2006 Hoops Season Prediction

Can UCLA follow up a trip to the national championship game with something comparable this season? The non-conference schedule is tougher than it looks, and the Pac-10 has four or five teams that could trip up the Bruins on their way to a Pac-10 crown. But UCLA is back, make no mistake...

Last year there was no way to predict how UCLA would do in its season, especially with five unknown freshmen, and nine players either freshmen or sophomores.

There weren't many people on the planet who predicted UCLA would go 32-7, which is a tie for the UCLA all-time record for victories for a season, and advance to the championship game.

This year, like we stated in part one of the season preview, it's a bit easier, given that so many players on the team are more known commodities.

This season, however, it's the Pac-10 that could be fairly unpredictable and volatile. Last year it proved to be, with the two teams that were generally predicted to fight for the Pac-10 championship never really showing championship form, Arizona and Stanford, with both ending up tied for fourth. 

Analyzing the Pac-10, there seems to be quite a few teams this year that could defy predictability.  Arizona, for one, has a lot of talent but, after last season, you have to ask whether the talent can mesh and if Lute Olson will get his team to play hard.  Washington is generally being picked to be in the upper echelon of the conference, but you can't understate how important Brandon Roy was to the Huskies, and they'll be without him this season. Oregon, which was one of the most under-achieving teams in the country, with a good collection of talent, went 15-18 on the season and finished 7th in the Pac-10. This year the Ducks might not under-achieve as much, still with a very talented roster. Cal, also being picked to finish in the upper echelon, is another, like Washington, that will be missing its mainstay from the last several years, Leon Powe, and might not have the manpower to stave off a slide.

Will UCLA capture the Pac-10 regular season and Pac-10 tournament championships like it did a year ago?  With all the volatility among the teams in the Pac-10, Ben Howland's team seems like the Rock of Gibraltar.

So, here goes:

