Why UCLA will win it all, and who they will take out to do it.
By: Joe Smeltzer
|Photo creds to UCLA.edu|
The strengths of the UCLA Bruins are evident. They are the best offensive team in college basketball, possibly in the past decade, and feature some of the best players in the land, those being Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, and Bryce Alford. That is the main reason why I love them. That is the main reason why I think they will win it all. However, there is a reason that they, in spite of being the most offensivley gifted team in the country, are a #3 seed and not a #1 seed, and that is their defense.
Defensively, the Bruins are pedestrian at best, horrendous at worst. They allow 75.3 points per contest, which is good for 256th in the country, and 9th in the PAC 12. There have been occasions this season in which the Bruins allowed 89, 92 and 96 points, and two of those games resulted in defeat. So, UCLA's defensive concerns are legitimate, and they could well cost them a national title. However, let's look at some of UCLA's likely tournament opponents, assuming they get past the first two rounds, as they may have some similar issues that the Bruins can exploit.
|Malik Monk (20.4 PPG) is trouble for any defense he comes across (photo creds to NCAA.COM|
If all goes according to plan, Steve Alford's men will take on the Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet 16. A simple way to say that UCLA can beat Kentucky is that they've done it before, as they pulled out a 97-92 thriller (at Rupp Arena, mind you) on December 3. Another reason involves Kentucky, like UCLA, struggling on the defensive end.
Like the Bruins, the Wildcats know how to put the ball in the basket, as only four teams in the country score more than Kentucky, UCLA, of course, being one of those teams. On defense, however, the Bruins allow 71.8 points per game, good for just 8th in the SEC and 162nd in America. UCLA has proven that they can carve up Kentucky's defense, and it's not like the Bruins have forgotten how to score over the past three months.
As a fan, I would love to see this matchup take place, as it would be a Final Four quality contest in the Sweet 16. This game would be almost guaranteed to be a shootout, and as proven on December 3, UCLA can win those things.
|#2 Joel Berry is a stud. But are his temmates well-rounded enough to get to the Final Four? (Photo creds to The Daily Tar Heel)|
I'll be blunt for a minute; North Carolina is the most overrated team in this tournament. They are poorly disciplined. They are reckless at times. They are inconsistent, and oh yeah, they can't play defense! (8th in the ACC in opponent PPG)
Having said all of that, UNC is still among the nation's most talented offensive teams, and yes, they would be likely to score a lot against UCLA. However, I cannot trust this North Carolina team to be smart enough. If UNC makes dumb mistakes, and UCLA takes advantage of those careless mistakes, a Final Four could well be in their future for the boys of Westwood.
|Landen Lucas (#33) is the only big man that could play a big factor for KU.|
In some ways, Kansas is similar to both Kentucky and UCLA. High scoring, poor defending. However, although Kansas is a #1 seed and Kentucky a #2, I think the Jayhawks would, in fact, be a better matchup for UCLA than the Wildcats would be.
The reason for this is that while both UK and KU struggle defensively, Kentucky has an advantage in size, as six of their players are 6'10 and above. Kansas, on the other hand, does not have a legitimate inside presence aside from the 6'10 Landen Lucas. Although UCLA is not known for pounding the ball in the paint, if and when these two teams meet, don't be surprised if big Thomas Welsh has a field day.
Kansas will score their fair share of deuces and treys, just as everybody else does against this Bruins team. However, like Kentucky, the Jayhawks are vulnerable on the other side, so much so, that I would not be surprised if UCLA were to win this game by 10-15 points. Ralk Chalk, no championship.
In my eyes, UCLA will either play
A. The Duke Blue Devils
B. The Arizona Wildcats
Both of these teams are excellent, and therefore, this match-up would be a tricky one for the Bruins. However, it is one that they could win. First, I'll talk about Arizona.
The Wildcats have a decent shot to get to the Final Four, as either they or mighty Gonzaga will come out of that West region. Arizona is a familiar foe for these Bruins, as the two teams have had three meetings with each other, with Zona having a 2-1 edge. On the surface, it seems like a tough chore to pick UCLA in this game, as Arizona defeated the Bruins just five days ago and looked pretty good doing it. However, there are a few reasons why I do not expect that to happen again.
The first is that, in my heart of hearts, I do not expect Arizona to get to the Final Four, as Gonzaga has their most balanced attack ever. The second is that I don't see the Duke Blue Devils beating UCLA either. I will not argue that Duke is the most talented team in the East region, and I will admit that the Dukies might well be the hottest team in the country. However, one thing separates UCLA from Duke, and that is consistency.
This is a Duke team that is on fire. But this is also a Duke team that has lost eight games. This is also a Duke team that, albeit partly due to injury, has lost games to Syracuse, NC State and Virgina Tech this season. This is also a Duke team that was 11-7 in the ACC. So, who's to say that inconsistency wouldn't appear if these men faced off with the Bruins? UCLA is not perfect. But they are pretty damn good on most nights, and I would expect this young Dukie team to fall off the rainbow if they were to face Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf, and Bryce Alford.
Now, let's say UCLA is to face Arizona. It would be so easy to pick the Wildcats, especially considering that they, unlike Duke, Kansas or Kentucky, can play defense. However, I believe life has a way of evening itself out, meaning that this UCLA team is too good to lose three times to a single opponent.
So, because of their offense, and because many of their big matchups can't play defense, I like the ultra-talented Bruins to score and score in bunches, so much so, that they will win their 12th National Title. Somewhere, John Wooden will be smiling.