Pac-12 Season Preview: UCLA Bruins

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 3rd, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: UCLA.

UCLA Bruins

Strengths. There’s plenty of talent here, no doubt. Norman Powell, Bryce Alford and Tony Parker return as players who earned at least 40 percent of the team’s minutes last year and were all highly efficient offensive players on a high-powered offensive squad. They’ll be joined by freshmen Kevon Looney and Isaac Hamilton, both of whom are highly-regarded recruits expected to slip seamlessly into the starting lineup. Throw in guys like Wannah Bail and Noah Allen, who played bit parts efficiently last year, and another highly regarded freshman in Thomas Welsh (who may be more of a project than his classmates) and there is plenty of reason for excitement in Westwood. The Bruins once again should be a high-flying, entertaining ballclub.

Norman Powell's Athleticism On The Wing Will Be A Big Part Of UCLA's Offense (Harry How/Getty Images)

Norman Powell’s Athleticism On The Wing Will Be A Big Part Of UCLA’s Offense. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Weaknesses. Two immediately jump off the page: a lack of depth and defensive uncertainty. First, the depth thing is pretty clear. Freshman Jonah Bolden and senior transfer Jonathan Octeus were both supposed to play significant roles off the bench for the Bruins, but they ran into academic problems that will keep them out of UCLA uniforms this year (Octeus wound up at Purdue as a transfer after being denied admission). That leaves Bail, Allen and Welsh as the top three players off the bench. The Bruins could survive one well-placed and well-timed injury, but any significant health problems beyond that could lead to raw freshmen or even walk-ons playing big roles. Throw in the fact that Looney has battled injuries in early workouts already and this coiuld get scary. The second issue is on the defensive end. Powell is a fantastic defender, but just about everybody else on the roster has question marks. Alford is a terrific offensive player but he can get outquicked or overpowered by better athletes. Parker has a history of foul trouble. Hamilton and Looney are talents more known for their offensive abilities who still need to prove their defensive merits. On down the line, questions loom.

Non-conference Tests. Last year’s non-conference schedule was an embarrassment. The Bruins’ exempt event in Las Vegas turned out to be a bust, with two nondescript games against Nevada and Northwestern. Their only two quality non-conference games turned into road losses against Missouri and Duke. This year, things look even more challenging. First, the Bruins will compete in the Battle 4 Atlantis with an opening round game against Oklahoma, a potential match-up with North Carolina (or Butler) in the semifinal (or consolation semifinal), and a final-round contest against one of Wisconsin, Florida, Georgetown or UAB. If everything breaks right, that could be three games against Top 25 teams (two of which could be against top 10 – or top five – teams). That tournament alone is more impressive than last year’s entire non-conference slate, but throw in a home game against Gonzaga, a neutral-site game against Kentucky in Chicago, and a trip to Alabama, and the Bruins have several significant tests before conference play even starts.

Toughest Conference Stretch. Right out of the gate, the Bruins go to Colorado followed by Utah, and then return home to face Stanford and Cal. The Bruins are 3-1 on the Rockies road trip since those schools entered the conference, but this year that trip will be the toughest it has ever been. Follow that up with a challenging homestand against in-state rivals and a 2-2 start to conference play would be more than respectable.

If Everything Goes Right…  Everybody stays healthy; Looney lives up to expectations; the Bruins cobble together one complete point guard between Hamilton and Alford; Parker takes a big step forward in his development; and some of the bench guys develop some much needed experience, especially against elite programs like Kentucky, North Carolina and either Florida or Wisconsin in the non-conference schedule. The Bruins may not win any of those non-conference games, but they could serve as valuable stepping stones toward developing a team ready for conference play. And in a league where there is a pile of teams in a jumble in the middle of the conference race, if UCLA can turn those early season lumps into valuable lessons, there’s enough talent on this team to be a force in the Pac-12.

If Nothing Goes Right… It really only takes one injury, particularly in the backcourt, to throw a wrench into Alford’s best-laid plans for this season. The backcourt is a particularly worrisome area because the Bruins are tasked with replacing Kyle Anderson, the type of player who by his mere presence made everybody on the team better. Anderson’s production will need to be replaced by multiple people, with Hamilton and Alford chipping in on his play-making duties and Looney and Parker chipping in to replace his invaluable rebounding. If UCLA finds itself rudderless without Anderson to guide them, though, it could take on enough water in the non-conference schedule that it spends the rest of the season trying to bail itself out.

Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG Bryce Alford (So, 6’3” 180 lbs, 8.0 PPG, 2.8 APG, 38.5 3P%)
  • SG Isaac Hamilton (Fr, 6’4” 185 lbs)
  • SF Norman Powell (Sr, 6’4” 215 lbs, 11.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG)
  • PF Kevon Looney (Fr, 6’9” 220 lbs)
  • C Tony Parker (Jr, 6’9” 260 lbs, 6.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 60.2 FG%)

That’s a good starting lineup with a couple of players more than capable of holding down the point guard duties, good wing scorers in Powell and Looney, and a power guy in the middle in Parker. Now, all of these guys need to significantly increase their rebounding numbers from last season (Parker, Alford and Powell combined to average a measly nine rebounds in their combined 66 minutes per game), but the potential is there for a potent starting five.

Key Reserves

  • SF Noah Allen (So, 6’6” 215 lbs, 1.0 PPG in 3.5 MPG)
  • PF Wannah Bail (So, 6’9” 215 lbs, 1.6 PPG in 4.6 MPG)
  • C Thomas Welsh (Fr, 7’0” 245 lbs)
  • PF Gyorgy Golomon (Fr, 6’10” 215 lbs)

The problem UCLA is going to have is right here. In a perfect world, Bolden and Octeus would have been the first two guys off the bench, with a couple of these bigs sharing minutes. Instead, now UCLA has a situation where Allen is the only wing player off the bench. He can come in and the combination of Alford, Hamilton, Powell and Looney are versatile enough to shift around, but Allen is going to be forced into a pretty significant role this season. Up front, Bail and Welsh are also going to be seeing more minutes than they probably expected before the Bolden and Octeus announcements. And Golomon? There was a good chance he was going to redshirt back around June. Now he’s going to have to eat some minutes at some point this year.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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