Here we go again, trying to do something completely insane and predict the basketball season game by game -- in November. Remember when we went 27-0 for the first 27 games in 2010-2011?
The insanity is that we didn't bet heavily that year.
The 2015-2016 Bruins, as we said in the Preview Part 1: The Team, have some questions to answer, but there is a possibility, with more depth in the backcourt, that this year's Bruins are improved over last season.
The Pac-12 doesn't have that one elite, potential Final-Four team, with Arizona being a bit down from recent years. But the conference overall might be a little better, with more "good" teams in that top tier. The Pac-12 very well could get six teams in the NCAA Tournament this season. UCLA has a brutal non-conference schedule, which should make it difficult on them to get a big out-of-conference win, but it will benefit from a favorable Pac-12 schedule. The four teams that you would probably project to be the worst in the league -- Arizona State, Washington State, USC and Washington -- UCLA plays two times each. It doesn't have to travel to the Mountain schools, and it gets a shot at all of the top-tier teams other than Cal in Pauley.
So, here we go:
Monmouth. The Hawks aren’t absolutely horrible, but they’re a middle-of-the-road Metro Atlantic team. 1-0.
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. UCLA has a time-honored tradition to occasionally drop a game against a David-like local California team. It won’t be the Mustangs. 2-0.
Pepperdine. But it could be the Waves. Every good player returns from a team that beat Saint Mary’s and BYU last year. And they very well could have one of the best defenses UCLA will play all year. But we’ll say the Bruins still win. 3-0.
UNLV. This is the first round of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. The Running’ Rebs have some talent. They beat USC in a scrimmage on a neutral court without one of their best players, Goodluck Okonoboh. Stephen Zimmerman went for a double-double (10/12). But we’re going to go with UCLA staying perfect up to this point. 4-0.
Kansas. That perfection almost certainly ends here. The pre-season top-5 Jayhawks are really talented, and a possible Final Four team. At least UCLA gets them on a neutral court and not Allen Fieldhouse. 4-1.
If UCLA loses to Kansas, it’s nearly impossible to predict who the Bruins would face in the loser bracket of the Maui Invitational. But we’ll take a wild guess and say it’s Vanderbilt. If it’s the Commodores, who are ranked #18 in the pre-season AP Poll, it should be a pretty even game, and give UCLA an opportunity to get a good non-conference win. But Steve Alford’s teams have started seasons slowly, so we’ll say the Bruins aren’t quite ready. 4-2.
Cal State Northridge. The Matadors are in a downward spiral and we don’t see Reggie Theus ever pulling them out. No chance at another Northridge Pauley surprise. 5-2.
Kentucky. At least the game’s at Pauley Pavilion. That should be good enough for about 8 points. But the Wildcats are, again, the most talented team in the country and that 8 points isn’t going to make this close. 5-3.
Long Beach State. The 49ers lost too much talent from last season, and they’ll be young and inexperienced, which makes them easier to play in the early season. 6-3.
Gonzaga. Kevin Pangos finally graduated after being at Gonzaga for 10 years. The highly-ranked Zags, actually, lose some significant guys from last season. After 9 games, we’d say the Bruins will be starting to show flashes, with Aaron Holiday maturing. If this game were in Pauley we’d give it a Bruin win, but traveling to Spokane in early December is tough. 6-4.
Louisiana. That traditional upset might come from a non-Californian mid-major this season. The Ragin’ Cajuns had a strong season a year ago, and they aren’t a great match-up for the Bruins, but we think UCLA is playing good ball about this time. 7-4.
North Carolina. UCLA decided to play a Blue Bloods pre-season schedule, squaring off against Kansas, Kentucky and the Tar Heels and, unfortunately, none of them are down this season. Most prognosticators are picking North Carolina to win it all, and it doesn’t help the game is on a neutral court (in Brooklyn for the CBS Sports Classic). 7-5.
McNeese State. If the Cowboys were actually good, we might pick this as a letdown upset. But they’re not. 8-5.
@ Washington. The Huskies could very well be the worst team in the Pac-12 this season. They did have a good recruiting class, so it could be a case of a team with some talent that is a bit of a mess. Kind of like many Washington teams in the past, but worse. 9-5 (1-0).
