Overall Rank: #1
Conference Rank: #1 Pac-10
2006-07: 30-6, 15-3, 1st
2006-07 postseason: NCAA
Without Arron Afflalo, who left early for the NBA, UCLA is suddenly a team that will not be perimeter orientated anymore. However, they have a couple of great guards who will keep the numbers on the perimeter extremely productive. Point guard Darren Collison had his breakout year as a sophomore in 2006-2007, averaging 12.7 points and 5.7 assists. The lightning quick Collison even ranked second in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio and that is not too bad for a guy who was in his first year as a starter. He will do a lot of damage on the offensive end, but his defense may be his greatest asset. Josh Shipp will take over Afflalo’s spot at the two guard after playing small forward last season. Unlike Collison, who shot 44.7 percent from beyond the arc, the Bruins will need Shipp to be a more consistent long range shooter.
Of course the Bruins will miss Afflalo and his 16.9 points per game, but there is plenty of talent ready to step up and earn some more playing time. Afflalo made 2.4 long balls per game and that is what UCLA might end up missing the most. Collison can take over some of that outside shooting, but Shipp and the guys off the bench will have to help. Forward Ryan Wright is the only other departing player. He has opted to transfer after seeing limited minutes in 28 contests last season.
It is all about Kevin Love. Very, very few freshmen could come into Westwood and be a presumed starter this year, but Love is one of them. Remember the days when Lorenzo Mata was the interior scoring threat at UCLA? The Bruins only made two Final Fours with him on the floor, and he even returns, albeit with a new extended name. With Love, UCLA has a dominating offensive presence under the basket. Love has an outside shot that can extend out to the three-point line, but he will do most of his damage under the basket, either scoring or dishing out to his open teammates when the inevitable double or triple teams come his way. Soon enough Love will be more famous than his father, Stan, who played in the NBA and maybe even his uncle, Mike, who sang lead for the Beach Boys. It would be nice for Chace Stanback to earn some accolades as well, but the 6-8 wing will take a backseat to Love in this recruiting class. Stanback is a decent athlete and, once he gains a little more strength, he will be a tough match-up for the opposition. David McGrath, a 6-5 forward who redshirted last year, will also be suiting up for the Bruins after spending a couple years at Moorpark College.
Who to Watch:
Lorenzo Mata-Real, who added his mother’s last name, will still be in the starting lineup. However, now he will be able to concentrate on being a defensive specialist under the basket and leave the scoring to Love. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will move to the small forward spot after averaging 8.2 points and 7.4 rebounds last year. That is a big frontline that will dominate the glass game in and game out. Mbah a Moute has been working on his jump shot, yet he will still not be a typical shooting wing player, which is why getting more consistent shooting from Shipp is so important since it certainly will not come from Mbah a Moute. Alfred Aboya has plenty of experience and will be a solid contributor off the bench again this year. Sophomore James Keefe did not see much playing time last year, but he has the potential to be a solid player once he recovers from a shoulder injury that is expected to keep him out until January.
The biggest concern for the Bruins is depth. While there is a drop off after Collison and Shipp in the backcourt, Michael Roll and Russell Westbrook are not bad players. Roll will add some sharpshooting off the bench, but his defense, or lack thereof, will keep him off the floor at times. Westbrook is the backup point guard and had a decent freshman campaign, averaging 3.4 points in just nine minutes per game. He is a good enough scorer to fill in at the two guard spot as well if Coach Ben Howland wants another ball handler on the floor. As long as injuries stay away, UCLA is arguably the best team in arguably the best conference in the nation. Some of the depth may be unproven, but that is because the Bruins have not needed those guys to play. Players like Westbrook and Aboya have enough talent to start should somebody go down with an injury. They definitely have enough talent to fill in off the bench when the starters need a break.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Darren Collison, Junior, Guard, 12.7 points per game
Josh Shipp, Junior, Guard, 13.3 points per game
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Junior, Forward, 8.2 points per game
Kevin Love, Freshman, Center, DNP last season
Lorenzo Mata-Real, Senior, Center, 6.6 points per game