Pac-12 Team Previews: UCLA

Posted by AMurawa on November 3rd, 2011

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing each of the Pac-12 teams as we head into the season.

UCLA Bruins

Strengths.  The Bruins’ biggest strength is in their frontcourt, a big and deep group of talented athletes led by 6’8” junior forward Reeves Nelson and 6’10” sophomore center Josh Smith. The two make a rugged duo that can cause matchup problems for most all of their opponents. North Carolina transfers David and Travis Wear (each listed at 6’10”) join 6’9” junior forward Brendan Lane and 6’10” sophomore center Anthony Stover to provide depth. David Wear will spend a lot of time playing out of position at the three, giving the Bruins an imposing frontline that will cause almost all of their opponents fits on the glass. If Wear can handle guarding smaller, quicker wings, the UCLA front line will be a serious strength.

Joshua Smith, Reeves Nelson, UCLA

Reeves Nelson And Joshua Smith Make Up A Formidable Frontcourt Duo

Weaknesses. If head coach Ben Howland’s goal is to get his best players on the court, he’ll have to play a guy like David Wear out of position. With so much depth at the four and five spots, there is no way all of those guys could get playing time if some of them didn’t slide over at times. This could open the Bruins up to being exploited by talented, athletic wings. Additionally, UCLA lacks a deadly three-point shooter. Ideally sophomore off-guard Tyler Lamb could grow into that role, but his jumper is not ready for prime time in that area either. If opposing defenses sag in to either deny the ball to the bigs or pester them once they have the ball, the Bruins lack a perimeter threat to serve as a deterrent. Oh, one last thing: the point guard play of Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson tends toward the erratic. Those are probably more significant weaknesses than a major conference contender should have.

Nonconference Tests.  Howland has again scheduled his fair share of non-conference cupcakes, but their time in Maui on Thanksgiving week should help that. After an opening round breather against host Chaminade, the Bruins will presumably face either Georgetown or Kansas in the semifinal, with Duke perhaps waiting in a final (Michigan, Memphis and Tennesee are other possible opponents in the other half of the bracket). Beyond that, UCLA will host Texas in early December, Richmond just before Christmas, and travel to St. John’s in the middle of February. Given that all of those teams are expected to be down a notch this season, that Maui Invitational is really the only meat on this schedule’s bones.

Toughest Conference Stretch.  After coming back from a break in conference play with the trip to face St. John’s, the Bruins finish up the Pac-12 with a trip to the Arizona schools and a visit from the Washington schools. Those four games could go a long way towards determining the eventual Pac-12 champion.

If Everything Goes Right…  David Wear can guard the wing, the Jones/Anderson point guard duo provides leadership and the occasional well-timed three, and the Bruins kill people on the glass on their way to winning the Pac-12 and getting to the second weekend in the NCAA Tournament. Their shaky perimeter play probably precludes a deeper run in March.

If Nothing Goes Right…  Smith’s weight prevents him from taking significant strides forward with his game, the Wears turn out to look just about as good as they did at North Carolina (i.e., not very), no one can consistently hit a three, and the point guards’ inability to create for themselves leaves the Bruin offense average. Meanwhile, playing big along the front allows athletic wings to take advantage of the UCLA defense and this squad struggles to a ho-hum fourth place Pac-12 finish.

Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG Lazeric Jones (Sr, 6’1” 187 lbs, 9.1 PPG, 3.6 APG)
  • SG Tyler Lamb (So, 6’5” 200 lbs, 2.6 PPG, 1.0 RPG)
  • SF David Wear (So, 6’10” 225 lbs, 2.9 PPG, 1.7 RPG in 2009-10 with North Carolina)
  • PF Reeves Nelson (Jr, 6’8” 235 lbs, 13.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG)
  • C Josh Smith (So, 6’10” 305 lbs, 10.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG)

That front line looks great on paper, but it remains to be seen how well they can handle man-to-man defense. Smith’s weight sometimes causes him to cheat defensively and pick up cheap fouls, while neither Nelson or Wear is the fleetest of foot. Lamb is a defensive specialist at this point in his career (if only because his offensive game is a work in progress), but if he doesn’t have help behind him, the hallmark of the best UCLA teams under Howland – defense – could be lacking.

Impact Newcomer Norman Powell – We’ve talked about the Wears above, and both have a chance to be good, but Powell could develop into an offensive threat as well as a burst of athletic energy. While that Bruin front line could be intimidating, it is also not exactly made up of many above-the-rim players; Powell has a chance to provide that type of presence for UCLA. It may take him some time to get comfortable at the collegiate level and earn Howland’s trust, but the freshman out of San Diego could provide a scoring punch off the bench for the Bruins.

Key Reserves

  • PG Jerime Anderson (So, 6’2” 183 lbs, 5.1 PPG, 2.6 APG)
  • F Travis Wear (So, 6’10” 220 lbs, 3.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG in 2009-10 with North Carolina)
  • C Anthony Stover (So, 6’10” 235 lbs, 0.7 PPG, 1.5 RPG)
  • G Norman Powell (Fr, 6’3” 200 lbs)
  • PF Brendan Lane (Jr, 6’9” 223 lbs, 3.0 PPG, 3.1 RPG)
  • SF De’End Parker (Jr, 6’6” 215 lbs, JuCo transfer)

This will be a deep Bruin team this season, but there’s no way they’re going to go 11 deep on a regular basis. Somebody here, whether it is Stover, Powell, Parker or Wear, will see their minutes evaporate if they can’t fill a role for Howland. In the search for a three-point specialist, it may actually be one of the bigs – either Lane or one of the Wears – who proves to be the best threat from outside.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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