UCLA Basketball Preview: Part Four

Will UCLA get to the Final Four? Here are fearless and foolhardy predictions for the season, game-by-game...

Season Prediction

First, here's the Season's Schedule, (which can always be found on the site at the left hand navigation bar), as a reference for this prediction.

And now, my down and dirty predictions for the season (with running tab on record):

The two exhibition games: Who cares?

Houston: Houston lost 20 games last year. They should be better, with 6-8 JR PF George Williams (potential NBA player) and 6-8 SR C Patrick Okafor inside, and 5-10 SR PG Dominic Smith and 6-3 SO SG Kevin Gaines (Michigan transfer) in the backcourt, but they lack depth, don't play much interior defense and make too many turnovers. UCLA wins. 1-0.

Kansas: A Sweet 16 team last year, Kansas returns 4 starters and boasts 5 former McDonald's All-Americans, including likely NBA lottery pick 6-11 JR SF/PF Drew Gooden. 6-9 JR PF/C Nick Collison, 6-5 JR PG/SG Kirk Hinrich, 6-2 SR PG/SG Jeff Boschee and 5-11 FR PG Aaron Miles are the other former Mickey Ds, but look for burly 6-7 FR PF Wayne Simien and slender 6-5 FR wingman Keith Langford to make a big impact as well. UCLA matches up very well with the Jayhawks, who will start 3 guards but will still lack great quickness outside as well as depth inside (6-10 SR C Jeff Carey might be a key role player here), but the Jayhawks' T-formation motion offense is more likely to be a step ahead of UCLA's mixed offense at this point and harder to defend. So, UCLA's' pressure will have to make the difference, and Kansas will have those 3 point guards out there to handle the pressure. This is a very tough call. We'll go with our hearts, not with our minds, and say that UCLA will win a close game. 2-0.

Duke: Are you kidding me? Duke does lack depth up front, and if 6-9 245 JR PF Carlos Boozer gets in foul trouble, well, anything can happen. But it probably won't. Not with 6-2 SO PG Chris Duhon, 6-5 JR SG/SF Dhantay Jones, 6-9 JR SF Mike Dunleavy and college basketball's only true superstar, 6-2 JR PG/SG Jason Williams, on the floor. 6-11 JR C Casey Sanders must finally show some real improvement this year and give the Blue Devils at least 25 solid mpg; 6-6 SO PF Reggie Love, 6-10 SR C Matt Christensen and 6-10 JR SF Nick Horvath are all in reserve up front, and they're in reserve for a reason. UCLA loses. 2-1.

Pepperdine: The Waves lost players in, um, waves, from last year, but do return 6-3 SR SG Craig Lewis, 6-2 SO PG Micah McKinney and 6-6 SO PF Boomer Brazzle (great name), and add potential star 6-7 JR SF/PF Jimmy Miggins and promising 6-5 FR SG/SF Terrance Johnson to a young, unproven squad headed by new coach Paul Westphal. UCLA wins. 3-1.

UC-Riverside: UC-R finished 8-17 last year in their first season against significant D 1 competition and will be a full member of the Big West this year. They're led by 6-6 JR SF Mark Miller and 6-8 SO PF/C Vili Morton. 6-3 SO PG/SG Kevin Butler and 6-3 SO SG Ted Bell have promise; 6-7 JR PF Aaron Hands and 6-6 SR SF Lloyd Cook add depth up front. Newcomers include Cedric Lusk, 6-8 SO swingman, a terrific athlete, and 6-6 JR SF John Galbreath, who scored over 30 ppg in the JUCO ranks. Unfortunately, the team lacks a real post presence inside and decision-making is suspect. UCLA wins. 4-1.

