Busting Brackets

UCLA Bruins: Season Preview


Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After looking at the Iowa Hawkeyes yesterday as our inaugural 2013-14 preview, today we will go all the to the west coast in the sunny state of California. It is there that a proud and storied franchise takes the court, memories of championships past hanging in the rafters. Though the UCLA Bruins have hit a rough patch after their three final four appearances in the late 00s, the team is always a threat to make some noise in the NCAA.

With a history and a legacy like the one left behind by John Wooden, UCLA has always been a recruiting force and by extension, a major player in the Pac-12. Last season, they won the conference for the 31st time but were unceremoniously sent packing in the round of 64 of the NCAA tournament.

Following a buzz worthy off-season in which the Bruins fired their head coach, Ben Howland, after a decade at the helm of the team. After a series of disappointing seasons and some issues with NCAA sanctions, Howland was deemed expendable by UCLA and was eventually replaced by Steve Alford. Along with Howland’s firing, Shabazz Muhammad, the team’s leading scorer, declared for the NBA draft as was expected.

With all of these changes, how will UCLA adapt for the upcoming season?

Key Departures: Shabazz Muhammad, Guard (NBA), Larry Drew II, Point Guard (Graduated)

Key Arrivals: Zach Lavine, Point Guard (4*). Bryce Alford, Shooting Guard(3*), Noah Allen, Small Forward (3*)


While the Bruins may be losing their top scorer, they are a very versatile team that has a lot of options on offense. Ranked 28th in the nation last year in scoring, averaging 74.7 points per game, UCLA likes to score by sharing the ball. The team was 11th in the NCAA in team assists with 16.1 per game, and that was with a black hole in the offense in the form of Shabazz Muhammad. Without Muhammad to stop the ball like he did so often last season, the number of assists could go up in the upcoming season for the Bruins.

Lost in the Muhammad show last season was fellow freshmen Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson. Adams was second in the team in scoring and was almost never mentioned by anyone outside of UCLA campus. From the field, he shot an effective .447% and will be expected to carry a lot of the offense for the Bruins this season. If Adams was able to improve on his three point stroke, he will become a dangerous offensive weapon that will be virtually impossible to stop. As for Anderson, his versatility and toughness is the sort of skills needed to help a team play two way basketball. The 6”9 forward averaged 8.6 rebounds to lead the team last year, doing it from the small forward position. On top of his rebounding efforts, Anderson displayed great vision for a bigger player, dishing out 3.5 assists per game. His ability to move the ball from the inside will be a key part of UCLA’s attack on the offensive end. If Anderson has improved offensively, he should be ready to take a big step in his sophomore season and become the team’s best all around player.

In the post, the Wear twins, David and Travis make paint defense one of UCLA’s best assets. While both have had some struggles in their NCAA career so far, by the end of last season they were really rounding into form. While not terrific rebounders, their height and leaping ability makes them good interior defenders and causes opponents to think twice about attacking the paint against the Bruins. If Tony Parker, a freshman last year and not the star point guard of the San Antonio Spurs, can develop his potential into a paint roaming big man, the Bruins could have some of the best inside defense in the entire NCAA.


Their biggest hole is left not by Muhammad’s departure, which Adams will be able to fill, but by Larry Drew II graduating and finishing his NCAA career. After starting off at UNC and eventually transferring to UCLA, Drew was the mastermind behind the Bruins’ heavy passing system last season. He averaged 7.3 assists and found a lot of open guys for easy buckets. Without their starting point guard, incoming freshman Zach Lavine could be counted on heavily to fill in as the primary playmaker. That is a lot of pressure to place on a first year player, especially when the guy before you spent most of his NCAA career setting up guys with easy scoring opportunities.

In terms of a learning curve, there is no position that is more difficult than being a point guard. The 1 is expected to be an extension of the coach on the floor and it requires a lot of self confidence and basketball IQ to run a team, especially as a freshman. Lavine will need to assert his style on the team and show quickly that he is more than capable of taking over for Drew. If he isn’t able to do that, it could be tough for the Bruins to run an effective offense.

Offensively, the Bruins are not fortunate to have a naturally skilled post scorer. Travis Wear showed signs of improvement in that area last year but he still has a ways to go to become a truly dominant big man. Without that kind of player down low, a lot more scoring has to be done from the wings which is always a harder way to score. That sometimes leads to rough patches for the team where no one can really get themselves going. It will be up to the coaches to find ways to design effective plays revolving around Adams and Anderson in order to open up the floor for their other players.

Speaking of coaches, another big change over comes in the coaching change from the off season. As mentioned above, Ben Howland has been replaced with Steve Alford. With a new coach, often comes a new system. The returning players have gotten used to playing a certain style of basketball but it more than likely that Alford will arrive at UCLA with his own playbook. While basketball is not as complicated as football when it comes to learning new plays and systems, there could still be a period where the team struggles as they are adding new concepts to their repertoire.

Alford is a good coach but has garnered a reputation that he leaves his teams high and dry when the press becomes too negative. Since this will be his first season, and he is now at UCLA, the spotlight will be shined brightly on him and expectations will be high from the start. Though Howland struggled by the end of his time at UCLA, he was able to coach them to three final fours and managed to get a lot of strong recruiting classes. Alford will be expected to do the same and surpass what Howland did for the Bruins. It will be interesting to see how he will manage with that kind of pressure.

What to expect from UCLA next year:

While Muhammad did have some holes in his game, he was still an important part of the team and so was Drew. Their play was a pretty big factor in the Bruins winning the Pac-12 last season.

Expectations from UCLA campus is that they should do the same this season but that is easier said than done. Arizona has only gotten better with the addition of two spectacular freshmen in Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Oregon is also always a strong contender for the top spot in the conference. Another team that could go toe to toe with the Bruins is their rivals, the California Golden Bears who have added high scoring guard Jabari Bird and show a ton of promise heading into the season.
A combination of a strong Pac-12, UCLA’s coaching change and having a new starting point guard leads me to believe that UCLA could disappoint this season. This is especially true early on when they will still be figuring out their new coach and trying to adapt to his style. That isn’t to say that I think they will tank completely. With their current roster, the Bruins should have no issue making the NCAA tournament. Without Muhammad, Adams should burst onto the scene and make a play for a spot on an all conference team. The same could be said of Anderson who has the versatility that very few could match.

Depending on their seeding and match up, the Bruins could win a game or two in the NCAA tournament. By the end of the season, they should be meshing together well and comfortable in their style of play. Lavine should also be feeling much more at home with his duties as the point guard. All of those factors could make them sleepers to make a deep run into March Madness.

While I expect to disappoint over the regular season, I believe UCLA will make it to the round of 16 before bowing out at the end of the year and ultimately, that would be a successful first season for coach Alford.