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Kentucky Wildcats Vs. UCLA Bruins Game Preview

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Two titans of the college game meet this afternoon in Chicago.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Today, the Kentucky Wildcats take on the UCLA Bruins, the only team in college basketball with more NCAA Tournament titles than Kentucky, in the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. This is a clash of NCAA Tournament titans, albeit one that has been surprisingly unanticipated due to the upcoming matchup with the Wildcats’ biggest rival, the Louisville Cardinals, coming up just seven days hence.

Be that as it may, the Wildcats have to deal with the Bruins on a neutral floor, and although Kentucky will certainly be favored by a substantial margin, the Bruins are still a dangerous team.

Since Hank took care of a good bit of the technical details in an earlier post, there is no reason for me to rehash all the stats an history again. Instead, we’ll move straight into the nuts and bolts of this game. But first, let’s get a roster and starting lineup.

Stats

UCLA Roster:

No. Name Status Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. Hometown (Prev School)
4 Norman Powell S** G 6-4 215 Sr. San Diego, Calif. (Lincoln)
10 Isaac Hamilton S*+ G 6-4 185 So. Los Angeles, Calif. (St. John Bosco HS)
20 Bryce Alford S** G 6-3 180 So. Albuquerque, N.M. (La Cueva HS)
5 Kevon Looney S F 6-9 220 Fr. Milwaukee, Wis. (Hamilton HS)
23 Tony Parker S* F/C 6-9 260 Jr. Atlanta, Ga. (Miller Grove HS)
1 Wanaah Bail MR* F 6-9 215 So. Houston, Texas (Lamar Consolidated HS)
22 Noah Allen MR* G/F 6-6 215 So. Pacific Grove, Calif. (Palma HS)
40 Thomas Welsh MR C 7-0 245 Fr. Redondo Beach, Calif. (Loyola HS)
0 Nick Kazemi R* G 6-3 210 RJr. Santa Ana, Calif. (Tustin)
2 Kory Alford R* G 6-4 185 RJr. Albuquerque, N.M. (La Cueva HS)
13 David Brown R* G 6-3 185 Sr. Anaheim Hills, Calif. (Mater Dei)
14 Gyorgy Goloman R F 6-10 215 Fr. Kormend, Hungary (The Sagemont School [FL])
21 Alec Wulff R G 6-3 185 Fr. Laguna Beach, Calif. (Laguna Beach HS)
43 Jonah Bolden R- G/F 6-10 215 Fr. Sydney, Australia (Brewster Academy [NH])
















Legend
S Starter
MR Major reserve
R Reserve
* Returning player
** Returning starter
+ Eligible transfer/red shirt
- Ineligible
@ Walk on
& Injured, not available

Source: UCLA Athletics Website

UCLA Team Notes

  • UCLA is a solid 3-point shooting team at 37%
  • Defensively, UCLA is slightly above average. Offensively they are pretty good at #28 in the nation.
  • The Bruins like to get up and down the floor quickly. They average around 71 possessions per game.
  • UCLA takes good care of the ball at 18% turnovers. They do not pressure on defense, forcing only 18% turnovers from the opposition.
  • Despite their low rate of turnovers against the opposition, they manage a decent 10% steals.
  • UCLA is a surprisingly bad free throw shooting team at 66%.
  • The bruins attempt 31% of their shots from three. That’s below the Division I average of 34%
  • UCLA plays a mix of zone and man defense.

UCLA Player notes

  • Bryce Alford is leading the team in scoring and assists. He is a good, but not great perimeter shooter at 37.5%.
  • Senior guard Norman Powell is the second leading scorer and leading steals man. He is also the best 3-point shooter on the team at 47%.
  • Freshman Kevon Looney is a great offensive rebounder (16th in the nation) and draws a lot of fouls. He doesn’t make a very good percentage of free throws, though.
  • Junior forward Tony Parker is a big, thick man at 6‘9"/260#. He’s a good rebounder, but what he really does best is shooting percentage at almost 60%.
  • Sophomore Isaac Hamilton is a good defender, and a very dangerous 3-point shooter.