Alabama: Alabama ought to make the NCAA Tournament this year despite losing some key frontcourt players. Sometimes, subtraction is better than addition. 6-8 JR SF Rod Grizzard probably has NBA skills, and 6-8 JR PF/C Erwin Dudley is a real bull inside. 6-9 JR PF Kenny Walker should complete a tall, talented frontline. 6-2 JR SG Terrance Meade can score and sometimes shoot, and 5-11 JR SG Travis Stinnett can really shoot it, but 6-1 FR PG Maurice Williams should be one of the best FR PGs in the country and will likely start immediately. This is a team with good size up front and great quickness in the backcourt, and the Crimson Tide play very good defense, but lacks depth, and besides Stinnett no one shoots straight consistently, partly because they've lacked even average play at the point in the past. Williams should change that immediately. But UCLA is still the better team this season. UCLA wins. 5-1.

UC-Irvine: Last year, many Bruin fans were outraged that UCLA only beat the Anteaters by 5 at Pauley. UC-I wound up going 25-5 last season and returns and adds enough talent to be a better team by a full measure. 6-3 SR PG/SG Jerry Green flirted with the NBA Draft and is the team's clear-cut star. 7-0 240 SO C Adam Parada (he weighed about 185 coming out of high school) has NBA potential, as does 6-5 JR SG/SF Jordan Harris, a transfer from Colgate who would have been a Bruin if Spencer Gloger hadn't stopped by during his vacation from Princeton, thus taking up a scholarship. 6-9 JR PF JR Christ and 6-9 SO SF Stanislav Zuzak will play a lot up front. Backcourt depth is a question mark, as is overall quickness and consistent outside shooting (Zuzak, at 6-9, might be the best 3-point shooter on the team). This should be a very tough game. UCLA wins. 6-1.

At Washington: The Huskies have lost 20 games back to back, but they've still beaten UCLA 3 straight times in Seattle and have their most talented team in years, albeit with little experience. 6-0 SO PG Curtis Allen and 6-3 SO PG/SG CJ Massingale man the backcourt. 6-11 SR C David Dixon and 6-11 SR C Marlon Shelton are a pair of huge, inconsistent big men with some decent talent. A host of talented newcomers include 6-5 FR SG/SF Errol Knight, 6-6 SO SF/PF Doug Wrenn, 6-8 FR PF Mike Jensen and 6-9 FR PF Jeffrey Day (6-1 FR PG Charles Frederick, a very highly-rated prospect, is on the football team and may walk-on after the football season ends, which would be a big boost to the team's backcourt depth and quickness). The Huskies will take some time to sort things out. UCLA (finally) wins in Seattle. 7-1, 1-0 in the Pac-10.

At Washington State: The Cougars can't seem to get things started. With 6-5 SO PG Marcus Moore apparently returning along with the other 4 starters, WSU looked like maybe that was going to change. Then one starter and one part-time starter quit school and the team's star, Mike Bush, decided he was a football player and might not play basketball this year. 6-10 SR C Jay Locklier, 6-8 JR PF Milton Riley and 6-2 JR SG Jerry McNair have talent. But not enough. UCLA wins. 8-1, 2-0.

Columbia: The Lions aren't the Tigers. 6-6 SR SG Craig Austin is a very good player. 6-7 SR SF Joe Case is solid. Californians Christian Weidemann, 6-9 SO PF/C, Mike McBrien, 6-8 JR SF/PF, and Victor Munoz, 6-0 SR PG, and Washingtonian Maurice Murphy, 6-0 SO PG, are all capable players. Maybe Columbia needed the money. Or maybe they promised all those Californians a trip home. UCLA wins. 9-1.

Georgetown: The Hoyas are a legit top 25 team; they might've been a legit top 15 team if guard Demetrius Hunter hadn't transferred, and they're still awaiting word on whether 6-8 FR PF Harvey Thomas is eligible; if he is, he'll be very good right away. 6-2 SR PG Kevin Braswell and 6-8 SO PF Michael Sweetney are the team's top 2 players. 6-6 SO SG/SF Gerald Riley, 7-0 JR C Wesley Wilson and 6-8 SO SF Courtland Freeman should all get a chance to step up and make an impact this year. This is an athletic team which likes to run and press, to make up for the fact that apart from Braswell no one can hit the broad side of a barn from more than 4 feet from the basket. The Hoyas lack the depth and experience they had last year. A repeat trip to the Sweet 16 is unlikely and UCLA is not the sort of team that can be hammered into submission on the boards. UCLA wins. 10-1.

