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Men's Basketball Preview: UCLA Bruins

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After a disappointing loss on Monday, the Huskies will be looking to get back on track Friday as conference play begins. They will have their hands full with the #25 UCLA Bruins.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

As you are all probably aware by now, the Huskies lost their final non-conference game of the season on Monday when they fell to the UCSB Gauchos 83-78. Monday's loss was the second consecutive year the Huskies have finished their non-conference slate with a whimper. Remember the Stony Brook loss last year? Yeah, I know, too soon.

While the majority of Husky fans had relatively low expectations coming into this season, an early win over Texas, as well as blowout wins over Mt. St. Mary's, Montana, Penn, and TCU have shown fans that this team is brimming with talent and potential for not only the future, but the present as well. Which is exactly why the loss to UCSB was so frustrating.

The Huskies now have a daunting task staring them in the face; Getting back on track against a tough Pac-12 conference. They start off with the LA schools and will then embark on a three-game road trip, first to Pullman to take on cross-state rival Washington State. They will then head down Arizona to take on perennial powerhouse Arizona and the upstart Sundevils.


But we are getting ahead of ourselves here. First we need to focus on the Bruins, and there is a lot to talk about here.

The Bruins at a glance:

SOS: 3 BPi: 54 RPI: 67

At 9-4, the Bruins are currently rounding out the AP Top 25, occupying the final spot in the rankings. They have impressive wins over Gonzaga and then-number one Kentucky.  They currently sit at number three in strength of schedule, and if one examines their schedule, it is easy to see why. They have faced off against #5 Kansas and #11 North Carolina on neutral courts, played host to (then) #1 Kentucky, and took down Gonzaga at Gonzaga. They have also faced off against a better-than-expected Wake Forest team on a neutral floor, and were the first victim to giant killer Monmouth, who currently sits in at #17 in RPI.

Starting Lineup:

Bryce Alford, Junior, Guard, Aaron Holiday, Freshman, Guard,  Isaac Hamilton, Junior, G, Thomas Welsh, Forward, Sophomore, Tony Parker, Center, Senior.

The Bruins are averaging 79 points per game coming into Friday's matchup, and they rely heavily on their starting lineup to do the majority of the scoring. Every starter averages double digits and they account for 82% of UCLA's points per game. Not surprisingly, it is head coach Steve Alford's son, Bryce Alford, who is doing the majority of the damage for the Bruins.

Alford is averaging 16.5 points and 5.5 assists per game this season, and while his three-point percentage has dipped by a percentage point--from 39.5% last year to 38.5% this season--his field goal percentage sits at a career-high 42%.  Alford gets most of his work done as the pick-and-roll ball handler. According to Synergy Sports, Alford is the pick-and-roll ball handler on 30% of his halfcourt offensive possessions. He is averaging 0.913 points per possession and is shooting an adjusted field goal percentage of 53% as the P&R ball handler. While he may not be an elite scorer coming off a pick and roll, Alford is well above average. While the Huskies have hedged the ball handler at times this year--Malik Dime in particular--they haven't been particularly good at it, and I expect to see them switch the big man who is involved in the pick and roll for the majority of the game.

Alford is an excellent shooter and he can do it in a variety of ways. He has a good catch-and-shoot jump shot, as he is averaging an impressive 1.039 points per possession. However, arguably the best facet of Alford's game is his pull-up jump shot. He averages an adjusted field goal percentage of 54% and puts up nearly 1.098 points per possession on pull-up jump shots.

Alford is a rather odd player to game plan for. In addition to the deadly pull up jump shot, he has a nice floater, and is more than capable of pulling back behind the screen and shooting a three if his defender goes under the screen. Oddly enough, the Huskies may be better off allowing Alford to get to the rim, forcing him to finish strong over the Huskies' big men and their length, as opposed to forcing him into a pull-up, which is his bread and butter.

Isaac Hamilton:

At 15.3 points per game, Isaac Hamilton is the Bruins' second leading scorer. Like Alford, his three-point percentage is down this year--he shot 38% from three last season and currently sits at 34% this season--but his field goal percentage is sitting at an impressive 49% He will look to get out in transition and score if given the opportunity. He is shooting an elite 69% adjusted field goal percentage in transition, and has attempted 41 transition shots, which is a decent sample size. It will be imperative for the Huskies to get back in transition and locate Hamilton early.

