LOS ANGELES - The UCLA men's basketball team has been picked to finish first in the Pac-12 Conference this season, according to a poll of media members who cover Pac-12 men's basketball.
The annual preseason poll was released in conjunction with Pac-12 men's basketball media day, hosted in downtown Los Angeles at L.A. Live. Head coach Ben Howland and senior guard Lazeric Jones represented UCLA at the annual conference event.
"Our team always has high expectations," said Howland, who enters his ninth season as the Bruins' head coach. "The expectations that we put on ourselves matter the most. It's always nice to be picked high, but that doesn't guarantee anything. It's all about where you finish. We've got to go out and prove it, and part of it is being healthy. Hopefully, if we stay healthy and focused on what we are trying to do, it will take care of itself."
In the preseason poll, UCLA tallied 14 first-place votes and narrowly edges out California and Arizona. In addition to Jones, the Bruins return junior forward Reeves Nelson, who led last season's team with 13.9 ppg and 9.1 rpg.
California, paced by senior guard Jorge Gutierrez (14.6 ppg, 4.5 apg) and senior forward Harper Kamp (14.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg) picked up 13 first-place votes and is tabbed for second. Arizona, the reigning regular-season conference champion, pulled in the remaining 11 first-place votes and are picked to finish third.
Washington, the defending Pac-12 Tournament champion, is slotted fourth, followed by Oregon (fifth) and Stanford (sixth). USC, Oregon State, Arizona State, Colorado and Washington State (tied) and Utah round out the conference's remaining 12 teams, respectively.
Media have correctly picked the conference's regular-season champion 12 times in 19 tries. The media were successful with their choice in five of the previous seven times UCLA was slated to capture the league crown.
The 2011-12 season gets underway for the Pac-12 on Monday, Nov. 7, when Arizona hosts Valparaiso in a Coaches vs. Cancer matchup.
UCLA begins its season on Sunday, Nov. 6 with an exhibition game against Cal State San Bernardino in Ontario, Calif. The Bruins' first regular season game is on Friday, Nov. 11, versus Loyola Marymount at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
2011-12 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Media Poll
1. UCLA (14) - 421
2. California (13) - 405
3. Arizona (11) - 404
4. Washington - 355
5. Oregon - 282
6. Stanford - 255
7. USC - 194
8. Oregon State - 188
9. Arizona State - 148
t-10. Colorado - 119
t-10. Washington State - 119
12. Utah - 74
first place votes in parentheses