So, this is what the UCLA Bruins Basketball team has come to under Steve Alford: a First Four play-in game.
Yeah, UCLA is in the “Big Dance.” Technically. Sort of. If they win. But, frankly, if this is to be considered “dancing,” then it’s like slow dancing...with your sister.
I’m a traditionalist. I much prefer the old 64-team format to the 68-team format that came into being in 2010. Of course, I think I understand why, even though I didn’t realize who was responsible for the 68-team format until I looked up when it took effect for the first time.
Yeah, the 68-team field came about when UCLA AD Dan Guerrero was the tournament selection committee chairman. It’s almost as if he could foresee a day when the UCLA men’s basketball team wouldn’t make the tournament unless there were 68 teams in instead of just 64.
The more important question is “How will Guerrero react if UCLA is bounced from the tournament because they lost a play-in game?”
Yes, that’s a real possibility as the St. Bonaventure Bonnies are a good basketball team. Since January 20th, the Bonnies have gone 13-1 with the lone loss coming last week against Davidson in the Atlantic 10 Conference semifinals on Saturday. The Bonnies tied the school record for wins with 25. The last time they did that was in the 1969-70 season when they were known as the Brown Indians. That year, they made the Final Four and many expected them to beat UCLA then, but St. Bonaventure lost to Jacksonville in the national semifinals and failed to make the championship game.
The Bruins have played St. Bonaventure just twice in the past. UCLA is 2-0 all-time against St. Bonaventure with the only two meetings coming in John Wooden’s final two seasons.
On the court, look out for St. Bonaventure’s senior guards Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley. Together, these guys form a heck of a 1-2 punch. Combined, they are averaging 38.7 ppg with a .414 3-point percentage. The duo has had eight games this season where they combined for at least 40 points.
Individually, Adams seems to be the more deadly of the pair, given the penchant of the UCLA defense to allow teams to shoot from outside. Adams has shot .457 from three himself and his field goal percentage is .454. So, whether he goes for the 2-pointer or the 3-pointer, Adams is a deadly shooter.
That doesn’t mean Mobley is a slacker. Yeah, his 3-point percentage is a mere .383 for the season, but his field goal percentage is .427. Both players were even better in conference play, meaning they’ve gotten better over the course of the season. Of course, that could be because they are playing in the Atlantic 10, but, the last time I checked, the hoop is still the same size.
The bottom line is simple. If UCLA doesn’t play tough defense against this pair, the Bruins will be in trouble.
The good news is that, if the Bruins can stop this duo, the Bonnies don’t have much else. The team’s third guard is Idris Taqqee. Taqqee is averaging under 6 ppg and 5 rpg.
Freshman Amani Ikpezie is the team’s big man, but, at just 6’, 10” tall, he’s smaller than both Thomas Welsh and Gyorgy Goloman. While Ikpezie should start, he doesn’t get a whole lot of playing time. He’s averaging just 14.2 minutes per game, but he may not have a choice but to play a lot more today as reserve Josh Ayeni is questionable due to a knee injury.
The Bonnies’ fifth starter LaDarien Griffin is averaging 8.7 ppg and 6.5 rpg. One other guy to look out for is junior forward Courtney Stockard. Stockard is the only guy on the team besides Adams and Mobley who is averaging more 10 points per game with 12.9 ppg. Over the past four games, Stockard has averaged 22 points per game and 9 rebounds per game. So, he could be a factor.
But, the bottom line comes down to the question of whether or not UCLA plays good defense and finds a way to stop Adams and Mobley. If they can, the Bruins will win, probably easily, but if they can’t, then it will be a long night for UCLA.