UCLA has now evened to 2-2 in the Pac-12 after a slow start. Here's why they'll win the Pac-12.
Let's be frank about this Bruins team—they are hard to predict. Anticipation means nothing when it seems as though UCLA's players themselves don't seem to know what to expect on the court.
On any given day UCLA can be a different team, which insists inconsistency but has also insisted great potential.
It's that same potential that had the Bruins the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12.
So, be it ludicrous to make predictions about this UCLA team after the wobbly season the Bruins have had so far, but these Bruins have a good chance to win the Pac-12.
Not only is that chance possible but it's very attainable.
Let's take a look at just how attainable the Pac-12 title is for UCLA.
Let's be honest, Pac-12 fans, this hasn't been the strongest year for the conference. Players like Derrick Williams, Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Honeycutt created anticipation for this year's Pac-12; however, the conference has faltered from the success of last year.
Three teams—UCLA, California, and Arizona—dropped their preseason Top 25 within the first few weeks of the season.
In addition, Pac-12 teams have not stacked up well against the Top 25, and although there have been some close encounters, a Pac-12 team has not beaten a Top 25 team all year.
Each team has shown inconsistency, and only one team (Colorado, 3-0) remains undefeated in Pac-12 conference play.
With the field wide open, the Bruins have a great chance to excel past the competition. The Pac-12's major contenders— California, Washington, Arizona, and Stanford— will still be in the running for the title, but their inconsistency will present UCLA with the opportunity to climb to the top.
The Bruins may have lost forward Reeves Nelson, but they still have one of, if not the, best frontcourts in the Pac-12.
Josh Smith and the Wear twins have shown great improvement throughout the year and are beginning to dominate near the basket.
Smith, who has struggled with fitness this season, is beginning to improve his fitness after he was on the bench for a game due to a concussion. In his most recent performance against Arizona State, Smith looked more agile as he tied his season-high of 18 points.
David and Travis Wear are now acclimated to their fellow teammates and have shown very skillful play in the past couple games.
Stanford, Arizona, Washington State and Oregon State have their share of great forwards; however, no team has the frontcourt depth that UCLA has, especially on defense.
UCLA head coach Ben Howland is arguably the best coach in the Pac-12 despite the heat that he has taken for the Bruins' downfalls this season.
Washington's Lorenzo Romar and Arizona's Sean Miller have exhibited good coaching ability in recent years, but no current Pac-12 coach has been more successful in the conference than Ben Howland.
Although the Bruins have struggled to create a defensive identity this year and have subsequently switched to a zone, Howland's emphasis on defense is spot-on.
Some may have been calling for his job earlier in the year, but they might just be hoisting him up after he wins a Pac-12 title.
In three out of four of their Pac-12 games, the Bruins have allowed 60 points or less. Despite losing, UCLA held Stanford, who averages 73.1 points per game, to 60 points.
It may not be pretty all the time (as it was quite disastrous when it allowed 85 points to California), but when UCLA's defense is on, it's a hard team to score against.
The Bruins have acclimated to the zone defense now and are beginning to play it well. Defense wins games.
UCLA has one of the best defenses in the Pac-12 and has a strong defensive specialist in center Anthony Stover, who averages at least one block per game.
Defense will take the Bruins a long way.
The Bruins got off to another slow start this year by going 0-2 to begin the Pac-12 just as they did to open the season.
However, UCLA has overcome the hardest part of their schedule by opening its Pac-12 lineup against Stanford, California and Arizona.
Although they didn't play well against Cal, the Bruins stacked up well against Arizona (who they beat) and Stanford (who they lost to by one point).
UCLA's remaining games against the Pac-12 contenders—Stanford, California, Arizona, and Washington— are spread out well, which will give the Bruins a chance to rebuild if they have a tough loss against one of the aforementioned teams.
Playing teams like Utah and Washington State between games against teams like Washington and Stanford will potentially help the Bruins gain confidence going into their next opponent.
This is important to this UCLA team, which seems to function solely upon momentum.
It won't be handed to them but the Bruins have all the cards in place to win a Pac-12 title.
The playing field is wide open.