Sunday, October 26, 2008

No. 3 UCLA: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 35-4, 16-2 Pac-10 (1st)

Key Losses: Kevin Love (17.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg), Russell Westbrook (12.7 ppg, 4.3 apg), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (8.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg)

Key Returnees: Darren Collison (14.5 ppg, 3.9 apg), Josh Shipp (12.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg)

Newcomers: Jrue Holiday, J'Mison Morgan, Drew Gordon, Malcolm Lee, Jerime Anderson

The Bruins lost three guys as early entrants to the NBA draft (two of the top 5 picks), and that is a lot of talent to replace. But Ben Howland did his due diligence and brought in the #1 recruiting class in the country (according to both Scout and Rivals), which includes five of the top 50 recruits in the country.

Even with all the young talent, the Bruins will be led by a senior back court of Darren Collison and Josh Shipp. Collison will be the spark plug for UCLA. He may be the faster player end-to-end in the country (both of his parents were sprinters, and his mother even reached the Olympics) and is also a tremendous defender. Offensively, he really came into his own last year. He is exceptional at breaking players down off of the dribble, as he has always been, but Collison has also added an effective jumper. He shot 48.1% from the field over all, but hit 52.5% of his three's (and he took over 3 per game). His biggest asset is probably his intangibles, as he is a great floor general and has a knack for making big plays. Shipp is a solid all-around contributor on the wing. He can shoot (although his percentages dropped at the end of last year), is a good penetrator, a smart passer, and an excellent defender. The Bruins will get Michael Roll back from injury. UCLA also returns a lot of depth in the front court as Alfred Aboya, Adam Keefe, and Nikola Dragovic will all provide quality minutes for the Bruins.

Now to the Bruin freshmen. The best of the bunch is guard Jrue Holiday. Holiday is a 6'3" combo guard, who has a complete offensive game - he is an outstanding shooter, but he is also very good at getting in to the lane, penetrating and finishing equally well with either hand. Holiday is also a good passer and defender, and has been compared by multiple sources to Randy Foye, the former Villanova guard. Also joining the Bruin backcourt is Jerime Anderson, a 6'0", 165 lb point guard. He is known more for is play making ability on the defensive end than he is for his offensive game, which should make him fit right in with Howland's system. Malcolm Lee is similar to Anderson in that he is a very good athlete and a tough, aggressive kid that will be perfect for fit for UCLA. On the front line, UCLA adds J'Mison Morgan and Drew Gordon. Morgan is a 6'10", 270 lb center that decided on UCLA after withdrawing his commitment to LSU. Morgan is a big, strong kid, and he is surprisingly quick and athletic for someone with his bulk. He has long arms and combined with his athleticism, it makes him a good shot blocker. His offensive game is developing, but he is a good finisher and has been noted as having an excellent presence (knows when to pass and when to try and score, and is adept and finding cutters and shooters) in the post despite not having an impressive repertoire of moves. Gordon is 6'9" and 240 lb, but he is not overly athletic. He is an aggressive rebounder with a nose for the ball, and while his back to the basket game needs improving, he has a decent perimeter game and can knock down an 18 footer.

Outlook: UCLA has so much talent this year. Their freshman alone would probably finish in the top 5 in the Pac 10. Like every other Ben Howland team, UCLA is going to rely heavily on their defensive prowess. They have six guys in their perimeter rotation that are able to play multiple positions, and all of them are excellent on the ball defenders. Inside, they are big and strong, with multiple guys that are able to block shots. On the offensive end, UCLA is very balanced, and if someone (hopefully Morgan) can develop into a consistent scoring threat in the post, UCLA will be close to unstoppable. They should win another Pac-10 crown, and a fourth Final Four trip is well within reach.

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