Previewing The Jayhawks Big 12/Pac 10 Challenger UCLA

The Big 12/Pac 10 Hardwood Series comes to Lawrence tonight as the Jayhawks welcome a fellow "blue blood" program, the UCLA Bruins.  The schools have a combined 16 national championships, 30 final four appearances and 3,698 wins between them.  That's a lot of history.  History that in most seasons would inspire a tremendous amount of buzz across the country.

Unfortunately it's a little different time and UCLA basketball is in year two of a rebuilding project.  A project that head coach Ben Howland started after a run of three consecutive Final Fours just a few years ago. 

The fact still remains though, UCLA is coming to town and Allen Fieldhouse and the Jayhawk fans will be ready.  Kansas sits 5-10 all time against the Bruins and all five of those wins have come in the last seven meetings.  The game provides an opportunity to pick up another game against one of the all time great programs and regardless of the record, it's still a Pac 10 opponent.

The Players

Fun fact number one?  The UCLA Bruins don't have a senior on their roster.  After several successful runs resulting in a mass NBA exodus, Ben Howland has had to make an attempt at reloading.  That has led to a team that is young and a team that isn't particularly deep. 

At a time of year when many coaches are rotating 9-11 players and working on a rotation, Ben Howland already seems pretty much set with eight.  Three sophomores, three juniors and two freshman.

UCLA's top two scorers play on the interior but aren't limited to an inside game. 6'8" Sophomore Reeves Nelson represents the biggest impact leading the team in both scoring and rebounding.  Complimenting his play is fellow sophomore and another versatile 6'8" forward Tyler Honeycutt.  Nelson and Reeves average 17.6 and 14.6 in the scoring column respectively while also contributing a combined 18+ rebounds per game.  In additon, Reeves leads the team in three pointers and minutes per game.

Juniors Lazeric Jones and Malcolm Lee represent the two starting guards, both adding a double figure average in scoring.  Jones also leads the team in assists.  Rounding out the starters is 6'10 freshman center Josh Smith. 

Brendan Lane, Tyler Lamb and Jerime Anderson round out the eight man rotation. 

 


 

Team Stats

Offensive Averages:

 

Points
74.8
101st / 6th
Assists
16.8
29th / 2nd
Rebounds
38.6
98th / 2nd
FG Pct
49.1
30th / 4th

Defensive Averages:

Points
66.8
161st / 6th
Assists
11.2
90th / 2nd
Rebounds
34.8
166th / 2nd
FG Pct
38.5
53rd / 4th

 

 

Trending Down

After a 3-0 start the Bruins have fallen on hard times with a recent two loss slump during the preseason NIT.  To their credit, both losses were against good competition.  The first loss came at the hands of a top ten opponent Villanova.  Against the Wildcats the Bruins fell behind early and were never really able to dig themselves out of a hole.  Nova held a 44-29 lead at the intermission before the Bruins would manage a solid second half, but still were unable to cut into the lead significantly.  The final score 82-70.

In the NIT consolation game the Bruins went up against Virginia Commonwealth.  A few years back VCU was best known for their tournament upset of the Duke Blue Devils under head coach Anthony Grant.  Grant departed prior to last season and Shaka Smith is similar to UCLA in that they also are in the midst of a reloading project.  UCLA controlled the paint for the most part as they have often in the early season, but surprisingly they never held a lead in the game.  A late rally was turned back by VCU and the final result was loss for the Bruins by the final score of 89-85. 

For UCLA it's been about being a decent offensive team, a decent defensive team, but maybe not quite at the level that it takes to be in the top 25.  They rebound well when they stay focused and turnovers can sometimes be a problem.  Right now Ben Howland has some coaching to do, but there are pieces in place to eventually bring UCLA back to life.

 

Prediction Time

UCLA has a decent group of starters but they aren't deep. They have good size and that will prove critical.  If the Bruins are going to make a game of it, they'll have to limit Kansas on the interior and control the glass. The reality is that at the moment that's what most teams will need to do to limit Kansas.  That or get the Morri in foul trouble. 

Being a home game and a game the fans will no doubt be anxious for, Kansas should be able to jump out and in control early.  At that point this is a UCLA team that still lacks a little bit of confidence.  The longer they keep it close the better their chances, but this isn't your slightly older brother's UCLA.  The Bruins have fallen and they aren't back just yet.  Kansas wins this one with relative ease.

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