Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, January 16, 2014

2013-14 UCLA Basketball Preview #1

This has been the toughest week in the recent history of Colorado Basketball. Nothing else compares.  Hell, I'm still reeling, and I've already wasted 1,000 words trying to get over it. I think that the opportunity to retake the court after three days off will come as a welcome relief to the team. The loss to injury of star guard Spencer Dinwiddie and emerging reserve Tre'Shaun Fletcher have dominated the story lines since Sunday afternoon, and I'm sure the players would like to put everything behind them by actually playing some basketball.

With that understood, tonight's game against UCLA is huge.  Despite protestations to the contrary, this team is not dead in the water.  They have an opportunity to rally around each other and fight through adversity. At the very least, the level of effort they show tonight will be very telling as to which direction the season will go. A strong performance, even a losing one, could forestall any doom-and-gloom that is threatening to infect BuffNation; conversely, a ugly, lifeless, sloppy performance could come as a self-fulfilling prophesy that could signal the start of a long-term slide.

Regardless, I'm excited to get back into the CEC and watch some hoops.  The sport has been significantly less fun to follow since Sunday afternoon, and I need the energy of the arena to remind me why I put so much passion in to watching this goofy little sport.  With the C-Unit in town, and a capacity crowd expected, I don't expect to be disappointed.


Tip-off from the CEC is set for 6pm this evening.  Traffic will be a mess, so plan accordingly. Also, WEAR WHITE! Coverage for those without tickets can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Last year's meeting with the Bruins is one of those games I imagine the team wishes they had back. Down as many as 13 points in the second half, CU rallied to within three as time was expiring. While the final possession featured a great look from Askia Booker from the left corner, it back-rimmed, leaving the Buffs slumped in defeat. As a result, he undefeated magic of Boulder was broken for the first time in 2012-13 by a 78-75 final.
Ski missed his saving throw.  From: the BDC
If CU is going to lose a game at home in the Tab Boyle era, it's got to take an impressive performance.  Such was the case last season when UCLA came to town. The star-studded squad from LA was allowed to shoot over 50% from the floor, a result of appalling defense inside of the arc.  The primary culprit was Travis Wear, who went 11-17 from the field, knocking down a seemingly endless series of baseline jumpers. Combined with similarly impressive performances from Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, it was a case where CU just didn't play enough defense to win.

That's not to say everything went wrong for the Buffs.  Spencer Dinwiddie, Askia Booker, and Josh Scott combined for 59 points in the battle-of-the-stars, but no one else wanted to step up.  Along with some horrific three-point shooting (5-17 on the day), CU wasn't able to score enough to make up for their defensive lapses.
Even a strong score from Josh Scott couldn't lead the Buffs to victory.  From: the BDC
The lesson here, as always, is you score for show, you play defense for dough.  Especially with the rash of injuries currently ravaging the roster, Colorado doesn't have the offensive firepower to outscore competent opponents.  They have to hold UCLA much closer to 40% from the floor this evening if they want to have any hope of pulling the upset.

The Bruins in '13-'14 - 

My word, the Bruins are a strong offensive team; if you can believe, even better than they were a season ago.  Kenpom has them in the nation's top-20 most efficient crews, and, despite some pre-season smack talk from a coach who probably regrets opening his mouth, they're also one of the faster bunches in the country, featuring in the top-15 for both tempo and possession length.
With that many points scored, it's easy to see why they're having so much fun.
For my money, it's a better offense than Oregon's.  UCLA scores over 86 points per game, while winding up in the top-five nationally for assists/game and field goal percentage.  Not only do all eight of their primary contributors post offensive ratings over 100, but all eight are also over 110! They do most of their work around the basket, scoring nearly 57% of their points inside the arc.  Yet, even with all that inside action, they lead the nation in offensive block rate.  These guys take good shots, despite playing at break-neck speed. Those numbers are boosted by a lot of transition opportunities (34.6%), but the fact remains, it's one of the premier scoring attacks in the country.  Damn fun to watch.

Defensively, while significantly less explosive, they're solid.  They force a lot of turnovers (14.7% defensive steal rate, 3rd nationally) while holding opponents under an adjusted point per possession. Their biggest weakness is behind the arc, where 36% of their points allowed are tallied.  It's probably more of a volume thing, however, as opponents aren't shooting anything spectacular from three (under 34%, about average). Regardless, expect to see a little zone this evening as the Bruins try to keep things outside.
Not the best defensive team, but they do enough.
Accordingly, with a prodigious offense and an above-average defense, their resume is strong.  At 13-3 (2-1), with the aesthetics to match, they're well deserving of a ranking in the top-25.  Unfortunately, any hopes of competing for a second-consecutive league title may have already been dashed.  Last week's meeting with Arizona, a 79-75 home loss to the Wildcats, was their lone regular season meeting with the Pac-12 leaders. It's probably second-place at best for the blue bloods.

