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Playing the Expectations and Predictions Game for UCLA Basketball in 2011-2012

We've had the expectations versus predictions discussion on BN more than enough times. Predictions are not expectations and expectations are not predictions. While expectations are what needs to happen for the season to be considered a success based on the state of the program and where a UCLA program should be at any given time, predictions are what we think will happen. Ben Howland barely met expectations last year, showing vast improvement from the record-low year before, but finishing the season horribly. The reason Howland met expectations last year was because of what he could parlay last season into this season.

Simply put, UCLA needs to win the Pac-12 this season. There is no excuse for not winning it. The conference is going to be atrocious and the Bruins haven't topped the Pac since 2008. When the Bruins walk into Staples Center for the Pac-12 Tournament, they better be doing so as the number one seed. That will put them in position to get that ultra-valuable protected seed out West in the NCAA Tournament. From a results standpoint, the Pac-12 crown and protected seed are what matter.

Additionally, the Bruins need to return to the tough, hard nosed defense that was the staple of the program just a few years ago. Nobody takes possessions off on defense and coaches hold the players accountable for their work on the defensive end.

Finally, the Bruins need to finish the season strong. A 2-3 finish to the season with one of those wins being an ugly, poor performance against Wazzu like last season won't cut it. Finishing with five losses in their last seven like in 2010? Nope. We need to be in top gear and ready to step on the Pac-12's throat as we come down the back stretch.

These expectations don't get into winning national titles, making the Final Four or anything about the tournament. Why is that? The tournament is a crapshoot. It is one game. To judge a program and its season on one game and its result is unfair. A wrong bounce, an injury, some bad calls, all of those could doom a team in one game. Over the course of a 31-game regular season though, it's tough to fool anyone. You prove yourself over the regular season and when it's over you can look at a team and properly judge it. You can judge the state of its program.

Now, that doesn't mean the postseason is meaningless. The tournament is where champions are crowned, but it would be unfair to judge the program based on the result. What is expected of the Bruins in the tournament is that they are focused, prepared and come out ready to play 40 minutes of Ben Ball that got the Bruins to three Final Fours. Do that and let the chips fall where they may. It is madness, after all.

So with the expectations clarified, let's get to the predictions. We'll go game-by-game here with W's and L's. What do we think is going to come of this UCLA season?

11/11 vs. Loyola Marymount - W

11/15 vs. Middle Tennessee St. - W

11/21 vs. Chaminade (Maui)- W
11/22 vs. Kansas (Maui)- W
11/23 vs. Duke (Maui)- L

11/28 vs. Pepperdine - W
12/3 vs. Texas- W
12/10 vs. Penn- W
12/14 vs. Eastern Washington- W
12/17 vs. UC Davis- W
12/20 vs. UC Irvine- W
12/23 vs. Richmond- W

12/29 at Stanford- L
12/31 at Cal- W
1/5 vs. Arizona- W
1/7 vs. Arizona St.- W
1/15 at USC- W
1/19 at Oregon St.- W
1/21 at Oregon- L
1/26 vs. Utah- W
1/28 vs. Colorado- W
2/2 at Washington- W
2/4 at Washington St.- L

2/9 vs. Stanford- W
2/11 vs. Cal- W
2/15 vs. USC- W
2/18 at St. John's- W
2/23 at Arizona St.- W
2/25 at Arizona- L
3/1 vs. Washington St.- W
3/3 vs. Washington- L

That right there is a 25-6 overall record and a 13-5 conference record. That would be an overall boost from last year's 23-11 record, but would only match last year's record in conference. It's a borderline conference winning record. Last year, Arizona won the conference with a 14-4 mark, but Cal won it the previous year with a 13-5 record. In 2009 it took a 14-4 mark for Washington to win the conference, while in 2008, had we not dominated the conference with a 16-2 mark, 13-5 would have won the conference. As you can see, 13 conference wins can do it, but it's tough. Not since 2005 has a team won 14 games in conference and not won the title though so if If we want to win the conference, that's the number to shoot for.

Where can we get conference games currently chalked up as losses? That opener at Stanford is one of them and normally I'd look at that as a very winnable conference road game, except for one thing. It is our first true road game. Howland has taken heat for his scheduling and most of it is ludicrous. He schedules opponents that mirror the styles we'll need to play in conference and manipulates the RPI.

There is one thing I consider to be an issue though and that is not scheduling a true road game in non-conference before the start of the Pac-12 season. We haven't won our first true road game of a season since the 2007-2008 season, when we beat Michigan in front of a lazy crowd because the students were out for winter break. Asking kids to play their first road game of the season in conference play, when every game matters ten times more just isn't smart and it's why we'll fall at Maples Pavilion.

The Oregon road game always gives us trouble, even when we win it. This one could very well turn out a win if we show up focused and poised because the Ducks will be a bad team, but maintaining focus and poise has not been our strength in recent year.

That's a little different from what I'm expecting at Washington. The Huskies have owned the Bruins at HecEd and this one will be a prime time game on ESPN with Gameday in town. It should have the makings of a blowout as we fade away scared, but this reminds me of the Kansas game last year. We'll show up, we'll play well and this time without some shady refereeing and playing a worse team, the Bruins break the HecEd curse with a win. Of course, that wears them out and leaves them looking past Wazzu, who nip us in Pullman.

A loss at Arizona isn't much of a surprise. They're a good team even without Derrick Williams, Sean Miller can really coach and they'll be up to play us in a national TV game. That season-ending loss to Washington though, chalk that one up to recent history. We've finished the season horribly in recent years and those Huskies do give us problems.

So is that a successful season that met expectations? It comes down to whether 13-5 wins the Pac-12. If so, a Pac-12 title, plus quality wins over Kansas, Texas, Arizona, Cal (twice) and Washington, plus sneaky good RPI wins over Richmond and St. John's should net the Bruins a protected seed in the West for the NCAA tournament. Of course, that's assuming the Bruins don't tank in the Pac-12 Tournament, which is no given. Really though, this one comes down to the Pac-12. Can the Bruins top a bad conference? It'll be close.