UCLA Last Season: 19-14 (11-7). Who’s Back? Fat jokes are. Josh Smith, the much maligned big man whose career screams “wasted potential” so far, will be back in Westwood for another season. All off-season you heard reports that he was in some of the best shape of his life. IF Smith gets his act together, he’s a dominant big man. The Bruins will also have the Wear twins up front. While many expect Smith or recruit Tony Parker to unseat them in the starting lineup, the twins are just consistent enough that they should be able to hold on to their spots. Tyler Lamb started 32 of 33 games for the Bruins last year, but will be hard pressed to duplicate that this season. Expect him to come off of the bench when he returns from his knee surgery. Who’s Gone? The only two rotation players who are gone are Lazeric Jones and Jeremie Anderson. Both were solid players who played quality minutes for the Bruins, but are players that the team has ultimately upgraded over. Who’s New? Shabazz Muhammad, arguably the number one recruit in the nation, hopes to suit up for the Bruins this year. The question is, will the NCAA let him? Muhammad is going to be one of the best scorers in college basketball and on the short list for the first overall pick in the NBA Draft if he’s allowed to play this year. The question is, will he be able to? Joining him is point-forward Kyle Anderson who was just cleared by the NCAA himself last week. Anderson has great vision and is solid in fundamentals (you play for Bob Hurley, you know how to play the game correctly) and adds an exciting dimension to the Bruins attack this year. They will also have the center Parker. The top 30 big man will be a nice backup plan in case that Smith isn’t in shape or ready to play. Finally, they will be able to use the services of PG Larry Drew II, who transferred from North Carolina before last season. He’s finally eligible and should provide a solid option for the team at the point. Best Case Scenario: Muhammad and Anderson are declared eligible and play like their recruiting rankings say. Smith hangs out with Jessica Simpson and discovers weight watchers, allowing him to become the dominant big man in the Pac-12. Howland’s water is exactly the right temperature, and UCLA is back in the Final Four. Worst Case Scenario: Muhammad is ineligible and Anderson struggles to adjust. Smith hangs out with Jessica Simpson and ends up doubling his weight after they share their love of Bon-Bons. Howland snaps and kills a ball boy during a game because the water isn’t the right temperature, and UCLA not only misses the NCAA Tournament, but they get a low seed in the NIT and lose in the first round to Pacific. JGIsland’s Stat You Should Know: They had one of the shortest benches in DI last year, with their bench only playing 21.9% of the minutes. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, as long your starters are some of the best in the nation such as National Champion Kentucky, whose bench only played 21.6% of the minutes. But with the graduation of the 2 guys that played the most minutes last year (Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson) and if Shabazz isn't cleared early in the season and Tyler Lamb out for at least a month after knee surgery, there could be a very short bench again for UCLA to start the season. PacHoops’ Take: I wrote about the program that lost its way and I really don’t know what to make of this mess of a blueblood. Their roster is fine. They’re going to be competitive and you can’t tell me you don’t love some of the individual pieces they can roll out there. But read that again and you’ll recognize I selectively used “individual.” Is this a team? Howland hasn’t rolled out a group that’s played cohesively in four years and it’s really got me perplexed, mad, and sad. This is UCLA we’re talking about. And you know who else is talking about them? The NCAA. Will Shabazz play? He's imperative to the Bruins’ highest upside but only time will tell. Let’s ask Jahii Carson what he thinks about the NCAA’s timing on such rulings? Goose’s Pick: 3rd in the Pac-12, One & Done in NCAA. USC Last Season: 6-26 (1-17) Who’s Back? A year after tearing his ACL in Brazil, guard Jio Fontan is back. The heart, soul & captain of the Trojans, Fontan could be to USC what Jorge Gutierrez was to Cal last year – someone who’s better than his numbers indicate. Fontan put up 10.5 points and 3.9 assists a game in 2010-11, and unless he is not all the way back from his injury, he should be expected to improve upon those numbers this year. Also returning from the walking wounded is center Dewayne Dedmon (7.6 points, 5.5 rebounds a game) and forward Aaron Fuller (10.6 points, 5.9 rebounds). Dedmon, at 7 foot, 255 lbs, gives the Trojans a physical presence inside provided that he can recover from his torn MCL that he suffered against the Buffs in January. Fuller was a one-time All-Big Ten pick while at Iowa had a torn labrum in his left (shooting) shoulder early last year. He decided to compensate for this by shooting right handed, only to tear the labrum on that side as well, effectively ending his season. So, depending on how he returns from his injuries (are we detecting a theme here?), Fuller could be an extremely productive member of this year’s USC squad. Who’s Gone? The biggest loss for USC is their shortest player – five foot seven Maurice Jones. Jones averaged 13.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game for the Trojans last year. Ultimately, he was looking in a reduction of minutes this year, but was handed an academic suspension this summer and ultimately decided to transfer. Garrett Jackson (6.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg), a starter from last year, also won’t return. Who’s New? Leading the way is JT Terrell. The junior guard is expected to be the Trojans leading scorer this year. He averaged 11.1 ppg as a freshman in Jeff Bzdelik’s slow down offense at Wake Forest before transferring to USC. Terrell is legit, and if he can deal with his off-the-court demons (he got a DUI in September of 2011), he could be a star in the Pac-12. Ari Stewart also bolted Wake Forest and put up 8.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in 2010-11. Arguably the most intriguing transfer though is center Eric Wise. Wise put up 16.3 points and 8.1 rebounds a game with UC-Irvine in 2010-11. It’s his senior year, so watching he and Dedmon in the post could be exciting for the Trojan faithful. Along with all of this, they’re getting Tennessee transfer Renaldo Woolridge who put up 4.3 points & 3.3 boards last season. Best Case Scenario: The transfers all gel and the walking wounded are all back and better than ever. O’Neill gets them fired up, and the team ends up surprising everyone that was expecting a repeat of last season as he leads the Trojans into the NCAA Tournament while laughing at the Bruins for failing to sell out their NIT game. Worst Case Scenario: Nobody returns from injury at full strength, the chemistry is a disaster and fights break out daily in practice over playing time. After falling apart with a rough non-conference schedule, the team doesn’t recover and ends up with a front row seat to UCLA’s return to the Final Four as the Trojans enjoy the CBI. JGIsland’s Stat You Should Know: The Trojans are tough to look at from a statistical perspective, as they will have nearly a completely new roster from last year with guys back from injuries and incoming transfers, which is a good thing because they were near the bottom in DI in nearly every offensive category (Adj. Efficiency 326th, eFG% 337th, Off Reb% 338th, FT/FGA 338th, 3P% 343rd, 2P% 315th, FT%332nd). PacHoops’ Take: Look out because here’s the sexy sleeper pick. But let me fill you in on a little secret: if your friends start telling you things like, “I think USC could make a run at this thing.” Or, “You know what? I really like the Trojans this year, bro,” They’re just trying to sound tight. It’s like Gottlieb picking Arizona to win it all: He gets to sound indie but he’s really just hedging his bet. They win and he gets to say, “I told ya so!” They lose and he’s like, “Whatever dude, at least I didn’t pick Indiana or Louisville, boring.” All that said, I like USC – whoops! I’m a sucker for Jio Fontan running a Kevin O’Neill offense and if KO hasn’t run off JT Terrell yet, I think he might actually have is ear. Also, this team has a healthy Dewayne Dedmon. He’s seven feet tall which is taller than you and your team’s center. Goose’s Pick: 5th in Pac-12, NIT.