But it's what we do.
As we always point out, too, so much of whether a season is considered successful depends on the pre-season expectation, and right now you’d have to say there isn’t a great deal for the 2014-2015 Bruins, which could ultimately work in favor of the general feeling of the season in March. Realistically, though, there is always naturally a certain expectation for UCLA basketball – the minimum probably being the team makes the NCAA Tournament, even in a rebuilding year. Not making it would probably be considered a non-successful season, and anything less than an NCAA bubble team would be considered a meltdown of a year.
So, here we go with our pre-season, amazingly premature prediction:
The season starts tonight with Montana State at home. MSU is picked to finish in the bottom third of the Big Sky, and if UCLA stumbles out of this gate, Pauley is going to be a mausoleum for the rest of the season. 1-0.
Next is Coastal Carolina, an NCAA Tournament team from a year ago, which led Virginia in the first round at halftime. The Chanticleers return four veteran starters from that team. UCLA, even in its most talented years, always tends to have a letdown, upset game and we’re going to get it out of the way early. Coastal Carolina catches the young Bruins early when they don’t know how to play yet. 1-1.
Nicholls State had a losing record a year ago and lost its two top starters. 2-1.
If the requisite mid-major upset isn’t Coastal Carolina, it very well could be Long Beach State. They weren’t good last year, but return some talent and are expected to be much better. We’ll say UCLA only loses to one non-conference mid-major and we think Coastal Carolina, and not LBSU, is the most talented and gets UCLA at the right time. 3-1.
Oklahoma was 23-10 last year, a 5-seed NCAA Tournament team that was upset in the second round, which doesn’t bode well for the Bruins. In fact, the Sooners are 0-2 in the last two years in the Tourney. This all means they’re pissed and they’ll be focused early on in the season. It’s a veteran team that returns four starters, the game is on the road for UCLA (in the Bahamas at the Battle for Atlantis Tournament), and this UCLA team won’t be ready for that stage yet. 3-2.
UCLA probably gets Butler in the loser’s bracket of the Battle for Atlantis, and Butler doesn’t have much talent from a year ago. Where have you gone, Brad Stevens? 4-2.
It’s really difficult to guess who UCLA will play in the losers’ side of the tournament’s bracket, but we’ll guess Georgetown, just because it would be fun for the Bruins to face Josh Smith. The Hoyas have a strong, veteran frontcourt, which could be tough for UCLA’s young frontcourt early in the season, on the road, and they have a good lead guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, a former UCLA recruit. 4-3.
Cal State Fullerton is picked to finish in the bottom third of the Big West. UCLA is now starting to show signs of putting it together, and will come back from the Bahamas with a tan and a purpose (not a porpoise). 5-3.
|Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison.|
If Fullerton is in the bottom third of the Big West, UC Riverside is the absolute bottom of the Big West. 7-3.
Gonzaga is ranked #13 in the preseason, and has one of the best backcourts in the west that has been there for about 8 years. They will have already been battle-tested, having played Arizona. 7-4.
UCLA goes to Chicago to play pre-season #1 Kentucky. That’s the Harrison twins and a boatload of talent. Just hope it’s slightly respectable. 7-5.
Alabama is probably a pretty evenly-matched team with the Bruins. But it’s in Tuscaloosa, and UCLA will be traveling after Christmas. We think this is a lynchpin game; If UCLA wins this it has a good out-of-conference win on its resume that could also help it build confidence. We think the Bruins will be ready, and it could go either way, and if it were at Pauley we’d choose UCLA. 7-6.
It’s tough to finish the non-conference season on a three-game losing streak, with all three games on the road, and then have to start the conference schedule on the road. And going to Colorado might be the toughest place to travel to in the conference. The Buffs could be the second-best team in the Pac-12, with one of the conference’s best post players and a veteran backcourt. We think the Bruins are playing much better at this point but can’t turn the corner yet. 7-7.
With Utah, it's been a long string of games away from Pauley and UCLA is probably tired at this point, and they’ll face one of the conference’s best players in Delon Wright and four returning starters. It’s the year that Larry Krystkowiak’s plan starts to pay dividends, and UCLA just can’t find its equilibrium in the mountains. We bet the Bruins aren’t playing badly but just can’t survive the gauntlet. 7-8.
Thank goodness UCLA returns home. While Stanford might be in the upper third of the Pac-12, they lost two big frontcourt stalwarts in Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell. Happy to be home, and with UCLA’s frontcourt now having grown up some, UCLA snaps the losing streak, 8-8.
California lost floor leader Justin Cobbs, has no true point guard, no real post, less depth than UCLA, and is breaking in a new coach (Cuonzo Martin) and his schemes. At Pauley, UCLA gets its first semi-rout of the season. 9-8.
We seriously can’t picture anyone on the USC roster except true freshman Jordan McLaughlin, and the UCLA players don’t recognize anyone either. UCLA is playing better by this time. 10-8.
|Utah’s Delon Wright.|
Oregon isn’t very good. They’ll be young and have questionable talent, and you have to wonder about the chemistry in the program. But on the road, Oregon is a tough place to play. 11-9.
UCLA comes back to Pauley and splits with Utah. 12-9.
The Bruins out-play Colorado at home and do the splitsies here, too. 13-9.
Stanford in Palo Alto is always tough, and UCLA splits with the Cardinal. 13-10.
It’s early February and the season is coming toward the home stretch. UCLA is now seasoned and quite better. The Cal game in Berkeley is the beginning of a mini-run for the Bruins. 14-10.
Oregon State. 15-10.
In Pauley, against Oregon, it looks like two different teams from just three weeks prior. UCLA in a near blowout. 16-10.
Arizona State, after its first NCAA tournament since 2009 last year, will struggle, with not much talent or experience. Even in Tempe, the improving Bruins prevail. 17-10.
Arizona is probably trying to write its resume for a #1 NCAA seed, but UCLA plays them surprisingly close. 17-11.
Washington has the potential to be the surprise of the conference. Regardless of whether they are, they’ve always been a pain in the ass in Pauley, so the Huskies send the Bruins reeling in a game UCLA expects to win. We feel there is going to be at least one conference game UCLA should clearly win but lose and this is it. 17-12.
Washington State is going to rival Oregon State. 18-12.
Even after watching them play once, we still don’t recognize anyone on USC’s team. 19-12.
UCLA is, then, 11-7 in the Pac-12, probably good enough for a third- or fourth-place finish. It is precariously on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and probably on the least-likely side, without a big out-of-conference win on the resume, coming from a fairly weak conference, and it being one of the rare years when the Pac-12 doesn’t get many teams in the Dance (less than four teams only twice in the last 27 years). An NCAA bid probably comes down to how UCLA does in the Pac-12 tournament, and it would probably have to win it or at the very minimum give Arizona a game in the Tournament Championship.
Guessing the rest is just too much of a fool’s errand. We’re fools, but we have to draw a line somewhere. It’s clear, though, even from this prediction, that the 2014-2015 Bruins will have some challenges and definitely some peaks and valleys during the season. To their advantage, the Pac-12 should be weaker than it’s even been in recent years and perhaps give the Bruins an opportunity to look even better than they are. We think the team will have improved considerably by the end of the season and it's a case that they were just one good, out-of-conference win away from getting in the Tournament, albeit it with a double-digit seed.