So far this season, my preseason picks have been a 100% accurate, but that does not exactly make me ready for Vegas. Saturday’s game at 2 pm PT against Belmont could change that. I picked Belmont.
On paper, Belmont is the right type of team to pull off an upset of UCLA. As Dmitri frequently points out, UCLA under Alford historically has not done a good job defending the three point line. Historically, Belmont is not just good from three, but literally the best as Belmont has made the most three-pointers in D-1 since moving up in 1996-97. Second is a little school called Duke. That’s not bad company for Belmont. Belmont takes over 10 threes per game and, so far this year, is only shooting a disappointing (for them) 37% per game. Both numbers could go up against UCLA. Despite that, Belmont is still #19 in overall field goal percentage. That right there is a recipe for trouble for Steve Alford’s UCLA teams.
The second reason I picked Belmont is their coach. Belmont Head Coach Rick Byrd is in his 33rd season at Belmont. He ranks fifth among all active NCAA Division I head coaches in career wins with 785. Moreover, Byrd knows UCLA head assistant and defense coach Murry Bartow well:
Belmont faced UCLA assistant coach Murry Bartow 18 times during his stint as head coach at East Tennessee State University.
Of course, that means UCLA should know Byrd’s offense inside out. And, unlike at East Tennessee, Bartow has some real athletes to compete. But, keep in mind, that while UCLA ranks #4 in the nation in defensive rebounds, Belmont ranks #3. And that may be the contrast. While UCLA takes advantage of their height and athleticism, Belmont boxes out and is well-coached.
Which brings us to my third concern. Belmont is used to being on the road and has already won three road games this year. I am going to the game and will be one of the geezers in the student section. That is because UCLA was so desperate to sell tickets they offered “student for a day tickets.” I think this is part of the problem for UCLA. The old crowd won’t show up and it is so bad they can’t fill the student section?! Even though finals for Fall Quarter ended today, UCLA students should still be able to fill the student section!
In recent years, Belmont almost beat Washington and Arizona State. Oh, and don’t forget that Rick Byrd learned from John Wooden while working at UCLA basketball camps in the 1970s.
That said, we should win this game. This is not one of Belmont’s better teams and their three-point shooting is not as good as in past years. UCLA has an athletic advantage across the board. Despite that, Belmont does have a clear star:
Senior All-America candidate Dylan Windler was named Preseason OVC Player of the Year and Julius Erving Award Watch List. Windler was the only player in America to average 17.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists per game and shoot 40 percent from 3-point distance last season.
Kris Wilkes is the logical guy to cover the 6’8” Windler, but will Wilkes be up to the task? So far this year, he has been, at best, a meh defender and, at worst, lazy. Will they shut down Windler like they did LMU’s Batemon or let him go crazy like Long Beach’s Booker? I would love to see Alford give Wilkes the quick hook if he does not play defense.
All of that said, UCLA should win this game. If the other Bruins win, it will be because one Bruin team has a very good coach.
Go UCLA Bruins.