As Chianti Dan promised, the men's basketball schedule was released in late May, the very last day of May. There are a lot of interesting items in the schedule but for once Ben Howland may not be guilty of the sin of most coaches when looking at their schedules, hyperbole. This may be the toughest non-conference schedule UCLA has played in years:
"With a total of six non-conference teams on this year's schedule that made the NCAA Tournament a year ago, I believe this is one of the most competitive schedules we have had in my tenure," Howland said. "I'm really looking forward to this season and very excited about the level of competition."
The first and most important item on the schedule is UCLA is returning to Pauley. After the disastrous road show last year, when Chanti Dan had UCLA playing most of its home games on the USC Campus in an arena $C had rejected, UCLA is back where they belong:
"We are elated to be returning home to Pauley Pavilion and are very excited about the re-opening of our legendary facility," UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland said. "I think this is going to be a very fun and successful season."
The season opens with a game against Indiana State, the other college where Coach Wooden coached. While this is nice hat tip to Wooden, I personally think an opportunity was missed. I mean it would have been great to showcase the new recruiting class, the new Pauley, etc. with a game that would at draw national interest from an ESPN.
After that the season begins in earnest, with another one of those goofy non-tournament tournaments. By that I mean UCLA is guaranteed to go the finals of the legends classic regardless of how it does in the first two preliminary games at home. But then the season begins, UCLA will play against one or two the following teams:
- #1 Preseason Indiana. A team ranked higher than UCLA in all polls. (I checked three "polls" from this post, really single authors predictions, and the numbers in the rest of this post are their highest listing):
- Georgia. Georgia is unique for Tony Parker. Parker has been taking almost Kevin-Love-level-Oregon- grief for leaving Georgia. Not sure how many Georgia fans will go to New York but they will likely not be nice to Tony.
Then we go play a couple of Cal somethings before we turn to the next tough game, #8 San Diego State. Last year, UCLA was not the best team even in Los Angeles (LMU proved that in beating UCLA). This game will go along way to determining whether UCLA is the best team in Southern Califorina. This can be important for recruiting in addition to basic pride. If that is not enough, this will be the Wooden classic at the Honda Center.
After a bizarre late exhibition game, UCLA plays #21 Texas in Houston. This game will be the first time this group of young UCLA has played a big-time road game. It will also provide a comparison game and not to the famous game against the Big E. No, it will be to last year's infamous game where the lights went out and the Bruins gave up at "home" against Texas and Reeves acted up.
Then for UCLA comes Prairie View A & M who lost all their non-conference games last year. Long Beach State was very good last year but lost most of their key players. We continue our tour of former Jerry Tarkanian teams by playing a mediocre Fresno State.
Then comes an important test, #10 Missouri. This is the last game before the PAC 12 proper starts. This will tell us a lot about this young team at this point.
I don't want to break down the PAC 12 except to say what we don't do. We don't have to travel to Oregon this year. No more dizziness from the bizarre Matt Court. Also, we do not have any trips during SUC week. We have one game each of those weeks giving the Bruins more practice time and some time to rest during the PAC 12.
So what does it mean? UCLA has a good mix of prep games and true challenges in the out of conference season. The youngsters will have a chance to learn under pressure.
But here is the question for Howland. While he play deep and give players like Parker, Powell, Adams a chance to play in some of those early real games. Or will he play for the win early, shorten his bench and go more with experienced players such as the Wears and Lamb.
I for one hope he plays more of the youth early or in the alternative 10 or 11 players a lot in the out of conference season. Let me clear, come the Missouri game, he will need to have a real rotation. But I would rather lose to Indiana early (even badly) playing too deep or too young and be a better team and beat them later, say in Atlanta.
This happen in reverse to UCLA in 1991-2. The more experienced UCLA destroyed Indiana in the season opener in a neutral location game. The teams met again later in the season with UCLA's season ended in the Elite 8 when Indiana similarly destroyed UCLA 106-79. No disrespect to Coach Harrick. Obviously there is a lot more to this but the basic point is not about Harrick but Indiana's Bobby Knight. Knight did not care much about the opening game, he was playing for the season.
Will Howland or will he play it game by game again?