While the excitement for this season isn’t quite like it was last season, which ended in disappointing fashion, this Bruins team can still do some damage in the Pac-12 and beyond.
If UCLA’s freshmen live up to their potential, its sophomores develop significantly and the stars align properly, this team may turn some heads this season.
As the Bruins begin their four-month journey today, here are some of my predictions for this season of UCLA basketball.
After an impressive freshman season (15.3 PPG, 2.2 SPG), the sky is the limit for Jordan Adams—and he'll soar in his sophomore season.
Although all the hype was centered upon one-and-done top recruit Shabazz Muhammad last season, Adams was the best all-around player on the team.
His versatile scoring ability is complemented by gritty defensive play.
Above all, Adams is an extremely diligent player who displayed his excellent work ethic every minute he was on the court last season.
That important trait will aid him in becoming one of the premier players this season, not just in the Pac-12 but in the entire nation.
There is general consensus in the college basketball world about Adams. He is even among those mentioned as an All-American candidate.
With Muhammad departed and Kyle Anderson now manning the point (at least for the meantime), the Bruins will rely even more heavily upon Adams on offense, which will allow him the opportunity to shine.
Norman Powell typically flies under the radar in most scouting reports, but there will be no more of that after Powell establishes himself in the first few games of his junior season.
Known for his emphatic high-flying dunks, Powell is also one of the best defenders on UCLA's squad.
Prior to the influx of the 2012 recruiting class (Anderson, Adams, Parker, Muhammad), Powell was all the hype in Westwood, but he was put on the back burner when the highly touted freshman class invaded last season's starting lineup.
However, this season is a different story.
As one of the team's only upperclassmen, Powell is being granted the opportunity by new coach Steve Alford to earn his way back into the starting lineup once again.
If the explosive 6'4" guard can continue to sustain the electric energy that he's brought so far in a UCLA jersey, he'll flourish under Alford's offense, which encourages frequent scoring.
Powell won't be an All-American candidate, but the 2013-14 season will be a defining one for him.
Kyle Anderson is an excellent passer and resourceful scorer, but he isn’t made out to be a starting point guard.
Based on what he displayed last year when running the point for UCLA, even with significant improvement Anderson won’t be the Bruins’ sustainable choice for starting point guard.
The most obvious reason against this is that his movements are lengthy, not quick like the point guard position requires.
You can’t blame Anderson entirely for this—he is 6’9”, after all—but he and the Bruins are better off with him as a forward.
The other, more correctable issue with Anderson playing the point is his decision-making ability.
Although he makes some terrific, highlight-reel passes and ridiculous shots, he makes plenty of ill-advised passes and shots to go along with his flashier plays.
Coach Alford will likely transition freshman Zach LaVine into the role and may even test out his own son, Bryce, at the position if he can harness his energetic play.
Freshman Zach LaVine is the most highly touted member of UCLA’s freshman class for a reason—he can flat-out play.
The guard, listed at 6’5”, 180 pounds, is a firecracker on the court. He can score in a variety of fashions and can dunk with authority, which makes him a valuable asset to the Bruins this season.
With Kyle Anderson starting at point guard, LaVine will be the Bruins’ backup point guard, and as forecasted in the previous slide, he will likely transition into a starting role once Coach Alford gets him some experience running the offense.
Playing such a crucial role, either as starting or backup point guard, LaVine will be the X-factor for the Bruins this season.
If he proves to be the all-around phenom at the college level that he was in high school, UCLA stands a chance of winning the Pac-12 and making it to the Sweet 16.
If he can sustain the energy and passion he displayed in the Bruins’ two exhibition games through the entire season, he’ll be a more influential player on the team than Shabazz Muhammad was for UCLA last year, even though LaVine doesn’t have the same skill set as Muhammad.
Two Pac-12 teams, Arizona (No. 6) and Oregon (No. 19), are ranked higher than UCLA (No. 22) in the preseason poll, but that isn’t exactly a predestined fate for how the Pac-12 regular season will shake out.
Arizona is slated to take the conference title with a very talented recruiting class, including top recruit Aaron Gordon (brother of UCLA castoff Drew Gordon), that will join its core group of returners like guard Kyle Johnson and center Kaleb Tarczewski.
However, UCLA will exceed Oregon in the Pac-12 standings this season.
For one, the Bruins have an easier schedule that includes only one game against Arizona and a relatively easy second half of the season.
Oregon, conversely, plays Arizona twice and will face UCLA on the road in its second matchup against the Bruins.
Secondly, if Coach Alford is able to effectively help his freshmen acclimate to college play, UCLA will have an all-around more talented team than Oregon and might even give Arizona a run for its money for the Pac-12 title.