Coming off a two losing seasons, it's easy to conclude that there is some pressure on the program to improve considerably this season. A winning record is vital to the well-being of the program and its recruiting.
Luckily the schedule is complying.
UCLA has nine non-conference games, and seven of them in Pauley Pavilion. Among those nine non-conference games, five of the opponents are coming off losing seasons. Only one non-conference opponent won more than 20 games. Only two non-conference opponents start the season in the Top 25.
It's very conceivable that UCLA wins seven of those nine non-conference games.
The tougher road is definitely on the road in the Pac-10. The conference has improved and that makes all of the away games that much tougher. Many of the Pac-10 coaches at Media Day Thursday thought that the conference would beat up each other. Lute Olson thought the conference champion could have five conference losses.
It's very conceivable that UCLA starts out the season 7-0.
Chicago State - W, 1-0. A mid-level team in the Mid-Continent
Western Illinois, W, 2-0. Another Mid-Continent team, coming off a 3-25 season.
UC Irvine, W, 3-0. Irvine had it rolling a couple of years ago, now it ain't.
Long Beach State, W, 4-0. Only six wins last season.
Boston College, W, 5-0. Should be very good, but traveling cross country.
Pepperdine, W, 6-0. They have some players, but not enough.
Michigan, W, 7-0. Wolverines will be better ,but lose this on the road. will be better.
@ Michigan State, L, 7-1. A top ten team on the road.
@ Oregon State, W, 8-1. Without David Lucas OSU is hurting.
@ Oregon, L, 8-2. Ducks at home, with big bodies.
Washington State, W, 9-2. Undermanned Cougars at Pauley.
Washington, W, 10-2. UCLA gets this one at home.
@ Arizona State, W, 11-2. ASU might be tough on the road, but UCLA wins.
@ Arizona, L, 11-3. Just hope to avoid recent big losses.
Stanford, L, 11-4. Have a chance at home, but Stanford's front line is tough.
California, W, 12-4. Without Powe it's a go.
@ USC, L, 12-5. USC is most athletic in conference.
@ Washington State, L, 12-6. Here's the glaring "oops" of the season.
@ Washington, L, 12-7. Huskies at home will be tough.
Arizona State, W, 13-7. UCLA should be quite a bit better by now.
Arizona, L, 13-8. But not good enough to win this.
@ California, W, 14-8. Cal should really be struggling.
@ Stanford, L,14-9. Could be close by this time of season.
USC, W, 15-9. Get the Trojan split.
Notre Dame, L, 15-10. Top 20 team on the road.
Oregon State, W, 16-10. Have to win these types.
Oregon, W, 17-10. By this time, UCLA's youngsters experienced.
UCLA finishes regular season 17-10, and 10-8 in the Pac-10.
That's good enough for probably fifth or sixth in the Pac-10. Here's our predicted order of finish in the conference:
While the Pac-10 coaches talked about how good the Pac-10 is, and how improved, they are generally right. But it would have been quite a bit better with Leon Powe at Cal. And Oregon State is severely hurt over the uncertainty of their best player, David Lucas. Those two losses hurt the overall strength of the conference. What it will do, also, is enable the top six teams in the conference to fatten up on the bottom four.
The sleeper in the conference is definitely USC. They are easily among the top three in the conference for talent, and probably the most athletic team. There's a question of whether such a group of knuckleheads can put it together, but now that most of them are experienced, they will more often times than not this season. And it will save Henry Bibby's job.
Stanford is our big departure with conventional wisdom. Not to take away anything from Trent Johnson, but Mike Montgomery always did more with his team than what he had on paper. Not many coaches, even good ones, could do what he did. Even if Johnson proves to be worthy, which we think he is, it might not kick in during his first season.
UCLA probably plays for an NCAA tournament bid in its first game of the Pac-10 tournament, but loses in the first round, ending the season at 17-11.
UCLA is then an NCAA bubble team, and probably doesn't get in, being the sixth place Pac-10 team. The Pac-10 has never had six teams in the dance.
UCLA then plays in the NIT, and with their freshmen now playing like veterans, wins it.
But UCLA chooses, again, not to hang the NIT banner in Pauley Pavilion.
On The Other Hand...
After Arizona, easily the most talented team in the conference, the 2-6 spots in the Pac-10 are really up for grabs.
While Washington had a good season last year, they could be very hard-pressed to repeat it. Washington, UCLA, USC, Stanford and Oregon could all finish in any order in the 2-6 spots.
So, it's very conceivable that UCLA could make it into the top five spots of the conference with 18 wins and make the NCAA tournament. In fact, that's what we'll go with -- 18 wins and a NCAA tournament berth.