Tonight at 7:05 on the PAC 12 Network UCLA plays Coastal Carolina. Coastal Carolina is no cupcake, last season winning the Big South conference tournament and an NCAA bid. In the tournament they were on their way to making history as the first #16 seed leading #1 seed Virginia at half 35-30 before losing. They return all the starters and key players except their center and are predicted to win the Big South again.
That said, they won the Big South conference not the Big Ten. There is a reason that with a 21-12 record they were given a #16 seed. They lost to NIT Champs Minnesota, 19-14 Ole Miss, and NIT Seminfinalist Clemson. Besides Virginia, they also lost to possibly the only tournament other team they played, Sun Belt Champions and #13 NCAA Tournament seed UL Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns.
Maybe what sums them up is they played four out of the five games above close (blown out by Clemson) but really did not have a good win outside of conference.
All this is a roundabout way of saying this is a game UCLA should win but it is not an easy game.
Costal Carolina's Cliff Ellis is no stranger to big time basketball and last season won the "Gene Bartow" award, named for the former UCLA Coach.
Coastal Carolina's Cliff Ellis is the recipient of the 2014 Gene Bartow award.
Ellis led Coastal to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993 and became just the tenth coach in NCAA Division I history to lead four different programs in the NCAA Tournament and holds a career 6-7 record in the NCAA Tournament. He has taken two teams to the "Sweet 16" including his 1990 Clemson squad and his 1999 Auburn team.
The Gene Bartow award recognizes outstanding achievement and contributions to the game.
Coastal Carolina returns three starting guards and adds a transfer who was a mid-major freshman of the year.
6'3" Senior and first team Pre-Season Big South selection Warren Gillis is the team leader. Gillis led the team in steals, assists and turnovers and was second in scoring. He shoots from three at a 38% clip but prefers to shoot more inside and also led Coastal Carolina in free throw attempts. He may very well be matched up with Isaac Hamilton (possibly Norman) when we play man to man and it will be an interesting test of Hamilton in that it will be his first match up against a true D-1 guard.
Redshirt Sophomore Shivaugh Wiggins started at point on Friday which is a bit scary. It means that Coastal Carolina got better in their back court from last year. Wiggins was the 2012-13 CollegeInsider Mid Major Freshman All American and Freshman of the Year two years ago. He was praised for his on ball defense. He sat out last year after transferring from Mount Saint Mary's. This is a tough match up for Bryce.
The third guard is 6'4" Sophomore Elijah Wilson who was the leading scorer last year. He scored 16 points a game last year but only shot 43% from 2 and 31% from 3. He was the 12th highest scoring freshman in the country. He is also the best rebounder of the starting guards averaging four a game. He is definitely the designated gunner and shot as many times as 21 in game last season and hit 5 threes last year against Minnesota. It makes sense that Powell will draw this matchup but it will be interesting if Hamilton covers him instead.
The true point guard last year may be 6'1" Senior Josh Cameron. Cameron had one less turnover and 20 less assists than Gillis but has the ball in his hands a lot. Although he did not start the first game he did play 24 minutes off the bench in the first game and will play a big role tonight. Cameron is a good three shooter at 38% and takes almost half his shots from there. But Cameron is a bit out of control as shown by his poor 39% field goal percentage and his bad assist to turnover ratio. That UCLA counters off their bench with Noah Allen is a potential big problem and it will be interesting how many minutes UCLA can go to the bench in this game.
Chris and other experts are concerned about an upset by Coastal Carolina. The biggest reason is the backcourt. Coastal Carolina not only has good experienced guards, they also have depth. UCLA may have to play zone a lot in this game. On the flip side, Carolina can press UCLA and be aggressive with on ball pressure.
The good news for UCLA is that Coastal Carolina's starting center, inside defensive presence and leading rebounder graduated. 6'7" Junior Badou Diagne is the leading returning rebounder at 6.5 a game. He has a few big rebounding games in his career but he is not a good shooter. He hits only 36% of his shots and only 26% of the 2+ threes he tries a game. He is also ugly at the foul line at 39%. Kevon Looney will need to dominate this matchup or else the Bruins are going to be in big trouble.
The Center is Junior 6'8" Uros Ljeskovic. Uros plays in close to the basket and has a shocking low 6 blocks for his career of 58 games. (How does a 6'8" guy have that number?) He went 0-9 last year from the free throw line in conference. Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh will need to have good games.
Coastal bigs off the bench are not noteworthy. It seems likely that Wannah Bail and Gyorgy Goloman would have a good chance to start for Coastal.
Coastal has never played a PAC 12 school and does not often make the trip west. They are weak inside and UCLA's backup bigs could likely hold their own against Coastal's starters. That said this is a potential nightmare for UCLA against a team that not only has good solid guards but depth.
The first game was a chance to get a look at the bench. Tonight is a chance to look at the starters. How can they stand up to a solid team with depth at guard? Will UCLA need to dominate inside to win? How short will the bench get?