Washington: It's deja vu all over again as UCLA faces the Huskies for the second time in 15 days. Same result, only not as close. UCLA wins. 11-1, 3-0.

Washington State: Um. UCLA wins. 12-1, 4-0.

USC @ The Forum: Like Lord Byron, USC is going to be mad, bad and dangerous to know this year. 5-9 SR PG Brandon Granville and 6-7 SR SF/PF David Bluthenthal compliment star 6-7 SR PF Sam Clancy. The other two starters will come from among 6-3 FR SG Errick Craven, 6-4 SO SG Desmon Farmer, 6-7 SO SF Jerry Dupree, 6-10 FR PF/C Rory O'Neill and, possibly, Kostas Charissis, 6-11 JR C, if the NCAA lets him out of "Foreign Player Jail." The Trojans should play tough man d and some pressure, they'll be able to score in a variety of ways and, like last year, even when Brian Scalabrine was there, they will have trouble guarding tall teams and will sometimes go stone cold from the outside. But I don't see UCLA sweeping USC again this year. USC wins. 12-2, 4-1.

Kansas: Rematch time. UCLA's defense catches up with Kansas' offense. Kansas's defense loses ground to UCLA's offense. UCLA wins, by more than the first time around. 13-2, 4-1.

At Arizona State: ASU could be the dark horse of the Pac-10 this year. 6-9 JR SF/PF Tommie Smith seems ready to emerge as a star. 6-7 JR SG/SF Donnell Knight and 6-6 SO SG Tanner Shell have a lot of talent. 6-5 SR PF Awvee Storey is a perpetual motion bull under the glass, and 6-9 SR C Chad Prewitt is solid. The team has good depth, if not much muscle or height, up front. The key newcomers are 6-2 FR PG Jason Braxton and 6-2 JR SG Curtis Millage, both of whom might start immediately. Every year, UCLA loses to at least one team it "shouldn't" lose to. This is the team. UCLA loses. 13-3, 4-2.

At Arizona: UCLA always seems to come off road losses really well. Arizona should be way down from last year. Lute Olson is still a great coach, but he lacks great talent and experience and that's just the way it is. 5-10 JR PG Jason Gardner will shoot a lot and lead the team in scoring. 6-9 JR SF/PF Ricky Anderson should emerge as a consistent double-figure scorer. 6-9 JR SF/PF Luke Walton is a good role player. 5-11 FR PG Will Bynum, 6-2 FR SG Salim Stoudamire, 6-8 FR PF Dennis Latimore, 6-8 FR PF/C Isaiah Fox and 6-9 FR C Channing Frye are 5 talented freshman, but none of them are as talented as Arenas, Jefferson, Wright or Woods (or any of UCLA's top 7). 6-5 SO Travis Hanour and 6-9 FR Andrew Zahn will be in the mix. The Wildcats will struggle to make the NCAA Tournament and could struggle to finish much over .500 this year. Enjoy it while it lasts, folks, Lute Olson will be back in gear next year. But for now, UCLA (gasp) wins in Tucson. 14-3, 5-2.

Stanford: The Cardinal are a legit top 20 team and maybe better IF 7-0 JR C Curtis Borchardt is ready to be one of the top 2 big men in the conference. Like Curtis, that IF is big. If he's not 100% and ready to be a big-time player, the Cardinal might struggle as much as Arizona, if not more so. 6-6 JR SG Casey Jacobsen is a star, a legitimate All-American who will compete with Sam Clancy and Jason Kapono for Pac-10 POY honors. 6-8 SO PF Justin Davis is an athletic banger who must stay healthy and out of foul trouble for the Cardinal to be a really good team. 6-7 FR SF Josh Childress has star quality offensive skills and must come through right away and has the talent to do it: He is a leading candidate for Pac-10 FOY. Julius Barnes, 6-1 JR, Tony Giovacchini, 6-2 SR and Chris Hernandez, 6-0 FR, will all share the PG duties. Until Teyo Johnson, 6-6 SO PF, returns from football duties, frontcourt depth is highly suspect. UCLA wins. 15-3, 6-2.

