The UCLA Bruins have yet to live up to the defensive reputation that head coach Steve Alford developed with his teams at New Mexico. They are plenty talented, but we all know the adage about what can happen when talent doesn't work hard. They have a kid named Kyle Anderson who runs the offense at the point, is second on the team in scoring... and also happens to be 6'9".
The Bruins are a tight group that shoots well (19th in adjusted offensive efficiency), even from distance (16th); eight players see at least 18 minutes per game, and Jordan Adams is both the team's leading scorer (17.2 ppg) and their second worst three-point shooter (.361 3PT) among that group. He is also one of only three players attempting at least three shots per game from long range, so Alford's boys know when to pick their spots.
In their loss against Utah, they shot well from three (42%) and out-rebounded the Utes (35-31), but in their other eight losses the Bruins shot a horrific 28% from distance and were out-rebounded by an average of almost eight per game. They have some very definite holes in their game that can be exposed by the right team. If you can rebound well enough to keep a fast, transition-based offense grounded, you may have a shot.
Unfortunately, the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes are not likely to be that team. They went 5-9 in non-conference play, and outside of a last-second three to beat Indiana State up in Alaska, they didn't really beat anyone of substance - certainly not anybody of UCLA's caliber. James Woodard's 15.7 ppg lead the Hurricanes, and he's been hot of late, to the tune of 18.2 ppg during the team's current 11 game winning streak.
Unfortunately, he is the only strong three-point shooter (270th in 3PT%) and is also their leading rebounder at only 5.8 rpg, with teammate Rashad Smith behind him at 4.9 per game. Those two factors don't solve a 2-3 zone, even a lazy one like UCLA's can be at times. Plus, their guard-heavy team doesn't really have an answer for someone like the 6'10" Travis Wear (or his twin brother David Wear) or Tony Parker if he gets going down low.
Why Tulsa Will Win
Because even a great team can have an off night, especially a very talented but not always cohesive defensive team up against a scorer who is on a tear. Also, did you know their head coach is Danny Manning? The same Danny Manning who was a member of the 1988 Kansas Jayhawk champion team that was the last real "underdog" to win it all. He, if anyone, should know what it takes to eliminate a prohibitive favorite. They won't succeed launching threes over the Bruin zone, but maybe all that dribble-drive penetration their offense comes from will create enough chaos to get the winning margin.
Why UCLA Will Win
Because they have their weaknesses, but they are still one of the strongest - and tallest - teams Tulsa has played all season. Their one true defensive weakness, defending the three, is something the Hurricanes are unlikely to use to their advantage. The Wear brothers and coach Alford have all been to the dance before and can at the very least keep those weaknesses from being exposed for another game or two. They are not necessarily more athletic, but they have spent the season playing at a higher pace than Tulsa, and may wind up running them off the floor early.
Who Will Win
UCLA, and it won't be close. It's a shame that Louisiana Tech couldn't have gotten this matchup, as they would be at least a more formidable foe for the Bruins, if not a potential upset candidate. Tulsa may have several of the components necessary to win one game against a team like UCLA, but youth, experience, size and offensive inefficiency are all working against them. The Bruins will win this one as handily as they did many other non-conference games, by an 81-63 margin.
Date: Friday, March 21, 2014
Location: San Diego, CA
Time: 9:57 p.m. EST