Pac10 Preview – #3 UCLA

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by Craig Yamada

From an outsider’s perspective, the strength of UCLA usually serves as a barometer for the strength of the entire Pac-10. Given their recent struggles over the past two years, UCLA has faded into the background in terms of a contending team. Well folks, be prepared for the Bruins to make a return to relevance again this season.

The Bruins have one of the more dominant front lines in the Pac 10 and return a handful of starters from the 2009-10 season. The have started the season 3-0 with wins over Cal St. Northridge, Pepperdine and Pacific. as they play in the pre-season NIT. Let’s take a look at their composition:

Key Losses:

Michael Roll (14.1 ppg) – Graduation

Nikola Dragovic (12.0 ppg) – Graduation

Drew Gordon (11.2 ppg) – Excused from Team

James Keefe (2.2 ppg) – Graduation

J’Mison Morgan (1.9 ppg) – Transfer

Mike Moser (0.6 ppg) – Transfer

Best of the Rest:

The strength of UCLA resides in their big men, led by returning workhorse Reeves Nelson who has led the team in scoring this year thus far with 19.3 ppg. Nelson looks a bit slimmer than last year and is playing with more agility in the post. He is a force on the offensive glass and is living up to his Jon Brockman comparison. He is averaging nearly 10 rebounds/game. Also returning is sophomore swingman Tyler Honeycutt. Honeycutt is an agile player who can score inside and out which creates matchup difficulties for opposing defenses. His game reminds me of former Bruin, Matt Barnes who is bouncing around the NBA right now. He’s a legit threat from downtown as he is shooting 46% beyond the arc this season. He is second on the team in scoring with 15.7 ppg. The third returnee of this offense is JR PG Malcolm Lee. Lee has struggled in his first two years at UCLA as he has yet to live up to his lofty expectations. He has had a rough start to the season as he is currently battling an injury. In his stead, JR guard  Lazeric Jones has filled in nicely thus far averaging 12.3 ppg. Returning forward Brendan Lane has provided a nice boost for the Bruins off the bench as he has shown range on his jump shot and is third on the team in rebounding thus far.

Notable New Faces:

No introductions needed for big boy Josh Smith from Kentwood. Smith has slimmed down quite a bit since the last time we saw him this summer. He has started off his freshman season nicely with an 8.3 ppg average. His conditioning is still not where Howland wants it to be as he averaging only 16 minutes a game. I am sure that will pick up as the season progresses.  Smith gives UCLA a true center which is something they have been lacking over the last few seasons. Look for Smith to be centerpiece of their offensive scheme once he gets in better shape. Tyler Lamb, a sharp shooting guard, has taken the 5th starting spot while Malcolm Lee heals.  Lamb has shown great range in high school, but has struggled with his 3 pt shot thus far shooting 10% beyond the arc. Look for him to improve as the season is still very early. Also new this year is Alex Schrempf, son of Detlef. Alex has played sparingly thus far for Howland and looks to be headed for a deep reserve spot this year.

Likely Starting lineup (assuming a healthy Lee)

PG – Malcolm Lee

SG – Lazeric Jones

SF – Tyler Honeycutt

PF – Reeves Nelson

C- Josh Smith

Season Outlook:

I am expecting UCLA to return to the top 3 of the conference this year. With the experience returning in the starting lineup, coupled with the talent they have in the post this year, they will make for a formidable opponent night in, night out. Nelson and Honeycutt will prove to be a handful if each can stay healthy. They hold a rebounding advantage over any team they play.  Howland is also looking to speed up his offensive game. We shall see how long and how well this will fit his current squad as the season moves along.

I see them going 13-5 and giving UW a run for the conference championship. I am projecting one of our conference losses to be at the hands of the Bruins when we play them in LA. A better UCLA team, just means better things for the conference and East Coast critiques of the Pac-10.

How the Huskies beat them:

If Howland wants to play a faster paced game, he will play right into the hands of Lorenzo Romar. Given UW practices full speed each day, the fast paced nature of this matchup will look appetizing for UW. I expect Howland to adjust to an extended matchup zone defense like last year to slow things down.  The Huskies will have to win the battle of the boards against a tenacious PF in Reeves Nelson. He is the key to their team right now. He loves garbage baskets and has really developed his post presence this year. Josh Smith will need to be covered by Aziz this game. Aziz needs to stay out of foul trouble against the Bruins as we will need big minutes out of our bigs this game. Holiday will likely try and put the handcuffs on Tyler Honeycutt. From the guard position matchup, I like UW’s chances of overpowering their young backcourt with defensive pressure. Look for the Dawgs to push the ball up the court fast to get the tempo of the game in their favor. (Nothing new here)

Countdown Recap:

#4: Arizona St.
#5: USC

#6: WSU

#7: Oregon State

#8: Stanford

#9: Cal

#10: Oregon