Preview, Game 22: at UCLA Bruins (Steve Lavin's return)

Steve Lavin goes back to Pauley Pavilion to face his former team, the UCLA Bruins. This is going to be interesting.

"The only thing at times that puzzled me was the way people somehow want you to apologize for having some wonderful opportunities over the last 23 years... There is that impression that people expect you to apologize or feel guilty for having a degree of success. Clearly not the success expected at UCLA, because there it has to be national championships or Final Fours or you’re out. But I understand that comes with the territory so I never really took offense to it." - Steve Lavin, pregame press conference

Listen/ See: Mark Morrison, Return of the Mack (video, opens in new window)
Tip Off: 1:00 PM, Eastern
At: UCLA Bruins | Location: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA
TV: CBS | Radio: Bloomberg 1130 AM
Opposition blog/ message board: Bruins Nation | Bruin Basketball Report | Bruin Report Online (message board/ site) | Bruin Gold (message board) | Bruin Zone (message board) | Bruinville (message board)

Pomeroy page

Pauley_pavilion_mediumTomorrow morning, there will be so much focus on Coach Steve Lavin's return to UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, where he coached the UCLA Bruins for 7 mostly successful years. Successful, by many peoples' standpoints; but closer observation shows warts that the fine people of Bruin Nation could not abide by.

If you want to read more about the warts, read 10 Questions: Bruins Nation on Rumble in the Garden and Why We Hate Lavin on Bruins Nation. Both are good reads.

It's going to be a passionate game for more than Steve Lavin's gregarious presence. Coach Ben Howland is trying hard to get the Bruins back on a winning/ NCAA Tournament-caliber track in a Pac-10 where half of the teams are treading water around the .500 mark in their seasons. Still, in a tie for 2nd place, the Bruins have a really good shot to make the NCAAs as an at-large bid.

Meanwhile, St. John's followed a thrashing of the Duke Blue Devils with a squeaker win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, where a successful last-second play created on the fly by Coach Lavin was the winning margin. St. John's could use another win over a solid out-of-conference opponent to keep them on the plus side of the tourney bubble; tough road wins goes a long way to impressing the committee.

Two teams that need a win to feel more confident about postseason hopes. Two teams with flaws. Two teams that can delight and frustrate their fans. New York vs. Los Angeles. Tomorrow at 10AM pacific time - or 1 PM eastern - it's on. Read on for UCLA strengths + weaknesses, Keys to the Game, and places to eat if you've visiting Los Angeles for the game.

Storm Warnings: UCLA Bruins

The Bruins are an interesting team that has struggled a little this year. They are very young, as stated in our pregame chat with Bruins Nation; the team's impact players are freshmen and sophomores.

Maybe that's why they lost to teams like VCU and the Montana Grizzlies (who are morphing into one of those dangerous NCAA teams in the Big Sky) and had scares from the likes of UC Irvine. Youth often means mistakes and inconsistency, and UCLA has had their share of both. And UCLA did slam Brigham Young back in December.

One thing the Bruins are effective at is man-to-man defense. When big burger Josh Smith can stay on the floor, he's a huge presence to work around; and Malcolm Lee's perimeter defense is tough. And Tyler Honeycutt is very long and agile - kind of like Dwayne Polee II.

But in many ways, they are inconsistent - going through stretches where the other team can really make a run on them, stretches where they turn the ball over a bit too much. Their staff has worked to find a useful backcourt, turning to JUCO guard Lazeric Jones from Chicago to run the show, complementing Reeves Nelson and Smith in the frontcourt.

Strengths/ Weaknesses: UCLA

 

UCLA StrengthInterior play. Reeves Nelson - he's the one with the tattoos and the ridiculous faux-hawk - and Joshua Smith - he's the one who is as wide as the whole lane - are an imposing and very effective front court.

Both rebound extremely well on both ends, with Josh Smith more effective on the offensive end, and Nelson being an animal on the defensive glass - table below.

And they take up a lot of possessions, punishing opposing frontcourts with their size and determination.Sean Evans and Justin Burrell will have to help on defense - especially on Smith - and the smaller Justin Brownlee will have to play tough down low. Or will St. John's run to avoid getting into a shoving match under the basket?

Statistic
Reeves Nelson
Josh Smith
Games Played 
10
9
Games Started 
10
3
Min Per Game 
31.2
20.3
Minute % 
76.9
45.1
Possession % 
23.4
26.4
Offensive Rating 
106.8
105.4
Effective FG % 
62.3
59.3
Free Throw % 
52.0
57.9
FTA/ FGA
53.7
64.4
Offensive Reb. %
11.1
16.3
Defensive Reb. %
22.8
16.4
Turnover % 
19.8
20.0
Block % 
0.5
3.0

UCLA Strength: Team defense. In Pac-10 play, the Bruins hold opponents to 45.9% effective field goal shooting. Three-point shooters are held to just under 32% shooting. This will be a struggle for the Johnnies, who sometimes have issues putting points on the board.

UCLA Weakness: Turnover ratio. The Bruins don't force turnovers in their conference - they are last in turnovers forced (15.8% of opponents' possessions). And they commit turnovers at the highest rate in the Pac-10 - 20.9% of possessions, tied with fellow second place team, Arizona. St. John's ball hawking guards Paris Horne and D.J. Kennedy might have some defense-to-offense opportunities.

UCLA Weakness: Outside shooting. The Bruins, much like St. John's, don't rely on the outside shot. But it is notable that the Bruins' shoot 30.6% from outside the arc; meaning they may have some trouble getting back into a game if they are behind, though they do draw fouls well (45.2% of their possessions in conference play), slightly better than St. John's has in Big East play (44.7% of possessions).

Keys to the Game

photo of Tyler Honeycutt/ Reeves Nelson/ Joshua Smith by Danny Moloshok, AP

Reeves_smith_honeycutt_medium

Maintain focus. The game will be a hot media zoo. The Red Storm players have to know that feeling from their brushes with awesomeness - the Big East Tournament, beating Duke - and they have to maintain focus on the game, and on winning one for Steve Lavin. I expect Lavin to pull out some tricks for this matchup, but all the tricks in the world won't help if the Johnnies play dumb or overly tentative basketball. Attack, attack, attack, and no stupid turnovers.

Collapse in the Paint. Josh Smith and Reeves Nelson are the Bruins' most consistent players. They need to have their touches restricted. And the other Bruins - namely Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt - can't get good lanes to the rim. Make them shoot.

Turnover Canyon. The Bruin team isn’t great at ball protection – St. John's needs to keep that pressure up.

Run a Little. St. John’s needs to test the Bruins' running game. Of course, if the Bruins are running, it means they're missing shots and playing outside of Ben Howland's controlled, low-post focused concepts, which is good for the athletic Red Storm.

Hit the Open Shots. The free throws have to go down. The wide-open jump shots from Paris Horne and Dwight Hardy have to fall. The runners from Dwayne Polee II and D.J. Kennedy need to be effective.

Good Eatin's

Well, Bruins Nation recommends Barney's Beanery for a sports bar, Sepi's Sub and Diddy Riese - which looks good. I'm hitting that up next time I'm in the LA area. I seriously like being in Westwood, love the UCLA campus... I wish the game was scheduled for 2 weeks ago. I would have gone.

Last time I was in Los Angeles (2 weeks ago), I went to the Griddle Cafe (those pancakes were too big to eat), Father's Office for a crazy good burger (and a connoisseur's beer selection), and Loteria in Hollywood for good Mexican food. I missed all the trucks - like the Kogi korean taco truck that's been made so famous.

Predictions? Guesses to what might happen tomorrow?

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