Top 68 Team Previews: #17 UCLA Bruins
Reeves Nelson led UCLA in scoring and rebounding last season. (Icon SMI)
By Ryan Feldman
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Last Season: 23-11 (13-5)
Key Losses: Malcolm Lee, Tyler Honeycutt
Head Coach: Ben Howland
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Lazeric Jones 6-0 Sr.
SG: Jerime Anderson 6-2 Sr.
SF: Tyler Lamb 6-5 So.
PF: Reeves Nelson 6-8 Jr.
C: Joshua Smith 6-10 So.
Key Reserves: Travis Wear 6-10 So. PF, David Wear 6-10 So. PF, Brendan Lane 6-9 Jr. PF, Norman Powell 6-3 Fr. SG
With the departure of two NBA players (Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt), the UCLA Bruins will have to recover on the perimeter. But they won't suffer at all down low, where the Bruins have one of the best frontcourts in the country.
Joshua Smith and Reeves Nelson return to form arguably the strongest big man duo in college basketball. Nelson, a 6-foot-8 junior, led the team in scoring (13.9 ppg), rebounding (9.1 rpg) and field goal percentage (56.7 percent) last season. He is a skilled big man who can score in a variety of ways and has the strength to dominate the paint. Smith is a 6-foot-10 husky sophomore who averaged 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game as a freshman in 21.7 minutes per game. Smith came along slowly, as he struggled at the beginning of the season, especially with foul trouble, but he really came along later in the season and showed the dominant force he is capable of becoming.
And the frontcourt doesn't stop there. The Bruins have three capable big men to back up Nelson and Smith. The first of those three is Brendan Lane, a 6-foot-9 junior who averaged 3.0 points and 3.1 rebounds in 15.4 minutes per game.
The second and third of those three are the Wear twins, David and Travis. The twins were much-heralded recruits that started their college careers at North Carolina before opting to transfer after one year. Travis, the more productive of the twins, averaged 3.5 points and 2.2 points in just over 10 minutes per game. David averaged 2.9 points and 1.7 rebounds per game in about the same playing time. The twins under-performed quite a bit at UNC, but with two years now under their belts (one year at UNC and a transfer year at UCLA), the Wears should be ready to reach their lofty potential and contribute to the UCLA frontcourt at a high rate.
The backcourt raises a lot of question marks for the Bruins. Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson return after an up-and-down year for the two of them. Jones, a 6-foot senior playmaker, averaged 9.1 points and 3.6 assists per game last season in his first year with the Bruins. Jones' biggest knock is his shot selection. He shot just 38.6 percent from the field, which is considerably low for any player, let alone a point guard.
Anderson averaged 5.1 points in 20.1 minutes per game last season. He added 2.6 assists per game. Both Jones and Anderson had a nearly 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Anderson can play either guard position, as can Jones. Both have the ability to score or distribute. Both players will have to improve their shot selection this season and become more productive players.
Tyler Lamb, a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard, will compete for a starting spot. He averaged just 2.6 points in 12.2 minutes per game while shooting just 32.7 percent from the field and 20.5 percent from 3-point range.
Norman Powell, a 6-foot-3 freshman guard, will also compete for a starting spot. Powell, ranked No. 52 in the class of 2011 by ESPN.com, is an athletic scoring guard who excels in the open court and an excellent defender.
The Bruins struggled out of the gate last year, losing four of their first seven games, but got it going after that and reached the NCAA tournament, where they defeated Michigan State in the round of 64 before being eliminated by Florida in the next round.
Ben Howland will really have to adjust for this year's team to be successful and reach its potential -- a potential that includes winning the Pac-10 and reaching the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. UCLA will have to become a half-court team that relies on its talented post players. The Bruins will have to become a team that emphasizes a defense-first mentality.
But still, it will be up to how effective the guards are for the Bruins. If Jones, Anderson, Lamb and Powell can take care of the ball and knock down some outside shots, the Bruins will reach expectations. But if turnovers and poor shot selection become a problem this year, it may spell disappointment for Howland's bunch.