UCLA Week: Scheduling 101Posted by AMurawa on August 16th, 2012
UCLA’s schedule was just about finalized last week when their regional matchups for the Legends Classic were announced (UC Irvine and James Madison). There are still times and television schedules that need to get cleared up, but for the most part we now know their opponents. Below, we’ll highlight a handful of games and stretches of the season that could determine the eventual fate of the 2012-13 Bruins.
Early-Season Tournament: The regional round games for the Legends Classic sure aren’t much on paper, but then again, in the last three seasons UCLA has lost in early non-conference play to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee (2011), Montana (2010), and Cal State Fullerton and Portland (2009). In other words, while many will count UC Irvine and James Madison as wins for the Bruins, let’s actually see them get it done first. But, much more interesting are the Bruins’ games once they make the trip to Brooklyn for the Legends Classic. They’ll open the elimination portion of the tournament with a Georgetown team that features a group of talented youngsters before facing either Indiana or Georgia in the second game in as many days. Of course, everyone is eyeing that potential UCLA/Indiana matchup in the championship game, but most importantly, if everything comes together for the Bruins early, they could have two quality wins prior to Thanksgiving.
Toughest Non-conference Game: We’ll leave the potential matchup with Indiana out of the equation here and jump to a game that is guaranteed to take place: UCLA meeting up with San Diego State for the first time in more than 20 years on the first day of December in Anaheim as the headliner of the Wooden Classic. The Aztecs return four members of a talented backcourt, including reigning Mountain West Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin, and bring in a host of talented frontcourt players. While UCLA’s matchup with Missouri just in advance of the start of conference play figures to be a major test for the Bruins as well, we’ll take the battle for Southern California supremacy as the biggest game locked into the schedule.
Easy Stretch: The Bruins actually have a pretty balanced schedule, with challenging games mixed in with their cupcakes fairly evenly. So, we’ll go with UCLA’s opening trio of games: the season-opener and grand unveiling of the “new” Pauley Pavilion on November 9 against Indiana State and then the two regional round games of the Legends Classic. In all, it amounts to three games in the course of seven days against teams that combined to go 42-55 last year. However, in light of Shabazz Muhammad’s current issues with the NCAA eligibility board, there is a chance that UCLA could play some of those games without its uber-talented freshman.
Toughest Conference Stretch: UCLA’s lone three-game conference road trip features a weekend in the Bay Area followed a week later by their visit to face cross-town rival USC at the Galen Center. UCLA is expected to be the best team on the floor in each of those games, but trips to Haas Pavilion and Maples Pavilion, followed by a sneaky matchup with what should be an improved Trojan team make for a rough stretch in the heart of February.
Scout’s Special: The Bruins will face Arizona twice this season: first at Tucson on January 24, then at Pauley on March 2 in a game that should have conference title implications. In those two games, two of the top three recruiting classes in the nation will battle it out. We’ll get to see Joshua Smith, Tony Parker and the Wear Twins go up against Arizona’s highly regarded freshman trio of Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett. Shabazz Muhammad will be tested on the wing by wily veteran Solomon Hill, and UCLA’s backcourt will need to prove that it can slow UA’s athletic backcourt duo of Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson. Circle those dates now, folks. Not only will those games have a huge impact on the Pac-12 race, but thems some good hoops.
Overall Thoughts: There have been times under Ben Howland when the Bruins have not played the most challenging schedules; this is not one of those years. Aside from the Legends Classic tests, UCLA gets SDSU on a neutral floor, Texas on neutral-in-name-only floor (at Reliant Stadium in Houston on 12/8), visits to Pauley from solid mid-majors Long Beach State and Fresno State followed late in December by a visit from Missouri. If UCLA can take care of business in the non-conference schedule, they’ve got a chance to score five quality victories prior to conference play. Assuming they can take care of the relative cupcakes on the schedule, they’ve got a chance to put themselves in very good position going into conference play. And, the conference schedule is manageable as well. They do have to visit Colorado without a return trip, but in exchange they get to skip the Oregon trail this year. This is a good, entertaining schedule that not only features plenty of good tests, but doesn’t kill the team with too many consecutive back-breakers.