As far as brand recognition goes, it is hard to think of a non conference game with more brand recognition. With UCLA, probably the greatest basketball program in college history, and Texas, possibly the most powerful brand in college sports. this should be a huge game.
Except, it’s really not.
Texas is rebuilding, hoping to make the NCAA tournament with a collection of promising freshman, and super scorer J’Covan Brown. UCLA is in full crisis mode, and is probably closer to firing its coach than going to another Final Four.
UCLA did show some signs of life in their last couple of games, and will be playing at home, which makes this an important game for Texas to win. Non conference road wins matter for a team that might be sitting on the bubble come March.
UCLA is built around a talented core of big men, though the group has underachieved this season. Josh Smith should be an unstoppable force in the paint, but instead is out of shape, foul prone, and teams constantly take advantage of his poor conditioning. Forward Reeves Nelson is a constant headache, and has already been suspended once this season.
North Carolina transfers David and Travis Wear come in with big hype, but so far haven’t delivered a ton, especially on defense. Travis averages 10 points and almost six rebounds a game, but hasn’t been consistent yet. David doesn’t get as many chances on offense, though he is coming off his best game of the season against Pepperdine.
None of the UCLA guards are very good shooters, though Jermine Anderson is the team’s leading scorer. Senior Lazeric Jones is too turnover prone for my taste, averaging nearly three a night, combine that with 28% shooting from the floor and UCLA has a problem. Sophomore Tyler Lamb isn’t a good enough shooter to be relied on as a scorer. Freshman Norman Powell is certainly talented, but so far hasn’t gotten a ton of minutes to break out. Perhaps that will change against Texas’ three guard lineup.
For Texas, the key is obviously J’Covan Brown. He will be the best player on the court, and will be facing some pretty shaky guards. He’s averaging 20 points a game, and has been a great play maker as well (5.8 assists a night). Texas would be 5-1 if he hadn’t lost his cool against NC State. Freshman Myck Kabango is coming off his best game of the season, and is starting to settle in as a college player. He’s proved to be great at getting to the free throw line, and should plan on attack UCLA’s big men early and often.
Jonathan Holmes has really emerged down low for Texas, and will have an interesting challenge with Nelson, Josh Smith, and the Wear’s down low. Expect him to attack off the dribble, taking advantage of his speed.
This is a great test for Texas. As long as Brown plays as well as he can, and Kabango can attack early, Texas should be able to win. Their guards will give UCLA fits, and should be able to get the Bruins’ big men in foul trouble.
Texas 70 UCLA 59