2013-2014 Hoops Season Prediction

UCLA has a favorable Pac-12 schedule in which it doesn't play Arizona or ASU on the road, and the usual helping of cupcakes. Steve Alford is looking for a signature win...

As we've said every year, it's completely ridiculous at the beginning of November to predict what's going to happen in March.

But it's what we do.

Remember, so much of whether a season is considered successful is based on expectation, and expectation for the 2013-2014 season is in a weird place right now. On one hand, there isn't a great buzz about the season and new head coach Steve Alford has been a bit behind the curve in trying to create it. So, while fans are seemingly not expecting the team to necessarily have a successful season, there seems to be a high level of expectation to meet. In other words, Alford is getting the worse of both worlds when it comes to expectations.

The only way to remedy that is to win. If the team wins, the butts will fill the seats at Pauley Pavilion. Wins have a chance to make any residual ill-will over Alford's hiring or his recruiting dissipate. Winning will, of course, solve everything.

So, here we go with our annual pre-season season prediction.

The season begins tonight against Drexel, who isn't bad and has some talent. We feel that, in the non-conference, UCLA will suffer its traditional one under-achieving upset, and Drexel could be it. It could be Drexel, UCSB, Northwestern or Weber State. We'll say, though, that with this being the opening game of the season, and Drexel having not played an exhibition or a scrimmage, and having some unknowns, UCLA wins this. 1-0.

Oakland has good guards but lacks a frontcourt that could challenge the Bruins. 2-0.

Sacramento State projects to be one of the worst in the Big Sky in 2013, having to replace three starters. 3-0.

Chattanooga is picked to finish middle of the pack in the Southern Conference. They have a new coach, Shaka Smart's former assistant, who will play the Smart chaos style, so it should at least be interesting. 4-0.

Nevada doesn't look to be very good this year, having to replace three starters from a losing 2012-2013 season. They do have Deonte Burton, but he can't do it alone. 5-0.

Northwestern is the first true high-major UCLA will face, but in conference only. It's Chris Collins' first year as a head coach and they're replacing three starters. Interesting fact: Northwestern has never been to the NCAA Tournanment. 6-0.

UCSB is a candidate for the upset. They should be competitive in the Big West, and should bounce back from a disappointing season last year with four returning starters. This will be the first team UCLA faces a legit frontcourt. They are right in line with the tradition of Cal Poly or Cal State Northridge. For this story's sake, we'll say this is the upset. 6-1.

Missouri lost almost its entire roster from last season, but it has talent and is probably a tournament team. On the road in Columbia, without UCLA having really played on the road in hostile territory yet this season, we'll call this a loss. 6-2.

Prairie View A&M is probably the worst team on UCLA's schedule. 7-2.

Duke lost in the Elite Eight last season and could be better this year. One of the best backcourts in the country. The fact they'll be young and on the road themselves could help UCLA, but talent-wise, head to head, UCLA doesn't match up. We think it will be close, though, and UCLA will show well. 7-3.

Weber State had 30 wins last season, and was the best shooting team in the NCAA. This is a candidate for the upset, but we already gave it to UCSB, so we'll call this a win. UCLA should have Travis Wear and Wanaah Bail in place by this time, so they'll have a better chance against Weber State than UCSB. 8-3.

Alabama lost some big contributors in the off-season, but still has solid talent. They could actually be better than Missouri but since the game is at home in Pauley, we'll give it a win. Plus, UCLA should be playing plenty of zone by this time, which will make them much better. 9-3.

USC is a complete unknown. There are only a couple of players on the team we're familiar with, and we have no idea how it will all manifest itself in Andy Enfield's system. Bottom line: there just isn't a great deal of talent. In Pauley, no way the Trojans are competitive. 10-3.

Arizona will be the most talented team UCLA will face all season, and have the most talent in the frontcourt, which will be UCLA's weakness. It's at Pauley, but UCLA doesn't match up personnel-wise. 10-4.

Arizona State could be a tough match-up, too, with one of the best point guards in the country in Jahii Carson and a solid frontcourt. But we'll say UCLA splits this weekend at home. 11-4.

How lucky is it that UCLA doesn't have to go on a road trip to the desert this season?

Colorado on the road should be tough. We really like the Buffaloes, even without Andre Roberson. Spencer Diwiddie is the man. For a UCLA team without much road experience up to this point, this will probably be a loss. 11-5.

And the fans might be melting down at this point with the Bruins starting the Pac-12 season at 2-2.

Utah got better last season, but lost most of its main contributors and has to start over. 12-5.

Stanford should be decent this and have a frontcourt with enough talent and experience to give UCLA problems. We're going to say UCLA splits with the Cardinal this year, so this game at Pauley is a win. 13-5.

Cal loses Allen Crabbe, but still has a nucleus. The issue is that the nucleus just isn't that good. 14-5.

Oregon will probably have its two suspended players back at this point, and they have some talent. One of the best backcourts UCLA will face. In Eugene, this has to be called a loss, 14-6.

Oregon State has a decent frontcourt but just not a great deal of talent. Even on the road, this is a UCLA win. 15-6.

Even going across town, UCLA should beat the Trojans. 16-6.

UCLA splits with Colorado, getting this win at Pauley. 17-6.

Utah at home, 18-6.

Cal on the road is a tough call. UCLA doesn't do traditionally great in Haas Pavilion, and Cal is good enough to play the Bruins tough. We'll go out on a limb and say UCLA is starting to put it together. 19-6.

We said a season split with Stanford, so a loss on the road. 19-7.

UCLA can't lose to the Ducks twice in one season. At home, a win. 20-7.

Oregon State. 21-7.

Washington should be the bottom half of the Pac-12, having lost three big contributors. This could be Lorenzo Romar's least talented Husky team in a long time. We'll say that UCLA is now gelling with its zone, and gets the rare win in Seattle. 22-7.

It should be a tough season for Washington State, one that prompts the firing of Ken Bone. So they should be on their last legs here. 23-7.

That makes them 14-4 in the Pac-12, which is a considerable surge after starting off 2-2. That probably gets them second place in the conference, and close to Arizona (The Wildcats would win the head-to-head tie-breaker with that win in Pauley).

It's absolutely impossible to predict how UCLA would do in the conference tournament, since it's not only in March but we can't know the match-ups. The assumption, for the second-place Pac-12 team, would be a win in the quarterfinals, a win in the semi-finals and a loss in the final, and we'll go with that. 25-8.

Last season they were 25-9 and it got them a six seed. They might be comparable this season. A six seed is a tough one, because if you get past the 11-seed in the first round you get a three-seed in the second round. There's a significant difference in being a five-seed and facing a four-seed in the second round.

We'll say if UCLA ends up a six seed they'll get past the first round this year, unlike last season, and then get bounced in the second round by the three-seed. If they get a better seed, even just a five-seed, we'll say they get by the second round and make the Sweet 16.

So, six seed, they finish the season 26-9.

Five seed or better, 27-9.

Getting back to those expectations, our general gut read on this is that the UCLA faithful, with those weird expectations on the season, despite how the team looks on the court, will come away disappointed in a second-round loss and probably satisfied with a Sweet-16-or-better appearance. A win over Missouri or, of course, Duke, could definitely boost the NCAA seeding. Avoiding that almost inevitable non-conference pitfall of an upset could also keep the RPI from being dragged down. A win over Arizona at Pauley would suffice, too.

It's a season where Alford needs a signature win, not only to bolster the seeding possibilities, but to legitimize his program in the first year. Do that and get to the Sweet 16 and that will do it.

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