California: If 6-8 FR PF Julian Sensley and 6-11 SO C Amit Tamir aren't eligible this year, and, right now, it looks like they won't be, Cal will not be as strong as they were last year with the loss of star Sean Lampley. 5-10 JR PG ShanTay Legans, 6-4 JR SG Brian Wethers, 6-5 SR SF Ryan Forehan-Kelley and 6-11 SR C Solomon Hughes all return, but none scored in double-figures last year. All are good players, however, who play well within Cal's disciplined motion offense. 6-3 SR SG Dennis Gates and 6-5 JR SF Joe Shipp are outstanding returning subs, and 6-10 FR C Jamal Sampson has as much talent as any freshman in the country, but his past injury problems make his impact unclear. Cal always seems to play well against UCLA. At Pauley, UCLA wins. 16-3, 7-2.

At Oregon: 6-3 SR SG Fred Jones and 6-7 SO SF Luke Jackson will lead the Ducks into battle. A team torn by selfish play and poor defense last year, the loss of Bryan Bracey might actually help. 6-2 SO PG Luke Ridnour has a year of experience under his belt, 6-4 SR PG/SG Anthony Norwood is a versatile player and 7-2 SR C Chris Christofferson had some big moments against UCLA and Arizona last year. Depth and frontcourt quickness are big question marks, with lots of new and young faces up front, but no standout recruits, at least going by scouting services' ratings. UCLA wins. 17-3, 8-2.

At Oregon State: 6-8 SR PF Philip Ricci comes off an ACL injury and could be the best newcomer in the conference. But the Beavers are still looking to holdovers 6-10 JR SF/PF Brian Jackson and 6-2 JR PG/SG Jimmy Haywood to make a big step up. 6-4 JR SG/SF Adam Masten is very solid. A lot of freshman guards show up and may be pressed into immediate service, which isn't necessarily a good thing. UCLA wins. 18-3, 9-2.

USC: The Bruins return the favor at Pauley. 19-3, 10-2.

At Villanova: Last year, Villanova lost to UCLA at Pauley by 33. And that was when they had NBA First Round Draft pick Michael Bradley and SR PG Jermaine Medley. 6-3 JR SG Gary Buchanan and 6-10 SR PF Brooks Sales have talent, but unless 6-7 JR PF Ricky Wright, 6-3 SO SG Reggie Bryant, 6-6 JR Aaron Mathews, 6-7 JR Andrew Sullivan and especially 6-0 SO PG Derrick Snowden improve a lot, and 6-9 FR C Marcus Austin and 7-0 FR C Chris Charles can do a reasonable facsimile of a college center, it's hard to see a team with mediocre ballhandling and shooting ability overcoming a lack of consistent post play, especially against a pressing team. But probably the Wildcats won't lose by 33 points on their home floor. UCLA wins. 20-3, 10-2.

Arizona: Rematch. Same result as before. UCLA wins, sweeps Arizona for first time in living memory. Well, it just seems that way. 21-3, 11-2.

Arizona State. UCLA wins. 22-3, 12-2.

At Cal: Cal always plays the Bruins tough. Besides, it's time for UCLA's late regular season collapse. Cal wins. 22-4, 12-3.

At Stanford: The Cardinal wreak vengeance for two straight losses on their home floor. Stanford wins. 22-5, 12-4.

Oregon State: UCLA wins. 23-5, 13-4.

Oregon. UCLA wins. 24-5, 14-4. Bruins win the Pac-10 for the first time since 1997. Lavin's approval rating soars to 12%.

Pac-10 Tournament: UCLA wins the inaugural Pac-10 Tournament. Overall record climbs to 27-5.

NCAA Prediction: UCLA will be the #1 seed in the West Regional and win it. 4 wins put the Bruins at 31-5.

Final Four Prediction: UCLA will beat Maryland in the Final Four and then lose to Duke in the National Championship game. The Bruins will finish 32-6 overall, thus setting an all-time UCLA single season win record.

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