College Basketball season is upon us! The PAC-12 Basketball Media Day is tomorrow (look for BN's open thread and recap), the open practice is Wednesday, October 29, the exhibition game is Friday, October 31 (likely to be graveyard-quiet in keeping with the Halloween scheduling) vs. Azusa Pacific, the "secret scrimmage" with UNLV is November 8 at Pauley and the season opener is Friday, November 14 vs. Montana State.
Usually, the main, and possibly only, news to arise from the Media Day is the coach's poll. BN has been sharing the results of national polls and previews as they appear. USA Today has the Bruins outside of the Top 25 - the implication is that we are at #33 by amount of votes received. That puts us behind Arizona, Stanford and Utah in the PAC-12. This preview from CBS Sports is a shocker to me. The author has us finishing sixth in the league and missing the Tournament. The odd thing about is that he gets the UCLA-specific analysis right:
There might not be a team in America who lost as much talent as UCLA did this offseason. Point guard/forward Kyle Anderson and guard Jordan Adams depart after leading UCLA to a well-fought Sweet 16 matchup with Florida. Potential star guard Zach LaVinealso left for the NBA after being unhappy with his role last season. Then, the Bruins got more bad news when they found out top recruit Jonah Boldenis ineligible for the season academically (although he will practice with the team). The cherry on top was when potential point guard Jon Octeus was denied admission to the university. That leaves the Bruins somewhat short-handed this season, but it doesn't mean they'll fall off of a cliff. Freshman forward Kevon Looney had an excellent summer this off-season, and is expected to step into the role vacated by the aforementioned departures. Last year's glue guy Norman Powell also returns and will be forced to take on a heavier offensive burden. And of course, there's the Alford situation that the coach mentioned in the section above. The talent level here is high, but it involves a lot of players who have never played these roles on the collegiate level. Calling UCLA the second-most talented team in the conference isn't an exaggeration, but there is a real lack of experience and a lot of potential pitfalls that could make this team stumble. If the Bruins finished anywhere from second to seventh in the conference, it wouldn't surprise me.
But he doesn't apply the same logic to the other teams. How are we behind Cal who lost their two best players and didn't add anyone of significance? You'll have to wait for BN's season previews for our latest thoughts, but I have to say, acknowledging the stream of bad news, that it's become trendy to rate UCLA Basketball in the mid-pack just as it was trendy to pick UCLA Football to make the playoffs.
Recruiting is also approaching DEFCON 1. Brandon Ingram and Stephen Zimmerman visit Friday, October 24 and Jaylen Brown and Carlton Bragg visit Friday, October 31 (Brown's may have been bumped up by a day). This comes on the heels of the mega-events at Kansas, Kentucky and Arizona. Here's Zimmerman on the Kentucky visit and Bragg on the Kansas visit. How will UCLA compare with these extravaganzas when Pauley will likely be a tomb for the exhibition game on the 24th and the season opener on the 31st? We've spoken about relative recruiting strengths many times. Calipari's Kentucky is a brand now. Kids want the visit and the offer, and apparently, they will go knowing they might play in a platoon system. That said, Calipari doesn't recruit the West Coast (our problem really is Arizona), and in the end, there are a mix of factors that go into the athlete's final decision. I thought it was instructive to check out Kevon Looney's 247 page. Of 33 prognosticators, no one picked him to go to UCLA. Duke had 73% of the vote. I believe he has family here, he clicked with the staff and he simply wanted to come out to LA.
Speaking of Arizona, they had their annual Red-Blue Scrimmage last Saturday night (go here, here and here). Pretty much everyone acknowledges that they can't be touched in the league this year, and I won't spend a lot of time on them in previews because of that, but my quick impressions were:
- The biggest surprise is 7'0" freshman center from Serbia, Dusan Ristic. Where did he come from? He's probably better than Tarczewski.
- Freshman wing Stanley Johnson led all-scorers. He's already a man. He's not super-athletic, but he's just too strong for a college 2 or 3 to cover.
- Ashley is back, but he's either nervous or rusty.
- Their shooting is still a problem, and therein lies the opponent's real chance to defend them.
UPDATE: Steve Alford gave a press conference late Tuesday. The main takeaways are: Looney is slowed by a hip inujury but he's practicing, Looney is "like a big guard", the ratio of man-to-zone will be somewher between 50-50 to 70-30 (that's not a ringing endorsement of the defense), in terms of leadership it's a quiet team and Allen and Bail have been pleasant surprises.