-- BYU, W, 1-0. The Cougars had a good season last year, but then were upset in their conference tournament's first round. They're predicted to win the Mountain West, but don't have enough firepower to beat the Bruins.
-- Chaminade (@ the Maui Invitational), W, 2-0. The Division II Silverswords are coming off their most successful season in 17 years and, when considering Chaminade in the Maui tourney, you always have to think about Virginia. But UCLA should be all business as the #1 seed.
-- Kentucky (probably second round opponent in Maui), W, 3-0. The Wildcats will be tough inside, but Bruins' defense should jump on them in such an early-season game.
-- Memphis/Georgia Tech (probable Maui championship opponent), W, 4-0. UCLA's disciplined style overcame Memphis in the Elite Eight game last season, and the Tigers will be without three players who jumped early to the NBA. Georgia Tech, a veteran club, could be more of a problem.
-- Long Beach State, W, 5-0. The 49ers are predicted to win the Big West and won't be complete pushovers.
-- UC Riverside, W, 6-0. On the other hand, the Highlanders are still struggling after making the jump to Division 1, and are predicted to finish last in the Big West.
-- Cal State Fullerton, W, 7-0. While the Bruins will win, the Titans could keep it close, with guard Bobby Brown, a potential pro, being one of Darren Collison's toughest match-ups this season.
-- Texas A&M (Wooden Classic), L, 7-1. The Aggies are one of the hottest programs in the country, and return four starters. If UCLA has to lose one of its first 11 games, this is it.
Oakland, W, 8-1. It's the school in Michigan, and they probably won't be a patsie, having been one of the best in the Mid-Continent conference for a few years.
-- Sam Houston State, W, 9-1. While UCLA seemingly is playing no-name, non-conference opponents, many of these teams are picked to win their conference, like the Bearkats.
-- Michigan, W, 10-1. The Wolverines have some guys that have seemed to be there forever, but they still won't be enough to beat the Bruins in Pauley.
-- Washington State, W, 11-1. At home for first Pac-10 game, against what might be the worst team in the conference.
-- Washington, W, 12-1. The Huskies are without Roy, but still have loads of talent, including probable Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in center Spencer Hawes, but give it to UCLA for homecourt advantage, and payback, since Washington swept the Bruins last season.
-- @ Oregon State, W, 13-1. The Beavers have a decent frontcourt, which could keep it close for the Bruins on the road.
-- @ Oregon, L, 13-2. We're going with the idea that the Ducks are going to be competing for a Pac-10 championship.
-- @ USC, W, 14-2. Trojans have an NBA-future backcourt, but just role players around them. Bruins won't let down this time, especially playing for the first time in Galen Center.
-- ASU, W, 15-2. Herb Sendek's maiden voyage at Tempe should be a bumpy one, but the Sun Devils will finally be more disciplined and possibly a tougher out.
-- Arizona, W, 16-2.  It will be interesting to see how the Wildcats are doing at this point, but no matter what, they'll probably be up for the Bruins in Pauley this year.
-- @ California, W, 17-2. We just don't think Cal has the guys who can put the ball in the basket.
-- @ Stanford, W, 18-2. The Cardinal, on the road, could be the tougher game in the Bay Area, with UCLA having to match-up against two freshmen seven-footers in the Lopez twins.
-- Oregon, W, 19-2. UCLA splits with the Ducks.
-- Oregon State, W, 20-2.  Bruins are gearing for the stretch drive and it's though to see an upset of this proportion at home.
-- USC, W, 21-2. Ditto.
-- @ West Virginia, W, 22-2. The Mountaineers face a rebuilding year, and UCLA wants revenge for losing to them in Pauley a year ago.
-- @ ASU, W, 23-2.  With two-thirds of the season under its belt, the Sun Devils should be better at this point and a tough road game.
-- @ Arizona, L, 23-3.  Have to give the Wildcats' talent its due, and make it a split with them this season.
-- California, W, 24-3.  Cal might be packing it in by then.
-- Stanford, W, 25-3. And Stanford might be finding itself and could be a tough game.
-- @ Washington State, W, 26-3.  A game that you wouldn't want to overlook this late in the season, and one that is typically tough.
-- @ Washington, L, 26-4.  UCLA doesn't seem to fare well in Seattle.

That last game of the Pac-10 schedule, against Washington in Seattle, could be a big one in determining many things - with Pac-10 tournament and NCAA tournament implications.  Still, if UCLA lives up to this prediction, it'd be 15-3 in the Pac-10, which would be good enough for a Pac-10 conference championship and the #1 seed in the Pac-10 tournament.

Predicted finish in the Pac-10:

Oregon State
Washington State

UCLA's discipline, fundamentals and defense again get them to the top. The other run-and-gunners in the conference will be battling it out for second, and this year it's Oregon's turn. With a veteran line-up and Ernie Kent's job on the line, the Ducks will probably play harder and want it more than Arizona.

In the Pac-10 tournament, UCLA gets to the final, and while you'd have to think that UCLA will be rolling by then and poised for another big NCAA run, it could definitely trip up here.  But let's give it to the Bruins.

So, they're 29-4, and Pac-10 conference and Pac-10 tournament champions, which would clearly get them the #1 seed in the west in the Big Dance.

The Bruins cruise past the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament with an easy draw, probably then get in a marquee match-up in the Sweet 16 against someone a big-named program in a semi-down year, like Duke or Connecticut, and Howland's disciplined style of play and defense prevails.  In the Elite Eight, UCLA runs across a hot team like Wisconsin, Georgetown or, say, Pittsburgh, all with very big, good frontlines, and the Bruin season probably ends there. This year in college basketball, there are some not-traditionally powerhouse programs with good teams and big bangers that will be hungry and UCLA, without a real true inside offensive threat, probably will rely too much on its perimeter scoring and will finally go down against a team in the Elite Eight with a big inside presence. 

So, an overall record of 32-5, another Pac-10 championship, a #1 seed, and an Elite Eight run, and the Bruins are firmly implanted on the collective pysche of college basketball as an elite program.

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