2011/12 Pac-12 Preview: UCLA

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by: John Chase

UCLA finished second in the conference last season with a 13-5 record and 24-11 overall. The Bruins will be a scary team this season. With six returning seniors, Josh Smith, and the Wear twins, UCLA will have a lot of talent especially in the front court.

They will be tall, strong, and skilled. A very dangerous combination that makes them the clear front runner in the Pac-12 and likely a top 20 to top 15 team. Their guard play may be slightly weaker than in previous seasons with the early departure of Malcolm Lee (he went in the second round to the Chicago Bulls and then was traded to Minnesota) and Tyler Honeycutt (picked in the second round by Sacramento).

UCLA brings in 3 new freshmen as well as gaining the eligibility of the Wear twins to pump up their roster. They have 6 players standing 6-8 or taller, including 4 players at 6-10. No one is shorter than 6-0 on the team.

Key Losses:

  • Malcolm Lee, 6-5 200lb – Lee was a great PG and SG talent for the Bruins. He was second in scoring behind Reeves Nelson at 13 points per game as well as dishing out 2 assists per outing. His outside shot was a little suspect at only 30%, but he had a dangerous slashing drive attack that gave him a lot of opportunities in the key. Lee had great ball handling and defensive skills that made a huge mismatch for opposing point guards. He had the height to shoot over smaller guards and the speed to move around stronger opponents. Big loss for the Bruins. Lazeric Jones and Jermine Anderson will have to step up their games to fill the gap.
  • Tyler Honeycutt, 6-8 188lb – Honeycutt was third in scoring for the Bruins at nearly 13 points per game. He was second in rebounding behind Reeves Nelson and ahead of Josh Smith. In my mind, Honeycutt could have used another year to develop his game, but he and the NBA decided they were ready and it probably has a lot to do with his height. Honeycutt did struggle at times against solid defenders and against UW he had trouble getting open shots (he went 4-12 and 0-6 from the field in two games against UW). Honeycutt is very similar to UW’s Terrance Ross in that he has a wide skill set from outside shooting to driving the lane and crashing the boards. Brendan Lane and Tyler Lamb will likely try to fill the hole left by Honeycutt.

Incoming Freshmen:

  • Khalid McCaskill, 6-6 190lb – A new walk-on for the Bruins, replacing Alex Schrempf who has transferred to UW but will not play this season. McCaskill is known for his driving abilities, but also possesses a decent jump shot. I suspect McCaskill will redshirt or see very little if any play time. Even with a lack of talented depth in the back court, McCaskill is a ways back in the line-up.
  • Norman Powell, 6-3 200lb – Powell is a slash and drive guard first and foremost. His mid-range and 3 point shot are still in development, but with his speed and athleticism he can create opportunities for himself and others in the open court. Powell will play the 2 as his ball handling skills are rough when going to his left, something that a 1 guard needs to be able to do. Give Powell a year or two to fine tune his game and he’ll be a much better guard for the Bruins.

Returning Players:

  • Kenny Jones 6-0 190lb
  • Lazeric Jones 6-0 187lb
  • Tyler Trapani 6-0 190lb
  • Nick Kazemi 6-0 175lb
  • Jermine Anderson 6-2 183lb
  • Larry Drew II 6-2 190lb
  • Matt DeMarcus 6-3 203lb
  • David Brown 6-3 185lb
  • Tyler Lamb 6-5 200lb
  • De’End Parker 6-6 215lb
  • Reeves Nelson 6-8 235lb
  • Brendan Lane 6-9 223lb
  • Anthony Stover 6-10 235lb
  • David Wear 6-10 225lb
  • Travis Wear 6-10 220lb
  • Josh Smith 6-10 305lb

Parker is a JC transfer who averaged about 12 points and 6 rebounds per game. A solid prospect with two remaining years of eligibility, Parker should contribute almost immediately at the 3 position.

Smith still remains to be overweight and out of shape, which greatly limits his ability to contribute in transition plays and often led to sloppy fouls when defending outside the post.

Between Nelson and the Wear twins, the Bruins have the strongest 4 and 5, possibly, in the nation. A lot of rebounding and post scoring ability to be sure. Nelson is a work horse who is the returning leading scorer for UCLA at nearly 14 per game and a team high 9 rebounds. Nelson will likely average a double double next season much like former UW star Jon Brockman. I like Nelson for a possible Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate.

Predicted Starting Line-Up

G – Lazeric Jones, 6-0 187lb
G – Jermine Anderson, 6-2 183lb (After his two game suspension for theft)
G/F – Tyler Lamb, 6-5 200lb
F – Reeves Nelson, 6-8 235lb
C – Josh Smith, 6-10 305lb

What to Expect:

Smith and Nelson will be the leading scorers and rebounders this season, without a doubt. Smith uses his weight to make up for his lack of agility in the post to score against defenders. Aziz N’Diaye will need to keep his foul situation under control against UCLA to prevent Smith from dominating inside.

UCLA has a tough tournament ahead in Maui (which UW participated in last year). UCLA’s success will largely depend on how well the backcourt can move the ball around to feed it inside where their true strength lies.

Expect UCLA to dominate a lot of smaller teams and, even in conference play, they should find a few teams they can push around at will. Teams can beat UCLA by excellent guard play and defense, preventing the ball from moving inside.

UW should be able to compete, but I expect a series split this season with each team winning at their home court. I can’t see UCLA losing to many games in conference and should finish no lower than third, though finishing lower than second in conference should be considered disappointing considering the talent on the team.