Friday, November 11, 2011

2011-2012 preview: UCLA at a glance

2011-2012 preview: UCLA at a glance

Published: Nov. 10, 2011 Updated: 4:38 p.m.

Taking a look at the upcoming men's basketball season for the UCLA Bruins.

Coach: Ben Howland (189-83, ninth season); Last postseason appearance: 2011

Upside: UCLA has the best frontcourt in the Pac-12 and possibly one of the best in the nation, led by center Joshua Smith and all-conference forward Reeves Nelson. Smith might double his freshman scoring output (10.9) and figures to improve his rebounding (6.3). Nelson should also see a scoring hike after leading the Bruins last year (13.9) and is already one of the best rebounders in the conference. North Carolina transfers David and Travis Wear and center Anthony Stover are all 6-10, giving the Bruins an abundance of bigs. Nelson and the Wears have good shooting range for their size. UCLA also returns experienced guards Lazeric Jones, Jerime Anderson and Tyler Lamb. Howland, who always preaches defense, rebounding and toughness, should get it from this group.

Concerns: Scoring is a bit of a question mark, especially on the perimeter. None of the guards have been consistent shooters. While the Bruins are big, they also figure to be slow. Howland isn't budging from playing man defense even though he's said the players have had issues in the preseason with staying in front of their man. UCLA lost two All-Pac-10 first team members (and second-round NBA draft picks) in Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt. They were the team's two best defensive players last year and, behind Nelson the next best offensive players. Are newcomers Norman Powell and De'End Parker ready to contribute?

Outlook: UCLA was picked to win the conference and should live up to those expectations as the Pac-12 figures to be its weakest in years. There's really no reason why UCLA can't go 15-3 in the conference. How deep a run the Bruins make in the NCAA Tournament will likely depend on how much they get from their backcourt. Smith is primed for a big season and might be gone after it. Nelson flirted with the idea last year and will be motivated to improve his draft stock. The Wears know they have a lot to improve after a forgettable season in Chapel Hill. It remains to be seen whether playing the majority of their home game sat the L.A. Sports Arena will be a distraction or unifying force. Even so, this is Howland's most talented group since the 2007-08 Kevin Love-Russell Westbrook team. It might also be the first since that one to win at least two games in the tournament.

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