UCLA Basketball: Do the Bruins Stand a Chance at Winning the Pac-12?

Robert PaceContributor IIIDecember 10, 2012

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 08:  Shabazz Muhammad #15 of the UCLA Bruins waits on the court during the game against the Texas Longhorns during the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Showcase at Reliant Stadium on December 8, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

You get the gist, Bruins fans—this season isn’t going to be near what you expected.

If you happened to stumble upon UCLA’s sloppy last-minute win over Texas, who gave away the game with turnovers and missed layups, that point has been driven well into the forefront of your brain.

Scratch the high preseason ranking, highly touted recruiting class, and potential 12th NCAA Championship.

The Bruins improved to 6-3 on the season with Saturday’s win against the Longhorns, which is leaps and bounds beyond where the team stood last season after facing Texas (2-5); however, this year’s team, stacked with young talent, is nowhere near where it needs to be.

Nevertheless, among the woes of poor defense, ill-advised on-court decisions, and a general lack of team cohesion and motivation, there have been highlights like the impressive performances of Jordan Adams, Shabazz Muhammad, and Kyle Anderson and the improved jump-shots of the Wear twins that suggest this team still reserves its hyped potential.

As UCLA approaches Pac-12 conference play in the beginning of the new year, does it still stand a chance at topping the conference as it was expected to only a month ago?

Albeit, the Pac-12 is still arguably the weakest conference out of the Big Six, but can this team with this coach exceed the rest of the Pac?

After what should be an easy upcoming stretch of games for UCLA against Prairie View A&M, Long Beach State, and Fresno, the Bruins will wrap up nonconference play with a tough matchup against No. 12 Missouri.

If the Bruins can defeat Missouri, or at least give it a run for its money in Pauley Pavilion, then the answer to that seemingly hopeless question is a yes.

Although the team has registered two losses against its toughest opponents (Georgetown, San Diego State), both of which went on to be ranked after defeating the Bruins, both games came down the final minutes, which suggests that UCLA is capable of beating a skilled opponent.

 

Therefore, the Bruins’ game against Missouri on Dec. 28 will be key in assessing whether this team will continue to cling to unmet potential or can execute against tough opponents, especially in late-game situations.

While the result of that game will be important to the team’s momentum heading into its first conference game, the display that UCLA puts on against Missouri will be most important.  As we witnessed in UCLA’s sloppy win over Texas, the result isn’t as important as how the team plays at this stage in the season.

The many questions facing this team need to be answered in that game.

Their potential must be realized that game, or you can chalk this season up as another mediocre one for a historically excellent basketball program.

Although the Pac-12, as previously mentioned, is no match for the rest of college basketball, the conference is showing signs of improvement this season and will be relatively strong in comparison to the 2011-12 season.

Unlike last season, the majority of Pac-12 teams—most especially Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State, Colorado, Stanford, and Cal—have done well in nonconference play, which puts enormous pressure on UCLA to prepare for conference play by executing in its final nonconference games.

So, does UCLA still stand a shot at winning the Pac-12?

As of now, it’s a long shot—a last-second desperation heave from half-court—but if the Bruins can wrap up nonconference play with well-played basketball, that shot will inch closer towards the basket.