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CSUN at UCLA Basketball Preview: Can the Bruins Beat a Good Mid-Major?

After one disaster (Cal Poly) and one near disaster (UCI) can the Bruins possibly beat a good mid-major?

How will Howland use Kyle Anderson tonight?
How will Howland use Kyle Anderson tonight?
Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

How low will UCLA go? CSUN is a much better team than Cal Poly. Based on the season so far, I honestly think UCLA should be an underdog tonight. Unless Ben goes zone and benches certain players, CSUN could be on its way to beating UCLA.

The CSUN Matadors are better than most think and could be a handful for the Bruins. CSUN is 6-1 and but for some bad luck and a thin bench, probably would be 7-0. This is a team that the Bruins should beat but given the current state of the team, UCLA will be in some trouble tonight.

CSUN is coming off a loss to BYU. A loss that is a moral victory for CSUN and that was a lot closer than the score indicated as the CSUN website describes the game that was huge to BYU because of the presence of Jabari Parker for which 6500 student fans were wearing T-shirts:

Two excellent basketball teams competed with reckless abandon from start-to-finish. Neither team refused to surrender. A sellout crowd of 20,900 (the largest crowd to witness a Matador game in school history) yelled to the top of their lungs on a Saturday night in a game that will be remembered for a long, long time. . . .

The Matadors battled back from a 46-40 halftime deficit and a 66-55 deficit with 9:47 to play to take a 74-73 lead with 4:01 to play. But a 14-1 run in the final 3:44 of the contest proved to be CSUN's downfall, 87-75, to end the Matador's six game winning streak to start the 2012-13 season.

. . .

"This was a great environment, a great atmosphere, a really good basketball game," said Braswell. "We came out on the short end of the scoreboard, but I was really proud of the guys. They fought back after being down. We showed a lot of heart and poise. This was a great learning opportunity for us."

I don't think this will be a team in awe of Pauley and certainly not of this UCLA team. I watched the second half of the game and if not for a minor injury to CSUN's star Stephan Hicks, the altitude and 22,000 fans screaming at the top of their lungs, CSUN wins. CSUN starters played tough man to man defense and while their bench had some issues on offense, Hicks and Maxwell can be forces on offense. Unlikely many of the teams UCLA has played, CSUN has some players who could play at the PAC 12 level.

This starts with Hicks. Stephan Hicks is a 6'6" who will be difficult for UCLA to cover man to man. He is the best swing UCLA has faced this year, I really hope Norman Powell gets the assignment because I am not sure how Kyle Anderson or Shabazz would do in this match up. Unlike Starks of Georgetown who really improved from one season to the next, everyone knows Hicks is good:

2011-12 Season (Redshirt Freshman)
Named a Mid-Major Freshman All-American by ... Voted Big West Freshman of the Year, the second Matador in the program's history to earn top freshman honors ... Ian Boylan earned Freshman of the Year recognition after the conclusion of the 2001-02 season ... Earned All-Big West Honorable Mention ... Ended the 2011-12 season ranked third in the Big West Conference with 7.1 rebounds per game, fifth with his .813 free throw percentage and 2.79 offensive rebounds per game average, sixth in defensive rebounds per game, and seventh in scoring with 15.1 points per game.

Hicks has improved on this and is the best player outside the Georgetown squad that UCLA has faced this year. While Hicks is the best player, CSUN has some players to go with him starting with the other Stephen, Stephen Maxwell. Maxwell is an inside player who is solid and a good shooter who likes to play in the paint:

2011-12 Season (Freshman)
Ended the season ranked fourth in the Big West Conference with 3.00 offensive rebounds per game, and seventh with 6.4 total rebounds per game ... Tops on the team with a .524 field goal percentage (75-for-143), 147 rebounds, and third with 8.6 points per game and 75 field goals made.

The starting point guard is 6 foot Josh Green. Green takes half his shots from three and is a very good free throw shooter. He also plays some shooting guard. Green will undoubtedly shoot a number of threes. It will be interesting to see where Howland puts Anderson on Defense, I would guess covering Green.

The other starting guard is 5'9" Allan Guei. Guei is good at stealing the ball and not much else. Despite his height he is not the point. Before the year is over look for freshman Landon Drew, Larry Drew II's brother to replace Guei in the lineup. Drew is also the backup point guard. Guei will present an interesting matchup issue. Will Anderson guard Guei who is a foot taller than?

The last starter is freshman Center Tre-Hall Edmerson. Edmerson sticks out because of his size 6'9" and his dreadlocks. He does not really look to shoot though (although he did have 5 assists against BYU) and has fouled out of two games so far. He does not mind leaving the paint and if Josh or Tony Parker is in the game look for them to cover Maxwell and the four to cover Edmerson.

Besides Drew the Matadors have three players who regularly get on the court. Backup Center is a wide body bruiser 6'7" 275 pound Brandon Perry who is averaging a foul every five minutes. Perry is strictly inside and it will be fun to watch Perry against a bigger Smith and/or Parker, if Howland plays it that way. Freshman Donovan Johnson and Trevone Williams also see some floor time but there is a significant drop off when these guys get in and Williams is shooting under 20% for the season.

CSUN is the second most talented team UCLA has played this year. Given the current state of the team, that does not bode well for tonight.

Go Bruins.