Preseason Top 25 + 1 Countdown

CBSSports.com College Basketball Staff
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By Gary Parrish | College Basketball Insider

Coach: Ben Howland

Career record: 361-191 at Northern Arizona, Pittsburgh and UCLA

Best NCAA tournament finish: National championship game in 2006 at UCLA

Years at current school: 9

Vital Info: No. 9 UCLA
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Last season's record: 19-14

Notable losses from last season: Lazeric Jones, Jerime Anderson

Notable returnees from last season: Travis Wear, David Wear, Josh Smith, Tyler Lamb, Norman Powell

Notable newcomers: Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker, Jordan Adams, Larry Drew II, Adria Gasol

Projected starters: G: Larry Drew II G: Kyle Anderson G: Shabazz Muhammad F: David Wear F: Travis Wear

Why this team will be good: Ben Howland, now four years removed from his last Sweet 16, has restocked the UCLA program with talented players good enough to win the Pac-12 and advance to the Final Four for the fourth time in eight seasons -- provided the NCAA clears Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson to compete as freshmen. (More on this later.) Assuming that happens eventually, UCLA will arguably have the Pac-12's two most talented players -- one who is a relentless attacker (Muhammad), another who is long and dynamic and capable of creating matchup nightmares when the ball is in his hands (Anderson). Beyond that, there are three returning double-digit scorers (Travis Wear, David Wear and Josh Smith) in the frontcourt, and two elite talents from Georgia (Jordan Adams and Tony Parker) in reserve roles. Simply put, Howland has lots of good and great players. They should be capable of producing plenty of victories if they play to their potential.

Why this team might disappoint: As previously mentioned, neither Muhammad nor Anderson have been cleared to compete as freshmen, and who knows when (or even if) they will be? Each had issues surrounding his prep career that caused the NCAA to examine his amateur status, and it's possible the NCAA could force Muhammad and/or Anderson to miss games. What if neither plays until December? Or until January? Or never? Suddenly, UCLA's talented roster wouldn't be nearly as talented. And let's not forget about Larry Drew II. Yes, he was a heralded recruit who started at North Carolina before transferring to UCLA. But it should be noted that North Carolina was terrible with Drew at point guard and awesome almost immediately after he was replaced by Kendall Marshall, and it's rarely a good sign when your team gets better in your absence. Is this really the guy Howland is relying on to run his team? Perhaps it'll workout. But will anybody be surprised if it doesn't?

Bottom line: No team has a wider range of outcomes this season than the Bruins because there are so many questions surrounding this program. Will Muhammad and/or Anderson be cleared to play? If so, when? And will Muhammad's development as both an individual talent and team player be hindered by a shoulder injury suffered last week that's expected to sideline him for up to four weeks? Can Drew be a good point guard on a great team? Can Smith ever play to his potential at his weight? Can a roster with as many relevant newcomers as veterans learn to guard the way Howland demands in the course of one year? If the answers to those questions are mostly positive in March, UCLA will be your Pac-12 champions and in a position to challenge for the national title. If not, they won't. And then the question will turn to whether Howland deserves another season in Westwood.

Quote from an opposing coach in the league: "UCLA could win a national championship or miss the NCAA tournament. I don't think either outcome would surprise me."

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