The UCLA Bruins officially opened their men’s college basketball season with a plethora of issues, concerns and lofty expectations.
From 1965 through 1975, the then new Pauley Pavilion men’s basketball home record was 149 wins and 2 losses, over the ten year span. After their win over Indiana State in the debut of the newly-renovated Pauley Pavilion they're now just 1-0.
The UCLA men’s basketball team has a big plate of expectations pinned on their highly rated and controversial freshmen class. Head Coach Ben Howland wanted to smoothly blend this new group of freshmen in with returning players, hoping to find new life. The expectations from Bruin fans, the media and others have historical and lofty Final Four aspirations . . . destination a NCAA championship title. However, Shabazz Muhammad's ineligibilty has put a serious damper on the Bruins parade.
Leaving all the baggage, speculation, accusations and injuries aside, the Bruins have the physical talent to challenge any team in the nation and depth at every position.
The most important position in college basketball today is the point guard. If you have a good one who makes the rest of the players on his team better, it will take you far. UCLA has two point guards, 6’2 Larry Drew a senior and Kyle Anderson a 6’9 freshman. Anderson is untested, but should be able to manage well in his transition to college basketball. Kyle will play several positions for the Bruins this year.
The Bruins center position is not one of the Bruins quicker positions but they have the versatility to show different looks. Josh Smith is still an X-factor. If he has put in the work this past off-season and he plays close to potential, Smith, will be nearly unstoppable on the college level. The Bruins can bring highly-touted freshmen center Tony Parker off the bench who will be able to rebound for the Bruins, if Smith stumbles into foul trouble.
The Bruins also have the luxury of bringing in Travis Wear or his brother David into the center spot to match up with other teams who may have a center that is more active on the perimeter. The Wear twins will hold down the power forward position with the option of playing Kyle Anderson against certain teams in this position. When Coach Holland wants to go with a quick small team he has the talent to do so.
The shooting guard position will be held down by 6’5 junior Tyler Lamb and freshmen Jordan Adams 6’5 and 6‘4” sophomore Norman Powell. All three shooting guards have range from three-point land and are athletic enough to be good defensive players on the perimeter. Shabazz Muhammad can also play the shooting guard position, as well as, his normal small forward position. Shabazz at this stage of his game does most of his damage 15 feet in and around the basket. Kyle Anderson could also play some small forward for the Bruins.
Coach Howland has multiple teams he can put on the floor to match up against different opponents. The Bruins have interchangeable players that will allow Howland to play inside out Power Ball with a taller and bulkier team: Smith, the Wear twins at the forward positions, Muhammad at shooting guard and Anderson at the point. The Bruins can play small ball with a quicker lineup with Anderson at center, Muhammad at power forward, Lamb at small forward, Adams or Powell at the 2 and Larry Drew bringing the ball up the floor.
What remains to be seen is whether the Bruins have the intangibles to beat elite competition. Do they play as a team not worrying about who gets the credit? Does the team execute the fundamentals on a high level? Do the players have the championship mindset that will match and then supersede any opponents’ desire to win? Can the team stay consistently emotionally balanced and focused on the mission? Is the team and each individual conditioned to do forty minutes when called for? Will the team fight to the end?
The UCLA Bruins have a supersized menu from which to select. Will they fill up their plate before it is one and done?