks.