Know your 4.8-second rival: UCLA Bruins

USA TODAY Sports

LEAVE YOUR TRIFECTA PICKS IN COMMENTS.

A young team with about three different players capable of pulling a Le'Bryan Nash on any given night.

A passive team that can be knocked out of its game plan by an aggressive opponent.

UCLA is both of these things. The Bruins have been better on paper than on the court thus far, ranking ahead of Illinois in Ken Pomeroy's ratings despite not actually beating anybody interesting (and losing to Cal Poly), but the components are all here. UCLA is better now than it was a month ago, and the young Bruins will be better in February than they are now. Here's to hoping things don't all click until after tonight.

UCLA Bruins (9-3)


UCLA
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
69.6
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.14 0.97
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.32 1.11
2-PT FG% 52.8% 45.1%
3-PT FG% 34.7% 34.1%
FT% 72.1% 64.7%
True Shooting % 56.8% 49.8%




UCLA Opp.
Assists/Gm 18.3 13.0
Steals/Gm 7.8 6.9
Turnovers/Gm 11.8 13.5
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
2.22 1.48




UCLA Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 11.1 12.6
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 11.9 11.0
Difference +0.8 -1.6

The Bruins don't quite rebound as well as their size suggests they should (they are fifth in Effective Height, and only one regular is under 6'4, 215), but they take pretty good shots, they have a true point guard (with a familiar name), and they will almost certainly win the ball handling battle tonight. But they do get rather passive in allowing guards to penetrate, and they struggle to leverage defenses into bad shots. They are, as you would expect from a young team full of blue-chippers, a team that brings a lot to the table and takes quite a bit off of it.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

UCLA Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

UCLA Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 12 48 UCLA
Effective FG% 42 12 MU
Turnover % 18 313 UCLA big
Off. Reb. % 100 68 MU
FTA/FGA 129 9 MU big
MU Offense vs UCLA Defense Ranks

MU Offense UCLA Defense Advantage
Efficiency 20 106 MU
Effective FG% 117 147 MU
Turnover % 81 253 MU big
Off. Reb. % 5 55 MU
FTA/FGA 188 17 UCLA big

Where the Bruins are weakest

They are incredibly passive on defense. They don't force turnovers (253rd in TO%, 130th in Steal%), they don't block many shots (119th in Block%), they don't force bad shots (they are 114th in 2PT% defense, 207th in 3PT% defense, and, if it's your thing, they are 228th in 3PA per FGA). They are also green (302nd in Experience) and thin (254th in Bench Minutes, with two contributors having already left the team this winter). Quite a few red flags there.

Where they are best

Passivity does have one advantage: UCLA doesn't foul much. And when the Bruins do foul, they will likely foul a big man who is more likely to miss his free throws. And if you aren't hitting your shots, they will make you pay by grabbing most of the rebounds. (Mizzou is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, however, even without Tony Criswell, so this could be a fun battle to watch.)

Really, though, UCLA's strengths are on the offensive side of the ball. The Bruins almost never turn the ball over (which is a problem considering Mizzou almost never forces turnovers), they take pretty good, close shots (42nd in Effective FG%, 29th in 2PT% -- they don't shoot many 3's at all, though when they do, the shots are pretty open), they don't get shots blocked (36th in Block%), they pass well (27th in Assists Per FG Made), and they are really, really long. If this team does learn to play the type of defense Ben Howland became known for a while back (and has become less known for since), it will pretty quickly become an outstanding team. But that's an enormous "if."

UCLA's Season to Date

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    vs. No. 50 Texas (65-63)
    No. 105 Indiana State (86-59)
    vs. No. 119 Georgia (60-56)
    No. 139 UC Irvine (80-79, OT)
    No. 145 Fresno State (91-78)
    No. 174 CS Northridge (82-56)
    No. 181 James Madison (100-70)
    No. 182 Long Beach State (89-70)
    No. 317 Prairie View A&M (95-53)
  • Losses
    vs. No. 23 San Diego State (69-78)
    vs. No. 38 Georgetown (70-78)
    No. 206 Cal Poly (68-70)

Again, the results haven't met the potential yet. For any semi-impressive win (Texas, the 27-point win over Indiana State), there is a loss and an iffy win.

Average Score vs. Top 100: Opponent 73.0, UCLA 68.0
Average Score vs. Top 101+: UCLA 83.4, Opponent 65.7

It appears that UCLA's defense is relatively consistent no matter the opponent, but the offense is still hampered considerably by better defenses. Does Mizzou have a "better defense"? We'll see. Like UCLA, the components for a great Mizzou defense are there, but the results have been a little hit-or-miss at times.

