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Cal Men's Basketball Preview: UCLA Bruins

Cal welcomes the Baby Bruins to Haas Pavilion for their only matchup of the season!

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Viewing Details:

  • Gametime:  6:00pm
  • Network:  ESPN2

By all accounts, the men's basketball Baby Bruins from down South are having a disastrous season.  Picked in the preseason to finish 5th in the Pac-12, UCLA is currently in 9th place in the conference (ahead of the likes of lowly Furd, ASU & WSU).  Sitting with a superbly mediocre 15-12 overall record (and 6-8 in conference play), the Bruins are currently ranked #52 by Kenpom.  [Cal is currently twice as good at #26!]

What happened, you may ask?  One could posit that this is a mere continuation of what UCLA basketball has become as of late -- a team with a bunch of formerly highly-touted high school studs who got lost when they showed-up at Westwood.  Head coach Steve Alford has (so far) proven himself to be a fantastic recruiter -- but player development and on-court coaching/management are most definitely not his forte, at least not up to UCLA standards (just look at his body of work with the Bruins -- no need to get angry at the facts, Bruins fans).

Another potential reason for UCLA's decline this year -- their overreliance on Bryce Alford.  Bryce is an absolutely stud playmaker, but as a leader and floor distributor, he lacks much proficiency.  One has to wonder how that head coach-son thing works, especially at such a school that usually operates at a high-level.  Bryce often chooses to hold onto the ball too long, much to the detriment of his team members.

UCLA's Starting Five

Point Guard - Bryce Alford (6-3, 185 lbs, Jr)

This season, Bryce is averaging 36.4 minutes/game, 38.8% field goals made, 36.5% 3-pointers made, 4.0 rbg, 5.5 apg, 0.6 spg, and 16.1 points/game.  The most glaring deficiency - 0.6 steals/game - UCLA has got to get more defensive production from its point guard.

Shooting Guard - Aaron Holiday (6-1, 185 lbs, Fr)

Aaron is averaging 32.2 minutes/game, 39.4% field goals made, 41.0% 3-pointers made, 2.9 rbg, 3.9 apg, 1.5 spg, and 10.7 points/game.  Aaron is going to develop into a pretty good Bruin down the road, but his rookie season will be one to forget.

Small Forward - Isaac Hamilton (6-5, 195 lbs, Jr)

Isaac is averaging 34.8 minutes/game, 49.7% field goals made, 40.9% 3-pointers made, 4.3 rbg, 3.1 apg, 1.0 spg, and 17.0 points/game.  This is pretty solid production from the Isaac, but his this frame often gets abused by bigger and faster opponents.

Power Forward - Jonah Bolden (6-10, 220 lbs, So)

Jonah is averaging 21.5 minutes/game, 40.2% field goals made, 25.7% 3-pointers made, 5.1 rbg, 1.3 apg, 0.8 spg, and 4.7 points/game.  The points/game stat line has got to get better; Jonah is spending too much time on the court to produce only 0.2 points/minute for his team.

Center - Thomas Welsh (7-0, 245 lbs, So)

Thomas is averaging 27.3 minutes/game, 59.8% field goals made, 8.2 rbg, 0.5 apg, 1.1 bpg, 0.3 spg, and 11.5 points/game.  Thomas has progressed from his rookie campaign last season, but is still not a dominant force down low for the Bruins.  His 0.5 assists/game need to go up if he's going to help distribute the ball outwards to his teammates in order to better space the floor against defenses swarming down on him.

Cal vs. UCLA Matchup

According to Kenpom, Cal has a 75% chance of beating UCLA and is predicted to win by a score of 77-70.  The current Vegas betting lines also have Cal winning by 7 points.

Let's look at Kenpom's team head-to-head stats for Cal and UCLA:

Of note:

  • UCLA turns it over 17.1% of its offensive possessions, while Cal only causes turnovers on 13.6% of its defensive possessions.  Cal has got to capitalize on the turnover-prone Bruins.
  • UCLA gets rebounds on ⅓ of its offensive possessions, while Cal gets rebounds on 75% of its defensive possessions.  Cal's bigs have got to step it up against Bolden and Welsh.  I do expect Okoroh, Rooks, and Rabb to be able to dominate the defensive paint in this game.
  • UCLA gets the ball stolen from them on 9.3% of their offensive possessions, while Cal only has steals from 5.7% of its defensive possessions.  Once again, Cal has got to capitalize on the turnover-prone Bruins in this game.
  • When Cal is on offense, the numbers suggest that the Bruins are pretty evenly matched and might have success against the Golden Bears.

Key to Cal's Victory

DEFENSE!  How many times have we heard that defense is what wins?!

The numbers show it and Coach Martin has harped on his guys all year about it -- the guys can only win when they are focused on the defensive end.  Cal has plenty of scorers (especially with Jaylen Brown getting HOT as of late), so there's not much to worry about in terms of the Bears getting points.  But, limiting the Bruins - especially on our home court - in the paint and outward is going to be the key to winning.

The Bruins don't play a lot of team ball, particularly with Bryce Alford going iso a lot of times.  Expect Coach Martin to introduce some more hectic defensive schemes to confuse the Bruins offensively.  Also, expect a combo team one-on-one defensive shutdown approach by Singer, Mathews, and Bird on Alford.

Go Bears!