THIS WEEK’S BEST BETS:
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: 2014-15 SEASON OPENERS:
UCLA vs. MONTANA STATE
Details/TV: Pauley Pavilion, Friday at 9 p.m., Pac-12 Network:
USC vs. PORTLAND STATE
Details/TV: Galen Center, Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network:
CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE at SAN DIEGO STATE
Details/TV: Friday at 7 p.m., Fox Sports San Diego
LONG BEACH STATE at BYU
Details/TV: Friday at 4 p.m.
LOYOLA MARYMOUNT vs. S.E. MISSOURI
Details/TV: Gersten Pavilion, Friday at 6 p.m.
PEPPERDINE vs. FRESNO STATE
Details/TV: Firestone Fieldhouse, Friday at 7 p.m.
Steve Alford turns 50 years old later this month. And with that, a lot of us are feeling just a little bit older right now. For a simple reference point, flip back to the late ‘80s when John Feinstein’s book “A Season on the Brink” included the process by which Indiana coach Bob Knight tried to recruit the hot-shot high school sophomore Alford. Now that the baby-faced Alford enters his 20th season as a Division I basketball coach, it this a make-or-brink moment for Year 2 at UCLA? He molded a 28-9 record and a Pac-12 Conference tournament championship in his first year, and that turned out to be pretty sweet – as in an eventual Sweet 16 appearance. But missing from this year’s roster are Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Zach LaVine and the Wear twins. Alford’s replenished with five freshmen, including Kevon Looney, who had a team-best 12 rebounds in an exhibition win over Azusa Pacific the other night, and 7-footer Thomas Welch, from Redondo Beach out of L.A. Loyola High. On the opening night of college hoops – where No. 1 Kentucky risks its credibility hosting Grand Canyon, No. 2 Arizona stays home for Mt. St. Mary’s and Louisville’s Rick Pitino coaches against his son, Richard, the head coach at Minnesota, in Puerto Rico (ESPN, 4 p.m.) — the Bruins saddle up with the Bobcats of the Big Sky Conference for a tip-off so late, it’ll already be Saturday night in the East.
A few hours earlier, Cal State Northridge will take on a much more challenging task. Coach Reggie Theus, also starting his second year, decided to measure his team up against No. 16 San Diego State, and follow that by going to Tucson to face the Wildcats (Sunday, 4 p.m., Pac-12 Network). This Matadors team will end up playing at Oregon and at Louisville this season. Their Big West rivals at Long Beach State, where coach Dan Monson recently agreed to a five-year contract extension, put UCLA and Kansas State on its schedule early on as well. But for starters, the 49ers go to West Coast Conference challenger BYU in Provo, Utah, hoping their core group led by Mike Caffey, Nick Faust and Tyler Lamb are up for the challenge.
As for the region’s WCC teams, Loyola Marymount turns to alum Mike Dunlap for his first year when the Lions host their own LMU Classic against SE Missouri and Boise State on back-to-back nights. Pepperdine, with alum Marty Wilson starting his fourth season as coach, take on Fresno State, which went 21-18 a year ago. The next night, there’s USC, a miserable 11-21 last season, going without a senior and with 11 sophomores and freshman. Andy Enfield’s second season begins a matchup against the Big Sky’s Portland State.
THE REST OF THE WEEK:
USC goes Thursday night against Cal at the Coliseum (6 p.m., ESPN) as the prelude to facing UCLA and Notre Dame … The Baseball Writers Association of America is expected to give out its AL and NL MVP Awards to the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw on Thursday (3 p.m., MLB Network) … The Clippers have to wonder if Gregg Popovich is going to put out all his veterans when they meet San Antonio (Staples Center, Monday at 7:30 p.m., Prime Ticket) … The Kings and Ducks have to play each other five times in the regular season, but they’re going to knock out two of them in one week (Wednesday at Honda Center, 7 p.m., NBCSN; Saturday at Staples Center, 1 p.m., FSW, Prime) … John Force is in position again to win another Funny Car title when the NHRA’s 50th Auto Club Finals happen at the Pomona Fairgrounds (Sunday’s finals start at 3:25 p.m.; qualifying begins Thursday) … Oh, right, the Lakers … they’re going back-to-back in Memphis (Tuesday, 5 p.m.) and New Orleans (Wednesday, 5 p.m.) before coming home for San Antonio (Friday, 7 p.m.) and Golden State (Sunday, 6:30 p.m.). You’ve been warned …. And there’s even more at this link.