UCLA Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Jordan Adams (6'5, 220, Fr.) 17.0 0.63 27.0 MPG, 18.2 PPG (64% 2PT, 37% 3PT, 87% FT), 4.3 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.2 TOPG
Shabazz Muhammad (6'6, 225, Fr.) 14.7 0.53 27.7 MPG, 18.8 PPG (50% 2PT, 48% 3PT, 75% FT), 5.0 RPG, 2.1 TOPG
Kyle Anderson (6'9, 235, Fr.) 11.8 0.42 28.1 MPG, 9.0 PPG (47% 2PT, 14% 3PT, 65% FT), 8.7 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.8 SPG, 2.0 TOPG
Larry Drew II (6'2, 180, Sr.) 10.2 0.30 33.8 MPG, 5.9 PPG (51% 2PT, 30% 3PT, 63% FT), 8.5 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG
Travis Wear (6'10, 230, Jr.) 8.2 0.28 29.0 MPG, 10.1 PPG (48% 2PT, 25% 3PT, 73% FT), 6.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 1.9 TOPG
David Wear (6'10, 230, Jr.) 7.7 0.34 22.5 MPG, 7.8 PPG (53% 2PT, 25% 3PT, 80% FT), 4.7 RPG
Norman Powell (6'4, 215, So.) 7.4 0.29 25.3 MPG, 8.9 PPG (59% 2PT, 35% 3PT, 74% FT), 2.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.3 TOPG
Tony Parker (6'9, 275, Fr.) 1.9 0.22 8.6 MPG, 3.3 PPG (56% 2PT, 46% FT), 1.4 RPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls. It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: Muhammad (32%), Adams (27%), Anderson (20%), T. Wear (20%)
  • Highest Floor%: Drew (53%), Adams (46%), Parker (44%), D. Wear (42%)
  • Highest %Pass: Drew (87%), Anderson (65%), Powell (45%), D. Wear (37%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Parker (60%), D. Wear (52%), Muhammad (51%), T. Wear (50%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Parker (21%), Muhammad (19%), Adams (16%), T. Wear (11%)
  • Highest %T/O: T. Wear (11%), Muhammad (8%), Powell (7%), Anderson (6%)
  • This team revolves around Larry Drew II driving and dishing to Jordan Adams and Shabazz Muhammad. Adams is a four-star freshman from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, and Muhammad, from Las Vegas, was the No. 1 recruit in the nation according to Rivals.com. Adams has brought a more well-rounded game to the table thus far (hence the higher AdjGS average), but if there is a single player with Le'Bryan Nash potential on the floor, it is Muhammad, who has hit 11 of 23 3-pointers this season. (Kyle Anderson, by the way? Also a five-star freshman. Ben Howland has been fighting for his job of late, but job insecurity has not prevented him from recruiting the blue-chippers.)
  • There are quite a few potentially interesting one-on-one battles in this game: Phil Pressey vs. Larry Drew II, Laurence Bowers vs. Kyle Anderson, Alex Oriakhi vs. Random Wear Twin. But the game could come down to how well Keion Bell fares defensively versus either Muhammad or Adams (there's also a decent chance Bell faces off versus Drew a bit, but that leaves Pressey handling a much bigger guard) and how Earnest Ross performs against either Anderson or a Wear. Ross is the perfect kind of defender to throw against a freshman; he's a big, strong scrapper that freshmen haven't faced much of just yet. But Ross will bear added responsibility in this game thanks to Tony Criswell's injury; we'll see how he handles it.
  • (We'll also see how either Stefan Jankovic or Ryan Rosburg handles a little bit of added playing time, too.)

Keys to the Game

  1. Mizzou on the offensive glass. Offensive rebounding is one of Missouri's biggest strength (it might be it's single biggest strength), while defensive rebounding has been a decent-sized strength for UCLA. Can the Bruins keep Mizzou off of the glass and force the Tigers to make their jumpers?

  2. Flip vs. Drew. You like drive-and-dish point guards? This game is for you. Phil Pressey is quite easily the better scorer of the two players (if you're looking for "Oh no, this might not be our night" signs, "Larry Drew for 3 ... splash!" might be atop the list), but that won't matter if Drew can consistently beat him into the lane. Get the ball out of his hands, and you can clog up this UCLA offense pretty well. But look at Drew's assist numbers again. It's pretty damned difficult to get the ball out of his hands.

  3. Conditioning. It's the Christmas season, games aren't frequent, both offenses struggle to draw fouls, and both defenses avoid fouling for the most part. We could see long strings of play with no interruption. Mizzou just lost a key bench piece (Criswell), and UCLA really only plays about eight guys (7.5, really, since Tony Parker doesn't get a lot of playing time ... something about which he is not particularly pleased). Who wears down, and who is still cruising in fourth or fifth gear when the game hits about the eight-minute mark of the second half? Mizzou absorbed a ton of blows from Illinois, then calmly put the game away. Can the Tigers do it again two time zones to the left?

Prediction

Ken Pomeroy projects this as a 76-74 UCLA win, so use that as your starting point. Now ask two questions: Is UCLA ready to close a game against a good team? The Bruins couldn't against Georgetown and San Diego State. And how much better is Missouri now, as compared to its full-season product? Mizzou's three best performances have, in my opinion, come in the last three games. I freely expect that UCLA could come away with this win -- and that a loss to the Bruins might not look too bad in March -- but until Mizzou proves it is ready to take a step backwards, I'm going to ride the hot streak. I'll say Mizzou wins, 77-71. What say you?

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