UCLA Basketball 2011-12 Preview: The Bruins' Road Show

Derek HartCorrespondent INovember 2, 2011

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 17:  Joshua Smith #34 of the UCLA Bruins and his teammates celebrate after they won 78-76 against the Michigan State Spartans during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at St. Pete Times Forum on March 17, 2011 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

Normally, concern arises when two key players on a college basketball team—who averaged almost 26 points combined—leave school early to go pro, and that team has to play all of its home games away from its on-campus arena due to renovations.

However, that will likely not be the case with UCLA's basketball team.

Despite losing Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee to the NBA (which is currently in a lockout, leaving them without any basketball at all), the Bruins will be more than formidable.

The pundits and prognosticators seem to believe this, as they rate coach Ben Howland's team quite highly in the new Pac-12 Conference.

Lindy's Magazine picked UCLA to finish second in the conference behind California.

The Sporting News picked the Bruins to finish second behind Arizona.

The Associated Press' poll has ranked the Bruins 17th, while the coaches' poll has them at No. 20. Like Lindy's and the Sporting News, those polls have UCLA finishing second in the Pac-12.

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Meanwhile, Athlon's Magazine and the Pac-12 media have the Bruins winning the conference.

Not bad for a team that will play 14 of its 18 home games in the over 50-year-old Los Angeles Sports Arena, abandoned by USC in 2006 and last used as UCLA's home in 1965, when the great coach John Wooden won his second national championship.

The other four home games, including the Wooden Classic on January 5th, will be played at the Honda Center in Anaheim, 40 miles from the UCLA campus.

Pauley Pavilion, which is currently being renovated and expanded to a capacity of 14,000, will reopen in the fall of 2012.

Howland, entering his ninth season in Westwood, will have a loaded team despite losing Honeycutt and Lee, particularly on the front line.

Forward Reeves Nelson was the now Pac-12's top rebounder last season, averaging nine boards a game along with his team-leading 13.9 points per contest, which was fourth in the conference.

Nelson will obviously be a huge key to the Bruins' attack on both ends of the court, as will 6'10", 305-pound center Josh Smith, who finished third in the conference in rebounding last year (6.3 per game) and averaged nearly 11 points an outing; those numbers will certainly go up.

Two transfers from North Carolina, David Wear and his twin brother Travis, who are both 6'10", are expected to fill Honeycutt's spot rather neatly.

How far UCLA will go may well depend on its guard play, as Lazeric "Zeke" Jones will again man the point after starting there last year and playing through various injuries. His 3.2 assists per game was decent and should rise now that he's healthy.

The other key returning guard, Jerime Anderson, will be counted on to provide strong minutes after sitting out the Bruins' first game on November 11th due to suspension.

Texas and St. John's will be UCLA's marquee opponents, with the Longhorns coming to the Sports Arena on December 3rd and the Bruins traveling to New York to face former coach Steve Lavin's Red Storm on February 18th.

California and last year's regular season champion Arizona will be UCLA's toughest competitors for the first Pac-12 crown. Look for defending Pac-10 Tournament champ Washington to put up a good challenge as well.

Having considered everything, here's how I think the UCLA Bruins will do on the hard court in 2011-12.

The Bruins will win at least 20 to 25 games this season, possibly more, as their front line will be too much for many of their opponents.

They have an outstanding chance at winning the Pac-12 championship and will finish no lower than third place at the very worst. 

A berth in the NCAA Tournament will be a lock for UCLA, where it will reach the Sweet 16.

I am confident that, barring injuries, Bruins Nation will see a very good basketball team this season—one that will look to continue the progress that was made with its 23-11 record (13-5 in the Pac-10) a year ago.

So, let the road show begin!