Tonight is UCLA first exhibition game which will be the only game this year not on TV somewhere. Looking forward to the reviews of those who attend tonight.
This is a good time to talk about expectations and predictions for basketball this season.
By any measure Dan Guerrero's choice of Steve Alford has been a failure thus far. Alford, although getting better, has not by any standard lived up to the UCLA way. Beginning with his at first defiant, then apologetic stance regarding rapist Pierre Pierce, Alford has had a rocky time at UCLA. He has finally started mentioning Wooden and UCLA more than Indiana and Bobby Knight but he seems a bit lost as to what UCLA means; whether it is talking about USC or infamously stating the only difference between UCLA and other schools is the "good weather."
This may explain part of his problems with recruiting. He does not understand UCLA. He has recruited one player for next season, a likely project that will take a few years to pan out one way or the other, named Gyorgy Goloman. Goloman would be a good fourth or fifth recruit to round out a class. He is right now the entire class.
Of course, Alford could do a lot to fix the recruiting problems by just winning this season. Unfortunately, given the recruiting situation it looks like an absolute must to receive commitments from the few late very good uncommitted recruits.
What Alford must do is finish either second to Arizona or win the PAC 12 outright. This is not unreasonable as it is what the experts predicted in their preseason poll. Arizona is the deserving favorite for the conference title but if they falter UCLA should be next. Ben Howland left the cupboard with some very good and interesting ingredients, which makes this very reasonable.
Alford must also take UCLA to the second weekend of the tournament or sweet 16 this season. This is one of the reasons for the firing of Howland. As Howland defenders are fond of pointing out, he did win the PAC 12 last season. But for five years he did not make the sweet 16. UCLA should regularly be there in an average season. Alford must take UCLA there.
Now on to predictions.
The good news for Alford is he has the easiest non-conference schedule of recent years. Under Howland, UCLA teams in recent years have started slow. They have also played some good mid-major veteran teams early; games that UCLA should have won but lost in part because of Howland.
UCLA's first 8 games this season does not feature a single team that had a winning record last season. Zero. We are not talking about teams that play in power conferences. With the exception of Northwestern, UCLA is playing schools such as the Dragons, Golden Grizzlies, Hornets, etc. In other words, schools that most fans have not even heard of the teams.
This should give Alford an easy run to 8-0 and a top 20 national ranking. This should also give the bandwagon fans something to crow about. However, everyone should keep in mind this is easy. Almost any coach would win these games. People should also keep in mind UCLA's RPI will be low as a result of playing these cupcakes which will hurt later in the year.
The first game against a good team last year is not that tough either. Missouri was a good team last year but lost almost their entire roster> Their head coach is suspended for their first five games. The only thing that should make this a game is it will be UCLA first true road game. Still this should be a win.
UCLA then plays Prairie View for their ninth game against a team that had a losing record last season. This is followed by a legitimately tough game for UCLA against Duke on the road at Madison Square Garden against Duke. Alford will deserve credit if he wins this game but realistically UCLA should be 10-1 at this point.
Then UCLA plays the two most interesting games on its non-conference schedule. In a game that may go down as Ben Howland's revenge, UCLA plays possibly their second toughest game of the non-conference schedule vs.Weber State. Weber State is a lock to win the Big Sky conference and the game will be played on December 22 when the students are gone. It will be a game that Ben will be laughing at if his alma mater beats UCLA. However, because the schedule is so weak (except Duke), UCLA really needs to win this game as it should.
Next is an Alabama team picked to finish sixth in the SEC. This was a foolish series to sign up for by Dan Guerrero as they will be tough on the road. But this is the home game of the series and it should be a win.
So we expect and predict UCLA to breeze through the non-conference schedule with a loss to Duke only for a record of 12-1
Then comes the PAC 12. Alford gets a break here, starting with the basement team in the conference USC. 13-1 (1-0). Then the Arizona series at home. Because of the scheduling quirk, UCLA only plays the Arizona schools at home this season and does not have to travel to Tucson or Tempe. This game is potentially huge because UCLA would have a tiebreaker over Arizona if they win this game.
The Arizona series presents an interesting match-up problem for the Bruins, with the talent of the Wildcats and possibly the conference's best player in the ultra-quick point guard Jahii Carson. As UCLA is at home it must and should win at least one of these games. 14-2 (2-1).
UCLA plays on the road next against Colorado and then the only team that might be as bad as USC , Utah. Colorado will be a tough out but did lose their best player. Utah will be a joke. Pac 12 games are tough on the road so I predict we lose to Colorado, even though we beat them last year and we should this year. 15-3 (3-2)
Stanford and Cal at home should be wins. Cal may be good but Mike Montgomery has never been able to recruit depth. In the PAC 12 on the road that can hurt if nothing else because of the SPTRs. 17-3 (5-2)
The Oregon road tip comes next and this will be the first truly hostile environment for the team at Oregon. A lock loss against Oregon with Oregon State as an easy win. 18-4, 6-3.
USC stinks and is a must blowout win at home or on the road. 19-4, 7-3.
Colorado and Utah are must and should wins at home. 21-4, 9-3.
Then comes the only part the season that is going to be make or break for Steve Alford. At this point UCLA is in the tournament and fighting for the PAC 12 title. At this point in the season, good coaching helps teams rise to the top. What we expect and what I personally predict are going to vary here. I would ask that those who want to ump on the bandwagon after the first 8 games keep this part of the schedule and time of year in mind.
For these last six games, Alford needs to lead the Bruins to a 5-1 record. Maybe losing at Cal and beating Oregon and Oregon State at home, Stanford, UW, and WSU on the road for a 26-5, 14-4 record.
What I predict is not as good. I think Montgomery and Altman will out coach Alford for two losses. I think UW will intimidate and dominate UCLA with their crowd. I would not be surprised if Stanford sends us reeling in an upset. Will Alford's team come apart? I think UCLA will be stumbling at the end worrying a bit about a tournament bid with a 24-7 record and 12-6 record in the PAC 12. The PAC 12 tournament will matter than as UCLA will have to win at least a game to feel safe.
Thus UCLA will squeak in the tournament with a bad seed. Maybe win a game, maybe not. I predict Alford will fail on the expectations front for the season as well.
To be clear, I hope I am wrong. I will add we won't know anything positive until the end of the season. Yes, bad things like recruiting failures have happened already and good things like a 8-0 start and nice ranking to start the season will likely happen . But a successful season will be determined by the end and getting to at least the sweet 16 and finishing at the top of the PAC 12. (Oh, as well as recruiting and representing UCLA.)