November 28, 2007

State of the Program - Basketball

So. Back again – once more, hopefully for longer than a couple days. Life intervenes. Let’s see if this’ll stick this time. Plenty has happened since I last posted, so let’s try and get up to speed from the point I left off (end of October).

Let’s start with the good news. And, where UCLA basketball is concerned, there’s plenty of news indeed, most of it good. The Bruins are the top-ranked team in college basketball, at least as far as the coaches are concerned, ahead of the North Carolina Tar Heels. UCLA remains #2 in the AP poll, behind UNC.

Though the Bruins have put in a number of victories against sub-par competition, they have a pair of solid non-conference wins already. Both came during the CBE Classic, held in Kansas City. In the CBE semi-final, the Bruins struggled in the first half before jumping to a 20-point lead in an eventual 12-point victory over a good Maryland team from the ACC. Following that, UCLA somehow managed a come-from-behind nailbiter against top-15 opponent Michigan State in the CBE finals.

All this success has come despite the absence of preseason All-American point guard Darren Collison, and 3-point specialist Michael Roll (not to mention sophomore forward James Keefe). The injury toll continues to rise, with F/C Alfred Aboya going down due to a fractured orbital bone during UCLA’s win over Yale. However, relief appears on the horizon. In addition to having the junior forward cleared to potentially play as soon as tonight’s game against George Washington, Collison appears to be nearing a return. Roll’s return date is still uncertain, though likely in the near future, while Keefe will be out until at least the start of conference play, if not longer.

And if there have been plenty of injuries, the silver lining is the increased minutes for many of UCLA’s younger talent, which could pay off handsomely down the road. The heavy workload and on-court success for top freshman recruit Kevin Love comes as no surprise, but several other UCLA reserves have received key minutes. Notably, sophomore point guard Russell Westbrook has offered solid minutes in replacing Collison, averaging over 12 points and 6 assists a game thus far.

The Bruins face a key test this week, with Texas, the #8 team in both polls, coming to Pauley on Sunday. Ken Pomeroy’s excellent writing has moved over to Basketball Prospectus, but his statistical wizardry can still be found at And according to his tempo-free stats, Texas has been the most effective offensive team in the country so far, scoring over 1.3 points per possession (the Bruins score a little less than 1.1). Texas's Effective FG% is over 65% - for comparison, the Bruins are at 50%. A brief explanation of the stat can be found here. The Longhorns will be an excellent test for UCLA’s now-trademark defensive intensity, and should the Bruins prevail in that contest they will almost certainly enter conference play undefeated. And even with a loss, UCLA will begin the Pac-10 season as a heavy favorite, challenged only by Washington State. Because all the other major conference contenders suffered surprising upsets in the early going, the Pac-10 seems weaker than initially advertised. The UCLA Bruins, however, do not.

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