No. 3: These Are The 1 Seeds
Our Bold Prediction No. 3 is a look at UCLA, the top No. 1 seed in our Preseason bracket.
How does a team in the toughest conference in the country lose its best player and get tabbed by many – including us – as the preseason favorite to win it all the next year? Let us count the ways (this could take a while): The Bruins have the best point guard west of the Mississippi in Darren Collison, a future NBA swingman in junior Josh Shipp, two solid forwards in Lorenzo Mata and All-Name Team MVP Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and just for fun, the best rookie post player in the nation in Kevin Love. If preseason favorites are determined by potential pros on a team’s roster, UCLA would be a hands down choice. But pro prospects aside, it’s hard to imagine that even without the departed Aaron Afflalo and even with the schedule that comes with being a member of the Pac-10, that the Bruins wouldn't make a third straight Final Four appearance. UCLA also has the most tournament experience of any preseason title contender, has the added motivation of trying to avenge two straight disappointing Elite Eight losses, and perhaps most importantly, plays in a league that will have them as battle-tested as possible come postseason. In Collison, Ben Howland (how about the job he has done since arriving on the West Coast?) has a veteran floor general that can score and pass (he was freakishly consistent points-wise and averaged 5.7 assists per contest as a sophomore). Howland also has athleticism at every position and has a team that loves to play unselfishly despite its remarkable individual talent. And now, finally, Howland has something that UCLA lacked the last two years and something that 95 percent of college teams only dream of – a dominant presence inside. The 6’10” Love may not be Greg Oden on the defensive end, but his offensive exploits are already legendary and he hasn't even slipped on a powder blue jersey yet. He set every Oregon high school scoring record as a senior and has also received rave reviews from scouts for his passing ability, especially to start the fast break. Comparisons to Bill Walton and Wes Unseld have already been thrown Love’s way, and in anticipation of his debut, the Bruin faithful are expecting nothing less than a title game appearance. Frankly, even if Love is half as good as advertised, there’s no reason why those lofty expectations shouldn’t become a reality. The Bruins have no noticeable holes, no real question marks, a chip on their shoulder, at least four draftable players on their roster, and perhaps most telling, they garner unanimous praise as the best team in the nation’s deepest league. That's good enough for the top No. 1 seed right now, and quite possibly, a Hollywood ending down the road.