What can we say about the UCLA Bruins’ next opponent, the Denver Pioneers? Well, they’re better than San Jose...barely. According to Kempom, Denver is ranked the #313, 19 spots ahead of San Jose. Denver shoots a bit better than San Jose State. The Pioneers shoot 29% from three, compared to San Jose State’s 27%, and they shoot 42% from the field compared to San Jose State’s 40%. But both of these teams are bad teams and good matchups for UCLA.
Denver is a bit better from the outside than San Jose State, but their inside players are not as strong. Their starting bigs average 2.7 and 4.1 rebounds. Volume shooter 6’3” Jase Townsend has 21 more shots than the next player and is also the leading rebounder. Another starting guard, 6’5” Ade Murkey, is actually the leading rebounder. So, unlike San Jose State, this is a team without good bigs, but they do have some guards.
UCLA has no common opponents, but one future opponent in common, the Cal State Fullerton Titans. This is not UCLA’s last cupcake as Denver beat the Titans in a neutral court game. UCLA has four games left in the non-conference play. Two are against cupcakes and two who can give the elusive “good win” for the NCAA Tournament resume if UCLA can win either. Those two are next Saturday at South Bend against Notre Dame and then the following Saturday in Las Vegas against North Carolina.
So what can UCLA do in this final tuneup? I am thinking Coach Cronin needs to finalize a lineup going into next Saturday against Notre Dame. This game is fine to play, say, Jake Kyman, but it is time Cronin starts finalizing a rotation. With the exception of the Christmas break game against Fullerton, this is the last game that Cronin can experiment with players and still win. So far, this season eight players have started a game and only Tyger Campbell has started every game. There are three keys for this one:
- Is Chris Smith the sixth man? With Denver being a guard-heavy team, will Smith start playing more four (power forward)? Smith can certainly defend a four and is a tough match-up for most fours. Smith is currently second on the team in minutes. He seems like a guy you want to keep on the court but Jaime Jaquez Jr. has earned the starting three spot.
- UCLA’s three shooting. They won’t need it against Denver, but, of players with three or more attempts, only David Singleton and Tyger Campbell are shooting over 35%. Cronin is seemingly opposed to those two on the court together as it hurts the defense, but UCLA’s opponents are out-shooting UCLA from three 36% to 32% and have 18 more makes on the season. That is two more per game.
- What’s up with Jules Bernard? Jules is shooting an okay 35% from three for the third best on the team, but a truly awful 27.5% for two-point field goals. Can Bernard get on track on offense? This is a good chance for him to do well.