UCLA basketball opens tomorrow night at 9:06 p.m. Pacific time in a game streaming for free on the PAC 12 Network. A lot of UCLA fans are worried or expecting an early season choke by the Bruins in a game like tonight against Montana State. I don’t think that is going to happen or that that fear is relevant. This is not a Ben Howland team . Ben Howland coached "Hoosiers" style as in the movie . In Hoosiers, in the opening scenes the coach won’t even let the players shoot. He was tearing them down to build them back up again. That was Howland. An early season Howland team would play under its potential. When there was less talent and not much margin for error, there were problems.
That is not Steve Alford. Alford’s last four teams at New Mexico started 12-0, 10-1, 15-2 and 12-0. At UCLA last season he started 8-0. UCLA is not going to lose tomorrow night. UCLA is going to start 4-0 until the Battle for Atlantis. (Although Chris is worried about Sunday)
But no one is worried about Montana State. UCLA will win tonight. This also may be the night for gaudy numbers but hopefully it is night to take a long look at the bench.
Longtime Dana Altman of Oregon assistant Brian Fish is the new Montana State coach. Making guesses on assistants is always a risky but this may be a bit of a transition period. Fish seems more like an offense first coach but he inherits a Montana State team than finished 9 out of 11 in scoring offense and 10 of 11 in Field Goal Percentage. This is part of the reason Montana State is predicted to finish in tenth place in the Big Sky.
It gets worse. Montana lost their top two scorers from last season, their front court, and their first and third leading rebounders. The latter problem showed in their exhibition were they were beat on the boards in the first half by UM Western.
Montana State just does not have much inside. The projected senior starter t Center, 6’7" Blake Brumwell averaged less than a point a game last season. All the returning bigs last year except Eric Norman did not even rebound well and Norman on offense likes to shoot threes. Maybe the Freshman Big 6’9" Quinn Price will make a difference.
Bottom line, I think I see a big Tony Parker night on offense. It will be interesting to watch if Kevon Looney can dominate the boards as well.
The Montana State guards get a little more interesting. Montana State at least has some experience here. 5’11" Junior Point Guard Marcus Colbert led Montana State in minutes and three pointers (made at a respectable 37% clip). The other senior guard Michael Dison is even shorter at 5’9" and not a particular good shooter. However, the third guard Stephen Holm is a relative giant at 6’3" and was one of the top three shooters in the conference.
Really it does not matter. This is a bad team in a transition period to a new coach. This should be an easy game with the starters on the floor, much like the exhibition game.
This brings us on what to watch: the bench. While the starting lineup seems locked, the bench seems wide open. This is the night to give the bench some minutes and Isaac Hamilton some time as point. This is one of the nights that could go a ways to determining the sixth man. From what Alford has been saying, I have to think the race is wide open. A possible for each member of the bench to win that competition is below.
1. Can Noah Allen defend a wing or a much smaller 2? If Noah can be a good defender he can win the sixth man job, especially if he can defend a guard.
2. Wannah Bail. Wannah is the best athlete, maybe on the team. Can Bail play smart? Play hard defense, rebound and not to look to score except inside. Wannah took some jumpers in the exhibition that had Bruin announcer Tracy Murray cringing with reason. He can get lost on defense.
3. Thomas Welsh. Welsh is the most interesting. Scouts love him. But can he use his height to dominate? Chris has often pointed out he does not run well. I am also disturbed that he seems to like a face up jumper instead of using his height in the post. Welsh is only a five. I am beginning to think Steve has concerns as well as he talks up other lineups without Tony or Welsh. To me this is not about Tony as much as it is about Welsh.
4. The wildcard is Gyorgy Goloman. Goloman is quicker than Welsh or Parker and supposedly can shoot the best of the group. But can he rebound or play D? Goloman is the long shot for sixth man and needs to make the most of his opportunity tonight. If he doesn’t, he may be the ninth man in an eight or less man rotation.
In honor of Achilles, some pre game guess are requested in your comments. (1)How much will the bench score, (2)who will lead the bench in scoring, and (3) who will get the most minutes off the bench.