In what I think will be a recurring theme this year, the central theme of UCLA is this: Kansas should win, but the Bruins are certainly capable of giving the Jayhawks some trouble.
UCLA has an ugly opening loss to Monmouth on the books, but two better than you'd think wins over Cal Poly and Pepperdine after that, as well as a squeaked out victory over UNLV in the late game last night.
Four games isn't a ton to go off, but the first thing that jumps out with regards to UCLA is its size. The Bruins rank 8th in effective height (for the uninitiated: basically height crossed with minutes played. For more read here) and that should cause some concern for the Jayhawks. UCLA ranks 20th nationally in offensive rebounding, grabbing 41.1 percent of its misses, so Kansas is going to struggle on the boards tonight. Until Diallo gets cleared (#FreeDiallo) that is going to be a central theme to the season. Fortunately, UCLA also turns it over a lot, but unfortunately the Jayhawks don't force many.
Like Kansas, UCLA likes to pound the ball inside. Like Kansas, UCLA hasn't been very good at it. The Bruins shoot under 50 percent on twos, though they are a much better offensive rebounding team than the Jayhawks, ranking almost 200 spots higher.
Oddly enough given their size, the Bruins don't hit the defensive glass as well, allowing opponents to rebound 31.1 percent of their misses. Kansas barely makes an effort on the offensive glass, however, so the Bruins should see that number go up after tonight.
Players to watch
UCLA's best player is the coach's son, Bryce Alford. Two years ago Steve Alford caught some heat for playing Bryce over eventual 1st rounder Zach LaVine, but the truth of the matter is Bryce was a better player then. He's still very good, though probably not an NBA talent, but that means UCLA has an experienced and very capable point guard leading the show. Alford has a 56.6 true shooting percentage this season, doesn't turn it over much, and so far has improved his efficiency inside the arc.
The other guy to watch is Thomas Welsh. He doesn't look terribly imposing, but the 7-footer put up 20 and 8 with 2 blocks last night, and currently has an offensive rating near 150. He isn't a huge part of the offense, but he's shooting 71 percent, grabbing both offensive and defensive rebounds well, and blocking a few shots. He'll get a few more blocks if Kansas tries to pound it inside too often, but he does foul a lot as well, so it might be a good idea to get the big man out of the game.
Tony Parker had a weird high school recruitment. The Lithonia, Georgia native was possibly going to come to Kansas, or maybe stay home and go to Georgia, or maybe go to Duke, but decided on UCLA after the Bruins hired his AAU coach (wink wink nudge nudge). Parker hasn't been a disappointment, but it's safe to say he hasn't been what the Bruins thought they were getting either. Fouling issues have mostly kept him off the court, but when he's played he's been effective. He was one of the top 100 offensive rebounders in the country in the last two seasons, and this season sits 10th so far. Parker scores pretty efficiently down low, but is definitely a guy Kansas can take advantage of on the other end of the floor.
If Kansas goes to 0-2 when I write previews I might not write another one this season, but I think the Jayhawks will win here. UCLA does some things that will frustrate us, and I suspect we will all be complaining about not shooting what should be fairly open threes, but I think the Jayhawks will squeak out a 75-71 win.