Ben Ball Roundup: Nelson Impressions, Zone Defense, & Mississippi State Notes

Thank God for finals week. Not sure if I have ever typed that before. Given the injuries, drama our basketball team has gone through during this non-conference season, another week off from game action couldn't come at a more opportune time for the program. Bruins don't have a game till Saturday against Mississippi State Bulldogs due to their finals. This will allow them not only to fully focus on their finals, but more importantly continue to heal from the injuries suffered early in the season or in Reeves Nelson's case in last Saturday's game against Kansas.

As Jon Gold noted the UCLA medical staff is "optimistic" that Nelson will be ready to go on Saturday. Nelson in his first start not only reaffirmed our early impressions of him here on BN, he also impressed his opponent:

"He's going to be a good player," said Aldrich, who at 6feet 11 is 3 inches taller than Nelson. "He's real scrappy. You have to keep hitting him on the boards. He's one of those guys you love playing against, but you also hate it at the same time. You love guys who go after the ball really hard, but it's like, `Man, I have to keep boxing him out?"'

That's of course preseason All-American center Cole Aldrich of Kansas, who Nelson held to just 7 points on Saturday. Nelson brought the same energy and passion on defense, we got to used to by watching AA, RW, LRMAM, LMR and PAA. We have to keep our fingers crossed that he is feeling ok by Saturday and ready to go full speed against the Bulldogs.

Meanwhile, one issue we didn't discuss in our game wrap up thoughts was after all the chatter about playing zone, we didn't see any against Kansas. Per LAT's David Wharton Bruins stayed with the trademark man-to-man defense for couple of reasons:

First, Kansas is big but not as quick on the perimeter as teams such as Portland that have consistently beaten UCLA off the dribble.

Second, Kansas shoots with greater accuracy from outside.

"We watched film on them against zone, and they really attack it well,"  Howland said, adding: "It's harder to block out in zone coverage than it is in man coverage."

Even so, the Jayhawks penetrated enough to create problems and outscore UCLA 36-28 in the paint, which left Howland musing that maybe the zone "is something we should have looked at."

The Bruins still have concerns about being athletic enough -- at this point, at least -- to stay in front of the ball. Howland said they will continue to learn the zone in practice this week.

"There will be other teams where maybe it will be something to think about based on their personnel," he said.

That leads to the question whether we will see that zone against the Bulldogs on Saturday. Some early thoughts on those guys after the jump.

The Bulldogs (5-2) on paper are supposed to be a solid team. They surprised a lot of folks by getting hot in March and winning their conference tourney. All of their 5 starters returned this season. They were hoping that they would have the "services" of freshman Renardo Sidney this season. However, not to anyone's surprise Sidney and his family are still working with NCAA to clear up issues concerning financial statements around rental property.

The Bulldogs just like the Bruins have struggled a little early on even with a cupcake schedule. They lost by 14 points to Rider at home (!) to start the season. They then went on to lose against against Richmond (by 1 point) in the first game of the South Padre Island Invitational. Still they are coming into this game with a 2 game winning streak, the last one being a blowout win over St. Bonaventure at home.

Going back to the question of zone defense, it will be interesting to see whether we will see Bruins go to that against the Bulldogs. Looking through their KenPom scouting report, here are the Four Factors on Bulldogs:

Effective FG%:     55.2 [23]     44.1 [59]     48.7
Turnover %:     19.6 [105]     16.2 [335]     21.2
Off. Reb. %:     34.1 [142]     24.8 [8]     33.2
FTA/FGA:     33.4 [246]     21.5 [3]     37.7

So, on paper they appear to be a solid shooting team with an effctive FG % of 55.2 (23). They are also one of the better 3 pt shooting team in the country. However, the stat that jumps out though is the one regarding TOs. They seemed to be a turnover prone team, which leads me to think whether Howland will stick with his man-to-man defense hoping our guards can show the same tenacity on defense, they exhibited early on against Kansas (when Lee started for Anderson at pg).

The player to watch from the Bulldogs per CBS Sportsline.com:

C Jarvis Varnado looks like an early contender for Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Through the first six games he was averaging 14.5 points and 10.0 rebounds, while blocking 5.5 shots per game.

That means Reeves Nelson and co. will have their hands full again on Saturday.

I will try to gather more notes on the Bulldogs before Saturday. I'd like to hear from you guys if you have seen these guys play this season. They will have one more game in couple of days against DePaul. I am assuming it might be televised since it is part of the "SEC-Big East Invitational." We should probably check that game out to get a sense of that team. If any of you have already seen them this season, would love to hear your takes on what we can expect on Saturday.

GO BRUINS.

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