October 29, 2007

Roundball is upon us!

So this week the Coaches Poll came out for college basketball. The UCLA Bruins are ranked #2, a bare 5 points behind the North Carolina Tar Heels(739 to 734). The Bruins actually received more 1st-place votes than UNC (12 to 10), yet ended up behind them in the poll. Directly after UCLA, with 8 first place votes and 731 total poll points, are the Memphis Tigers. Following this top three, the coaches clearly believe a significant divide exists, as 4th-place Kansas received the only #1 vote not given to UCLA, UNC, or Memphis. After drops of 5 and 3 points going from 1-2 and 2-3, there is a 62 point fall-off to KU, and another 44 point drop to 5th-ranked Georgetown.

UCLA hopes that the arrival of much-touted freshman big Kevin Love can offset the loss of talented swingman Arron Afflalo, who was picked in the first round of the NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons after leaving school a year early. As the Bruins return pretty much every impact player from last year's Final Four team other than Afflalo, the trade-off from small to big will hopefully allow the Bruins to continue playing at the same high level they have attained the past two seasons. But it won't be easy...

The Pac-10, at least if this particular preseason poll is to be believed, is by far the toughest conference in the country. 6 of the top 25 teams are found in the Pac, with Washington State (10), Oregon (13), Arizona (17), USC (18), and Stanford (21) all expected to be among the best in the nation alongside the Bruins. Among the traditional power conferences, the Big East has 5 teams named (out of 16 total teams), while the ACC has 3 (out of 12 total). The SEC, home of reigning champions Florida, has 3 teams as well, but interestingly, the Gators are not one of them. Furthermore, with the Pac-10's unusual true round-robin system, the Bruins will be forced to face each of the difficult opponents within the conference twice this year.

That having been said, UCLA's out-of-conference games are moderately tough at best. Davidson, Maryland, Texas, and a potential game against Michigan State in the CBE Classic's 'championship' game are probably the only real potential road blocks. The remaining games are, for the most part, a fairly fattening creampuff schedule with a heavy emphasis on home games as well. Aside from the CBE and the "neutral site" (read: Anaheim) Davidson game, UCLA only goes on the road once, to meet Michigan (I am so sick of John Beilein, he's like Billy Donovan but without the slick hair or immense amount of talent on the bench). Even so, if the Pac-10 ends up being even remotely close to as tough as it is predicted to be, the Bruins will have their hands full for the majority of the conference schedule anyway.

But as long as Kevin Love can avoid getting kicked during practice (Hat Tip: BBR), UCLA seems poised for another successful season with the potential for a deep tournament run.

One can only hope.

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