Well, the fourth man in UCLA Basketball is down, at least, temporarily. According to the Associated Press, Cody Riley injured his jaw and will be out for at least three weeks.
What does this mean? First of all, it is yet another setback for Cody. This is getting ridiculous. If the rumors of academic trouble are true, then Cody has hit the trifecta. He has missed games for academics, injury and international criminal activity. The latter, of course, refers to his role in the China sunglasses caper.
In my opinion, Cody should be the fourth best player on this team. Instead, he is the fourth player—after Shareef O’Neal, Tyger Campbell, and Alex Olesinski—to get hurt. Now, I am not even sure if he will ever play a game that is not an exhibition. This will definitely slow down the development of a guy who seems like the type that needs to play off teammates.
Putting aside Cody, this is the fourth injury and the season has not even officially started. It is the third “big” hurt as well. Fortunately, UCLA is insanely deep there this season. However, in my mind, this is the first starter that has been hurt. This injury, although temporary, may be the worst.
Next, it leaves Alford with some interesting options. Jalen Hill starts. Hill is raw but the time is now. He is playing next to Moses Brown, which should make things easier. But how else is the rotation effected? The options:
1. Chris Smith is the backup four. Chris has the handles and size to be a legitimate stretch four. Unfortunately, he has the shooting touch of a low post center. That said, I could even see him starting at four. I honestly think Smith is perfect for Alford’s junk 3-2 zone. He could play the top well.
2. We play small with Kris Wilkes as the backup four. Wilkes bulked up. This lets Jules Bernard on the court more as the three. It makes us EXTREMELY quick. It would be a good pressing team with Moses guarding the basket.
3. I think Riley was also the backup center or at least going to see some minutes there. Now, the only player more raw than Jalen Hill is going to get minutes: Kenneth Nwuba at center. Before the season started, you had to think Nwuba was a strong candidate for a redshirt.
What effect does this have on the win-loss record? I think honestly not much while he is out. The key will be if Riley is ever be able to get up to speed. Our first four games are cupcakes, then comes the Vegas two-game tournament opening against #10 Michigan State which I always thought we would lose. I thought we would lose the next game too, likely against Texas, but that now seems more likely.
Despite the injury, this still is a potentially very good team. This gives a chance for others to get more minutes against bad teams that will help later. It also gives a chance for guys like Smith to find their position.
It puts more pressure on Steve Alford to produce. Despite the injuries, the talent is there.