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UCLA Basketball: First Look At Montana State and Coastal Carolina

The stakes are going up as the Bruins officialy open the season next Friday at Pauley against Montana State, and then take on a tournament team, Coastal Carlina, the following Sunday.

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Andrew Fielding-USA TODAY Sports

My 25 point guideline is in effect for one more game (no Internet blood bath if they win by 25 points or more) next Friday vs. Montana State (MSU) , but then the Bruins face serious competition from Coastal Carolina next Sunday.

MSU was picked to finish eleventh in the twelve-team Big Sky Conference. They've had four consecutive losing seasons, but they've brought in new coach Brian Fish, ex-Oregon assistant, to right the ship. His bio from the official site says:

Fish joins the Bobcats after four seasons as an assistant at the University of Oregon, but his time with the Ducks marked the continuation of a long-standing relationship with one of college basketball's most respected coaches, Dana Altman. Fish has spent 15 of his 25 years in coaching with Altman, and has also coached under Billy Tubbs, Brad Holland and Dwight Freeman.

They probably should re-characterize the reference to Dana Altman.

MSU beat NAIA power UM Western (UMW) from the Frontier Conference, 86-61. Interesting that they want to go up-tempo.

Though they lost three starters, MSU brings back eight rotation players. They start 5'11" point Marcus Colbert, 5'9" combo guard Michael Dison, Terrell Brown, 6'8" power forward Danny Robison and 6'7" center Blake Brumwell, What intrigued me about MSU at first glance is that they can throw a lot of height on the floor. There are three backup bigs at 6'8"/6'9" plus a 7'0' freshman center (Brian Fisher from England was DNP in the exhibition game so we probably don't have to worry about him).

Compared to Division II Azusa Pacific, Division I MSU's bigs may keep Parker, Looney, Welsh and Bail occupied in the paint. Meanwhile, MSU's undersized guards led them in scoring against UMW. Will Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton dominate them with their five to seven inch height advantage or will they get run ragged chasing them around?

The Bruins should win this one easily, but the matchups, big guard vs. small guard and inside game vs. inside game should answer more questions about these Bruins:

  1. Will the nerves subside?
  2. Will Coach Salford limit the bench minutes and solidify the rotations?
  3. Will Isaac Hamilton score more this game?
  4. How do Bryce and Isaac handle the pressure from MSU's small but fast guards?

The Bruins better be over their nerves and gelling as a team if they want to avoid the early season loss and fan/media-driven meltdown on Sunday. Coastal Carolina (CCU) led Virgina by five at halftime in last year's round of 64 in NCAA's (but ultimately lost 70-59). The Big South media and head coaches chose CCU repeat as conference champs, and USA Today ranked them 60th and in the tournament again. The Chanticleers return four starters, but they lost their 6'10" center to graduation.They're deep at guard but weaker inside.

In the season preview, I brushed CCU aside, but I also said I'd have some questions answered during the exhibition game - the Bruins were, in general, sloppy and particularly underwhelming without all the starters on the floor. This game calls for a dominating performance by Tony Parker and Kevon Looney down low.

This looks to be a somewhat more than moderately challenging weekend. We'll know more about whether the sum of the unproven Bruin parts is a good basketball team.