Pac-12 Team Previews: UCLA Bruins

Posted by AMurawa on October 16th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the UCLA Bruins.

Strengths.  Talent. The Bruins feature seven former McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster, including three from last year’s game. The argument could be made that this roster has more raw talent than any other team in the country. The challenge for head coach Ben Howland is going to be harnessing this talent, as some players on this roster – most notably junior center Joshua Smith and senior point guard Larry Drew II – have yet to live up to those expectations. Still, the talent is there, and what’s more it is big, with four guys in the rotation checking in a 6’9” or better and an additional group of five different wings standing between 6’4” and 6’9”.

Joshua Smith, UCLA

Joshua Smith’s Talent Is Undeniable, But He Has Still Yet To Live Up To His Potential

Weaknesses. Despite all that talent, it remains to be seen just how the roles get distributed on this team. For instance, with freshman small forward Shabazz Muhammad expected to see the beginning of his likely brief college career delayed by an NCAA investigation, and with junior wing Tyler Lamb already laid up after getting his knee scoped, the Bruins find themselves mighty thin at the three. What’s more, with Smith, the Wear twins and freshman center Tony Parker all best suited for either the four or the five, there is quite a wait for playing time at those positions. Then there are the question marks at the point; Drew is expected to take the reins there from the get-go, but his performance and leadership at his previous stop in Chapel Hill leaves some dubious as to his ability to run this team. Meanwhile, freshman wing Kyle Anderson has all the offensive skills necessary to be an elite playmaker for the team, but could be a liability if forced to guard smaller, quicker lead guards.

Non-Conference Tests.  Before we even get around to planning for a turkey dinner at the end of November, the Bruins will have had a pair of tough non-conference games as part of the Legends Classic in Brooklyn. They’ll open with Georgetown, and with a win likely earning them a meeting with Indiana, with Georgia the fourth team in the tourney. Later in non-conference play, UCLA will face San Diego State at the John Wooden Classic in Anaheim on the first day of December and a week later will travel to Houston to square off with Texas. The capper for a tough non-conference slate is a visit from a talented and athletic Missouri squad in the days between Christmas and New Year’s.

Toughest Conference Stretch.  They’re all tough, but a three-game road trip in conference play is never fun, and the Bruins’ version of that this year includes games against Cal, Stanford and then USC a week later. The schedule doesn’t ease up there, however, as a visit from the Arizona schools follows the next week. If the Bruins answer their questions by then and are playing like an elite team, a 4-1 run is not out of the question, but it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario where they turn in a losing record over that five-game stretch.

If Everything Goes Right…  At some point in the next week or two, the NCAA hands down a ruling on Muhammad and Anderson, with no more than three-game suspensions for either (Anderson may walk without any harm). With their full complement of stars, the Bruins announce their presence to the college basketball world at the Legends Classic, sweeping into December with a perfect record. In the non-conference slate, Muhammad and Anderson establish themselves as a dynamic duo, while Smith continues to improve his conditioning and becomes a dominant force up front. Once conference play rolls around, they slip up a couple of times in the front half of the schedule, but by the time they finish taking apart Arizona on March 2, their first conference title in four seasons is a foregone conclusion, as is a top-two seed out West. From there, the Bruins proceed to ease through the first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament like it is 2007, advancing to the Final Four without leaving the state of California.

If Nothing Goes Right…  Muhammad’s suspension is considerably more than three games, Smith’s conditioning never really improves above abysmal, Howland is unable to mask some of the athletic deficiencies at the wing and the UCLA version of Drew is disturbingly similar to the UNC version. There is still enough talent here that this Bruin season should never devolve to the level of last year or 2009-10, but despite advancing to the NCAA Tournament, the Bruins are shipped out East and fail to advance as far as the Sweet Sixteen for the fifth consecutive year.

Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG Larry Drew II (Sr, 6’2” 180 lbs, 4.4 PPG, 3.0 APG, 92.3 ORtg in 2010-11 at North Carolina)
  • SG Kyle Anderson (Fr, 6’9” 235 lbs)
  • SF Shabazz Muhammad (Fr, 6’6” 225 lbs)
  • PF Travis Wear (Jr, 6’10” 230 lbs, 11.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG)
  • C Joshua Smith (Jr, 6’10” 305 lbs, 9.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG)

Howland is putting his faith in Drew as the point guard, calling him the Bruins’ most indispensible player this season, but he’ll get plenty of help in facilitating the offense from Anderson. At the start of the year, with Muhammad out for an unspecified period of time, expect the Bruins to go with a lot of a three-guard lineup, with sophomore Norman Powell joining Anderson and Drew on the perimeter. Up front, it’s anybody’s guess who the starters will be. Howland would probably love it if Smith gave him reason enough over the next month to name him the starter at the five from day one, but expect both Wears, along with Smith and Parker to get plenty of run at the four and five.

Key Reserves

  • PF David Wear (Jr, 6’10” 230 lbs, 10.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG)
  • SG Tyler Lamb (Jr, 6’5” 200 lbs, 9.0 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.7 SPG)
  • SG Norman Powell (So, 6’4” 215 lbs, 4.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG)
  • C Tony Parker (Fr, 6’9” 275 lbs)
  • SF Jordan Adams (Fr, 6’5” 220 lbs)

Lamb’s recovering from knee surgery, but he should be back fairly early in the season. Once he does return, he’ll find a battle for minutes with Powell and Adams looking to shave off some of the 31 minutes per game he earned last year. David Wear will be more or less interchangeable with his brother, but in an ideal world, the amount of time that both Wears are on the court will be limited; each would be better off as a high post or baseline complement to Smith and Parker, UCLA two true post players.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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