The UC Berkeley Golden Bears are tied for fifth place in the Pac-12. The UCLA Bruins are tied for last. Last year, Berkeley lost their first 15 games in conference before winning their last three. They got rid of one of the worst coaches in college basketball and are better this year, but the Bruins should still win this game.
First, Berkeley is ranked 188 in KenPom while UCLA is 148. Berkeley has won all their home Pac-12 games but have lost all four of their road games this year by double digits, including Thursday night’s game against Southern Cal, which they lost by 32. If this game was at Berkeley, they’d be favored. It is at UCLA. The Bruins should win.
Of course, how UCLA will play this game is hard to predict. Shoot, it is even hard to predict who will start. the Bruins have arguably been historically awful at home. The Bruins have not won at home since December 8 and had it worst home loss of the KenPom rankings era to Fullerton this season.
I have been writing here for years and have been watching UCLA for longer than that. I really don’t know what to think will happen tomorrow night. So, instead of a traditional preview, I’m going to put a few topics out there in a team by team comparison.
First to 70 Points Wins
UCLA is eleventh in the conference on offense, but Berkeley is twelfth. Bill Walton likes to say “offense wins championships.” Neither team is in danger of that. But, breaking down the numbers further, the Bruins allow the second highest field goal percentage and the highest three-point percentage while Berkeley is in the middle of the Pac-12 on field goal percentage and the second worst on three-point percentage to UCLA.
This might argue for giving Jake Kyman big minutes off the bench. Berkeley is terrible defending the three. Southern Cal went 14-23 from three against Berkeley in their last game. In the Bears’ other road games (all losses): Stanford went 9-23, Santa Clara went 8-17, and San Francisco went 12-29 from three.
Bottom line: Can UCLA successfully shoot three-pointers against Berkeley’s awful three-point defense? More importantly, can the Bruins improve on their truly awful 30.5% from three for the season? Berkeley certainly presents an opportunity.
How Can UCLA Press Its Advantage?
The Berkeley game is, to some extent, about finding out how historically bad this UCLA team is. If the Bruins loses to the Bears at home, it is going to be a long season in which it will be hard for UCLA to finish eighth in the conference as they were picked to do in the preseason media poll.
That said, this Bruin team is really good at one thing: rebounding. UCLA is second in the conference in rebounding and first in rebounding margin with an impressing eight rebounds per game advantage over their opponents. This is not a fluke stat, The Bruins have the best offensive and defensive rebounding percentage in the conference. UCLA has done this consistently, out-rebounding every team except Southern Cal, who is the only team ahead of them in the conference this season in rebounds per game.
The Bears are an awful rebounding team, ranking last in the conference and being out rebounding by their opponents this season.
Bottom line: Will Jalen Hill, Chris Smith and Jaime Jaquez Jr. be able to make Berkeley pay with big offensive rebounding games?
The Last Reason Why UCLA Should Win
Berkeley is a historically awful Pac-12 team for assists. The Bears are ranked 344 out of 350 for assists in D1 Basketball. For a major conference team, it is unheard of to be that bad in any major category. Berkeley does not know how to pass. This should favor UCLA’s defense which tends to overplay people and get burned on the pass out of the double teams. Statistically, the Bears do not even know how to pass.
Bottom line: On paper, Berkeley is not the right “bad team” to burn the Bruins from three. Of course, neither was Cal State Fullerton.
UCLA players are learning a culture of accountability and how to play defense. Berkeley players are learning what it is like to have a coach. I am no Steve Alford fan but Alford was a rocket scientist of a coach compared to Wyking Jones. The Bruins may have lost to Liberty last year, but Berkeley lost its first 15 Pac-12 games last season.
Bottom line: Whatever coaching hangover the Bruins have, Berkeley’s is worse.
UCLA should win this game and they must if they are going to reach the low preseason expectations. More importantly, if they lose to Berkeley at Pauley, this UCLA team will be in the discussion for worst ever in Bruins’ history.