Star Players - 

The most intriguing player on the roster continues to be point guard/power forward hybrid Kyle Anderson. Blessed with the size and talent to fill the Magic Johnson role and play all five positions, the 6-9 sophomore leads the team in rebounds, assists, and blocks per game.  No one quite knows what to make of this kid, I just know I'd love to play around with the roster combinations of any team he's on.
How often do you find a 6-9 guy who is the team's best point guard?
I'd say he's a one-man fast break, what with the rebounding and handling skill to limit the need for a outlet to start the run, but he's slooooooooooooow.  Like molasses-in-winter slow.  He can make it work to his advantage, lulling defenders into a false sense of security, but it's probably his biggest fault.  That, and his team-high 20% turnover rate.

By far the best player on the team, however, is the pure scoring talent of Jordan Adams.  A foot injury sustained on the final play of UCLA's Pac-12 semifinal win over Arizona probably had the triple-effect of pausing his NBA dreams, costing his team a conference crown, and getting his coach fired.  That's how important this kid is.
I'm a big fan of Adams
The 6-5 sophomore shooting guard posts an offensive rating near 125, can finish at the rim (highest non-forward ATR FG% on the squad), hits his free throws (84%), and generally makes himself an impossible player to guard.  Don't just think of him as an offense-only player, however, he plays more than enough defense, even posting the nation's 3rd-highest steal rate.  I expect him to torch the Buffs tonight.

Up front, the Wear twins, David and Travis, are back for their senior campaigns.  The pair combine for 13/7, and you can generally bet that at least one will be on the court at any given time.  Splitting time with the twins is developing big man Tony Parker.  The 6-9 sophomore is not quite 'there' yet, but his 8/6 averages in limited minutes tell the story of a young forward who could blossom into a monster over the next few years.
The even dress alike!
Rounding out the starting lineup is 6-5 junior Norman Powell, who rather quietly averages over 10 points per game.  He does a good job getting to the rim, and his efficiency numbers are elevated as a result.

Off the bench come a pair of freshmen sharpshooters: Bryce Alford and Zach LaVine.  Alford is, of course the son of the head coach.  He was originally committed to New Mexico before his dad got the new job. Cry 'nepotism' if you want, but the kid can shoot (50% from deep).  LaVine, however, is an even better shooter.  His eFG is in the national top-30, and he's a tick under 47% from beyond the arc in more attempts than Alford.  CU needs to guard these guys from the second they leave the scorer's table.

Coaching - 

Welcome to the conference, Steve Alford.  He may not have been UCLA's first choice to replace Ben Howland - honestly, he probably wasn't in anyone's top-10 to get the job - but Alford is at least... well... not Ben Howland.
I bet Dan Guerrero would like a second pass at this hire...
Speaking of the former head coach, I'm still not sold on why Howland was fired.  Sure, the institutional expectations are high, but that fanbase barely lifts a finger to support that program.  Honestly, I wouldn't give a damn what they have to say.  You show up, you get to have outrageous expectations.  You sit at home, or on your hands, then you deserve the status quo.

Anyways, Alford comes to Westwood from New Mexico where... his resume wasn't all that impressive.  He originally came to New Mexico from Iowa after posting... a resume that wasn't all that impressive. Combined over 14 seasons at the two schools, he made the Tournament six times and never made the Sweet Sixteen, only producing a 5-7 record in the Dance. And he's coaching UCLA?  The same program built by John Wooden (*TOKEN WOODEN REFERENCE*)? I take it back, maybe Dan Guerrero should've called Tad.

Of course, before Alford even coached a game in Los Angeles, the fans were up in arms.  Not only was there the whole 'not qualified' thing, but there were some major skeletons in his closet.  Back at Iowa, Alford shamefully tried to sweep a sexual assault from one of his players under the rug.  He has since apologized for playing accomplice after the fact, but that doesn't change the history.  Yeah, the dude is a scumbag.  God only knows how he keeps getting promoted after covering up something like that, and being mediocre at his job.  Not that I care, but UCLA deserves better.

Prediction - 

(My record on the season: 4-3.  Against the spread: 3-4.  Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +5.14 pts/gm)

Lines as of Wednesday night @ 10pm - UCLA - 1 1/2

Injuries can do funny things to teams, usually in unexpected ways.  Case-in-point, last season, Colorado loses 'Dre literally the day of the Oregon game, and they still come out and bull-rush the Ducks for a much-needed victory.  Days later, the still short-handed Buffs looked to cruise against the under-achieving Oregon State Beavers, yet stumble, embarrassingly, in the home finale.  Neither game made much sense.

Accordingly, I see everything set up for UCLA to repeat their winning effort from last season, and instinctively start suspecting a trap game.  Would it really surprise anyone that Colorado, at home, in front of a well-rested C-Unit, comes out and stuns the Bruins with an emotionally-charged effort that ends in victory? It certainly wouldn't surprise me.

Still, I just don't think the team is ready to rebound from the traumatic losses of Spencer and Tre'Shaun this quickly.  Further, UCLA is good enough the score through any attempts by CU to muck up the game by slowing the pace way down.  The Buffs will have opportunities to show that they're not defeated, but it won't be tonight.

UCLA 75 - CU 64


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