UCLA vs. the Pac-12

Tonight the Pac-12 season gets under way.  UCLA has had a roller coaster start to this season, but are definitely starting to get something going.  The win against Missouri last weekend was big and Missouri is a pretty damn good team.  Shabazz Muhammad played like a #1 draft pick and subsequently was named Pac-12 Player of the Week and National Player of the Week.

Most people assume that the real season gets under way when the conference season starts, but really the non-conference games are just as important.  Especially to the NCAA selection committee that the Bruins have to show that the horrible Cal Poly loss was some kind of freak game.  Oh and that the transfers of Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb do not actually hurt the team as much as a lot of UCLA fans including myself thought that it would.

UCLA is definitely playing it's best basketball right now which is always what you wish to happen heading into your conference schedule.  But do the Bruins really look like the team that was picked to finish in the top-2 of the conference by just about everyone?  I have had my doubts and angry moments where I decided that I couldn't be a UCLA fan this season and then just when I think that I have to find a new team to follow the Bruins show me something and drag me back in.

Cal and Stanford are the two opponents for UCLA this week.  Both teams should be middle of the pack conference teams, but  I think they are good teams for the Bruins to start off against.  They are mostly veteran teams that get most of their production from upperclassmen.  It means that most of the players know what it means to play through a grueling Pac-12 season even during some of the down years.  It's amazing how much experience can benefit teams during a conference season.

Ben Howland has a lot to prove during the rest of this season.  Can he keep his job or has his mass exodus of players finally caught up to him?  I know one thing is certain and that is Shabazz Muhammad looks to be getting better and better.  He is playing his way into being the first pick in the draft next year and Kyle Anderson has finally started to show how versatile he can be.  I think one of the biggest moves that Howland can make is to show some confidence in Tony Parker.  We all heard about the tweets that he made a few weeks ago regarding the team and his playing time or whatnot and now maybe Howland will wake up and play the guy.  He has some talent and just needs to get more reps out there.

UCLA is poised to make some noise in conference play.  They have gone from a top-2 team in the conference to a bottom-3 team and now back up to the top.  I think they still can challenge Arizona for the title.  This team has a lot of growing up to do still, but it does seem that some of the growing pains are starting to lead into better play.  Look for the Bruins to continue their improved play with two big wins this weekend at home.  Go Bruins!

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