@ Washington State. Vying for the honor of the conference’s worst team will also be WSU. It’s incredibly fortunate that UCLA gets to play both Washington schools twice. 10-5 (2-0).
Arizona. We actually think Arizona, with a pre-season ranking of #10/#12, might have a disappointing season. The straw that broke the camel could have been the ACL suffered by incredibly talented freshman small forward Ray Smith, which reduces Arizona from very talented to just talented. We think UCLA has a very good chance to win this in Pauley, but comes up just a little short. 10-6 ( 2-1).
Arizona State. The Sun Devils lost some guys, have a new coach in Bobby Hurley and will probably finish in the bottom third of the conference. 11-6 (3-1).
USC. While there are some predictions saying the Trojans have a chance to be good this year, we just don’t believe it. They have some talent, but the coaching hasn’t changed. 12-6 (4-1).
@ Oregon State. This is one of the toughest games to pick over two months ahead of time. Right now the Beavers have to get through some minor nicks, but they have solid talent and a very good coach in Wayne Tinkle. We think they’re on their way to the NCAA Tournament this year. In Corvallis, Beavers beat the Bruins. 12-7 (4-2).
@ Oregon. The Ducks will probably be about as good as they were last year, and that was a team that made the Dance. They substitute Pac-12 leading scorer Joseph Young for talented freshman combo guard Tyler Dorsey, and have one of the toughest frontcourts in the league. Just like last year, in Oregon, the Bruins get swept. 12-8 (4-3).
Washington. After getting swept by the Oregon schools, you couldn’t ask for a better way to get better by playing the Washington schools in Pauley. 13-8 (5-3).
Washington State. 14-8 (6-3).
@ USC. It doesn’t matter where UCLA plays the Trojans, in Pauley or 13 miles away. 15-8 (7-3).
@ Arizona. The Wildcats have probably found an identity by playing some defense by this point of the season, and they’re difficult to beat in Tucson. UCLA should be improved by Feb. 12th, and if the two series' locations were flipped and this one were in Pauley, we’d give it a UCLA win. 15-9 (7-4).
@ Arizona State. This will probably be a close game, at least for a while, with the Sun Devils playing like they have nothing to lose at this point of the season, because they won’t. 16-9 (8-4).
Utah. Almost forgot the Mountain teams were in the conference. Utah will be one of the top three teams in the league, and the Bruins are very fortunate they don’t play them in Salt Lake. The Utes will be a bit too good for UCLA, even in Pauley. 16-10 (8-5).
Colorado. The Buffs will probably benefit from addition by subtraction with the graduation of Askia Booker. But UCLA is more talented and should be putting it together by this time. 17-10 (9-5).
@ California. It’s strange that UCLA only plays the Bay Area schools in the Bay Area this season. While we so want to go against the trend of picking Cal to be really good, just to be contrary, we have to admit they really are going to be very talented. 17-11 (9-6).
@ Stanford. The Cardinal lost some talent from last season, and they always seem to underachieve. So less talent underachieving means this is could be a very down year in Palo Alto. 18-11 (10-6).
Oregon/Oregon State. UCLA will split these at home in Pauley, we just don’t know which game they’ll win. 19-12 (11-7).
It’s the exact same overall and conference record UCLA had at the end of the season last year. So, we think UCLA again gets the #4 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, and will probably play one of the Washington schools in the quarterfinal, and beat them for the third time. Like it did last year, UCLA will play the #1 seed really tough in the semi-final, but will lose to Utah.
The Bruins are at 20-13, identical to last season and, again, be on the NCAA Tournament bubble. But if you’re the NCAA Tournament committee and you took bubble-licious UCLA last season and they made you look like geniuses by going to the Sweet 16, wouldn’t you just about automatically take the Bruins again?
UCLA will again get a #11 seed, and the Bruins will again be playing pretty good ball by March, good enough to upset the #6 seed again in the first round, this time even without the benefit of a controversial goal-tending call. But they’ll actually face the #3 seed in the second round and the Bruins’ will come close to pulling off the upset again, looking better than that #3 seed at times, but the season will come to an end there in a close one.