Injuries

Kentucky: Alex Poythress is out for the season with a torn ACL.

UCLA: No known injuries.

Advantage/Disadvantage

Front court

UCLA has some nice front court players in forwards Kevon Looney and Norman Powell, and both these players are big enough and strong enough to do some damage inside. Looney is particularly dangerous on the offensive glass, and is a very efficient player. He’s also UCLA’s best shot-blocker.

Since UCLA plays three guards, they wind up at a significant size disadvantage, but also have enough 3-point firepower that Calipari may be inclined to go small at the 3 spot most of the game with either Aaron Harrison or Devin Booker in the game along with Tyler Ulis or Andrew Harrison. I suspect he will start with Trey Lyles, however, just to see how he does.

UK has a significant size and length advantage on both platoons. Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee, and Dakari Johnson are collectively just too much for what the Bruins bring to the front court. UK also has the more athletic players overall. The front court is a pretty significant mismatch for the Bruins.

Advantage: Kentucky

Back court

UCLA has a solid back court. Bryce Alford is much maligned by the UCLA faithful as the son of the head coach, very much in the same manner as Saul Smith was maligned by the Kentucky faithful back during Tubby Smith’s reign. Alford is a good player, but in my honest opinion, probably should be no better than a backup for a team like UCLA.

Norman Powell is a solid player at one wing, but he’s not terribly efficient. Even though he’s a dangerous 3-point shooter, he doesn’t finish well inside the arc and is a poor free throw shooter for a shooting guard/wing. He has good size at 6‘4"/215, so he won’t be overwhelmed by either of the Harrison twins or Devin Booker. He’s too small to handle Trey Lyles, however.

Isaac Hamilton is a redshirt sophomore who can shoot the three, but like Powell doesn’t seem to finish particularly well inside. Also like Powell, he’s a sub-70% free throw shooter, making him relatively inefficient. He’s a good defender, though, and at 6‘4"/185#, isn’t a bad matchup for Aaron Harrison or Booker.

Overall, though, Kentucky’s players are more skilled, have better size and/or quickness than the UCLA guards. Having said that, UCLA’s guards get out better in transition, and we all know that’s been a problem for Kentucky. UCLA’s back court matches up better with UK than the front court, but isn’t good enough to win an advantage.

Advantage: Kentucky

Bench

Thomas Welsh brings some size to the game at 7‘0"/245#, but he’s only a freshman and still raw. He can block shots with his size, and may see more minutes than normal in this game to help counter Kentucky’s size.

Noah Allen is a 6‘6" sophomore swingman mainly used to steal minutes. He’s not an effective offensive player. Wanaah Bail is an energy guy who can rebound, but is limited offensively.

To be honest, no team in America can match Kentucky’s bench.

Advantage: Kentucky

Analysis

Looking at this game on paper, it looks like a mismatch. UCLA is a good team, but not normally good enough to beat a team like Kentucky as currently constituted. Despite their rich history, the Bruins have not been a major factor in college basketball since Ben Howland’s run of Final Fours back in the middle of last decade.

What makes UCLA dangerous to UK is two things — their ability to get out in transition and their ability to shoot the three. Kentucky’s defense is absolutely brutal inside, but isn’t nearly as strong on the perimeter. If the Bruins can get hot and stay hot from the outside, they could really challenge the Wildcats by forcing the defense further away from the basket.

The problem is that UCLA is only a good 3-point shooting team, not a great one, and even great 3-point shooting teams would struggle to sustain that level of performance long enough to defeat the Wildcats — they are just too tall and too deep. So while an upset is possible here, particularly on a neutral court where Kentucky’s 3-point struggles could resurface, it just looks to me like the Wildcats are too deep and too talented for the Bruins this year.