Pac-12 Team Preview: UCLA BruinsPosted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 5th, 2013
We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.
Strengths. There is a lot of pure talent on this UCLA roster. Seven players on this roster were considered four-star recruits or better coming out of high school. Two of them – Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams – are expected to have NBA futures, possibly as soon as the next season. And the departures of Shabazz Muhammad and Ben Howland are expected to significantly improve team chemistry around the program. This Bruin roster may be slightly less talented than last season, but expect the gestalt to be an improvement, and expect the increase in tempo that UCLA fans saw in Howland’s final season to continue and even accelerate. The Bruins will be at their best in transition under new head coach Steve Alford, and they’ve got plenty of guards and wings who can get up and down the floor and score.
Weaknesses. Until Anderson proves himself, there are going to be questions about how he’ll fill in for departed senior Larry Drew II at point guard. Anderson is known as a playmaker with the ball in his hands, but it remains to be seen just how effective he can be against this level of competition creating for others. Even more questionable is his ability to guard opposing backcourt players; while the plan will often be for Anderson to switch to guarding threes and maybe even fours on defense, there could be plenty of opportunities for those switches to get crossed up in transition. Also, in the frontcourt, the Bruins have a lack of depth. With senior Travis Wear sidelined for up to a month following appendix surgery and with freshman Wanaah Bail recovering from offseason knee surgery, UCLA is presently limited to just two scholarship players who are bigs: solid senior David Wear and the unproven sophomore Tony Parker.
Non-Conference Tests. There is a lot of garbage on the UCLA schedule, so assuming it can avoid the 2013-14 equivalent of losing to Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton or Montana, there are maybe three non-conference games and an uninspiring Las Vegas Thanksgiving tournament to pay attention to. That Las Vegas Invitational will feature games against Nevada and Northwestern, the latter the toughest of two manageable tests. Then there’s a trip to Missouri in early December against a Tigers’ team that is expected to be a bit down from last year, and a visit from a struggling Alabama program in late December. But the crown jewel of the UCLA non-conference schedule is a mid-December trip to New York to face Duke in prime time at Madison Square Garden. Feel free to skip the rest of the UCLA non-conference slate and just jump to that.
Toughest Conference Stretch. Let’s reach and highlight the entirety of the January schedule. First, the Bruins get a visit from cross-town rival USC, a team that is going to be geeked beyond belief to get a crack at UCLA and show that they’re making a push to be kings of LA. The next week, the Arizona schools come to town for arguably the toughest one-two punch in the conference. Then, a trip to the Rockies for battles at Colorado and Utah before heading back home to host the other contender for the toughest one-two punch: Stanford and Cal. Finally, to wrap up the month, the Bruins head up north to face Oregon. There’s six very serious postseason contenders in an eight-game stretch right there.
If Everything Goes Right… The Bruins are fun to watch. Anderson is revelatory at the point. Adams picks up where he left off last season. Parker is ready to contribute 20 solid minutes a night. The freshman duo of Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford provide offensive punch from the bench. The team clearly has a ton of fun playing for a new coach who has their back and the Bruins are still alive for a share of the conference title when they go to the Washington schools on the final week of the regular season. Alford finally gets back to a Sweet Sixteen for the first time since Southwest Missouri State, and along the way, some of Alford’s doubters start to get back on the bandwagon.
If Nothing Goes Right… The Wears remain soft, Parker remains little more than a big body, and Anderson’s defensive deficiencies are too much to overcome. While the Bruins outscore their fair share of opponents, for the most part when they meet well-balanced teams, their inability to lock down defensively dooms them to close losses and an early end to the season. Alford’s slow start in Westwood continues to stall out.
Projected Starting Lineup
- PG Kyle Anderson (So, 6’9” 230 lbs, 9.7 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 3.5 APG)
- SG Jordan Adams (So, 6’5” 220 lbs, 15.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 84.3 FT%)
- SG Norman Powell (Jr, 6’4” 215 lbs, 6.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG)
- F David Wear (Sr, 6’10” 230 lbs, 7.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG)
- F Travis Wear (Sr, 6’10” 230 lbs, 10.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.0 BPG)
Right out of the gate, Parker should get plenty of opportunities to earn a starting spot, especially with Travis Wear sidelined. And ideally, Parker would earn the right to maintain that starting spot, giving the Bruins a different type of big man. But still, expect the Wears to be on the court at the same time quite a bit this season, and don’t be surprised if, as soon as Travis Wear is back at full strength, the Wears are the frontcourt for the Bruins. Likewise, while Powell is penciled in as the fifth starter for the time being, he’ll likely have to hold off the freshman LaVine. One thing that Powell has strongly in his favor is that the Bruins will need a defensive stopper out there to protect Anderson, and Powell is the most obvious candidate there.
- C Tony Parker (So, 6’9” 255 lbs, 2.4 PPG, 1.2 RPG in 6.3 MPG)
- SG Zach LaVine (Fr, 6’5” 180 lbs)
- PG Bryce Alford (Fr, 6’3” 180 lbs)
- SF Noah Allen (Fr, 6’6” 215 lbs)
- PF Wanaah Bail (Fr, 6’9, 215 lbs)
Parker and four freshmen are the entirety of the UCLA depth chart; in other words, a complete absence of proven punch off the bench. Still, major contributions are expected – and needed – from both LaVine and Alford immediately. Once Bail is ready to go, expect he and Allen, although different types of players, to compete with each other for table scraps in terms of minutes.