In the half court, Hamilton is a superb spot-up shooter.  He shoots an adjusted field goal percentage of 54% on spot-up jump shots. However, if the Huskies can get a hand in his face consistently all night long, they should be able to get him out of rhythm, as he is shooting a mere 44.8% adjusted field goal percentage on guarded jump shots. If Hamilton is able to get himself free, or the Huskies lose discipline and leave him open, he will most likely make them pay, as he is putting up an incredible 1.5 points per possession on unguarded spot jump shots. He has only attempted 12 unguarded jump shots all season and has knocked down six, and that is not an accident. Hamilton will make you pay if you leave him open, but his effect can be minimized if he is left open.

Tony Parker:

The four-year big man has gotten better every season while at Westwood, and this year is no exception. Parker is shooting a career-high 51.8% from the field and is averaging 13.8 points per game, which is also a career high. He is also averaging 10.3 rebounds per game, which is good for a double-double.  As many know, Parker does nearly all his work in the post. He looks to turn over his left shoulder when he catches the ball on either block, and uses an array of drop step, back-to-the-basket dribble moves, and hook shots. He turns over his left shoulder 80% on the left block, and 68.8% of the time when he is on the right block. He will look to use his hook shot when he is on either block, as he opts to use it 75% of the time when he is on the left block, and shoots an impressive 58% adjusted field goal percentage on those attempts. Interestingly, Parker has used a dribble on every single one of his back-to-the-basket attempts on the left block this season. This may not seem like an important fact, but it should tell the Husky defense that Parker will not look to make quick moves when he catches the ball with his back to the basket, and that they may be able to collapse down and try to force a turnover when he puts it on the deck.

Parker is also a very good cutter. He has converted an incredible 73% of his basket cuts. At 6'9", 260 pounds, Parker has a big frame that he uses well to get position under the hoop and finish. Stopping Parker will be a very big task for the Huskies' front court. Both Cameron Ridley and Przemek Karnowski have had success against the Huskies front court this season (granted, they are both considerably bigger than Parker) and I fear the Huskies' front court may have no answer for Parker. It will be imperative that Noah Dickerson and Marquese Chriss stay out of foul trouble, as it will put a lot of pressure on Malik Dime if he is tasked with guarding Parker for the majority of the game.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday: 
Welsh and Holiday round out the starting lineup for the Bruins. Welsh, the second-year forward, has put together a nice season for himself. He is averaging 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Welsh does the majority of his damage as a cutter and an offensive rebounder. He is shooting an incredible 82% adjusted field goal percentage on cuts to the basket this season. He is also shooting a very respectable 68% on put backs this season. While Welsh is a skilled back-to-the-basket player who will likely be a major factor in UCLA's offense in the next two years, he is a currently a garbage man for this Bruins squad, and a very good one at that.

Aaron Holiday, the younger brother of Jrue and Justin Holiday, is a superb freshman who has had an immediate impact this season, putting up 10.1 points and 3.8 assists per game.  Unlike the majority of the Bruins' team, Holiday does nearly all of his damage in transition. 70% of his offense comes in transition, and he excels when he can get out and run. He shoots 78% in transition, as opposed to just 31.5% in the half court. The Huskies will need to make sure to keep Holiday from getting out in transition, but should make him beat them in the half court. The rest of the Bruins' starting five is very talented in the half court, and while Holiday will no doubt be a good half-court player in the future, he is not yet. They have to force someone to beat them in the half court, and I think they should force the Freshman to do just that. If he does, I will eat crow, but I have a feeling that he won't be able to do it.

Unfortunately, I don't see this going very well for the Huskies. I think the combination of Bryce Alford scoring off pick and rolls, Tony Parker posting up, finishing on pick and rolls, and cutting, as well as Thomas Welsh corralling second chance opportunities for the Bruins will be too much to handle. The Bruins have quite a bit of offensive firepower sources that complement one another nicely, and I think it will be too much for the Huskies to overcome.

I am hoping to see an improved sense of urgency out of the Huskies, as well as improved defensive rotations and offensive shot selection--particularly against zone defenses. If they do that, it will be a positive sign of development, whether or not they win the game.

Prediction: UCLA 89 Washington: 78