On sophomore power forward Reeves Nelson:
Reeves has moved from playing the five to the four. He's slimmed down some. He's trimmed up his body so he moves better. UCLA is trying to score more in transition and get more transition points than they did in previous years, and he's really benefiting from that because he's very good in transition.
On the offensive side, he's strong around the basket when he gets the ball down low. He doesn't necessarily have good post moves, but he's just very strong around the block so he can score and gets offensive rebounds.
His big issue has been his intensity on defense. He tends to slack off on the defensive end. He's a bit of a controversial figure at UCLA, even though his numbers have increased. Most UCLA observers are still 50/50 on him, just because for every point he scores he's giving up a point.
On sophomore wing Tyler Honeycutt:
Tyler Honeycutt is probably the most all-around talented player on the team. He'll play in the NBA, and in fact he'll have to decide after the season whether he's going to put his name in the draft with the impending lockout. He's about 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8. His best feature is probably his vision and passing ability. He has turned over the ball quite a bit because he can play out of control a lot. He's fairly undisciplined. He'll make one-handed catches or one-handed passes, and he forces passes some.
But he has improved his shooting. He's being more assertive offensively. He also has improved defensively, even though the knock on him also is inconsistency in his defensive effort.
On the team's experience level:
The team is generally really young and inexperienced. There isn't a senior on the team. The rotation is mostly made up of sophomores and freshmen.
Josh Smith is the starting center, he's 6-foot-10 about 320 pounds. He came to UCLA at probably 370 in June. So he's lost about 50 pounds and he's still way too big. If he had zero percent body fat he'd probably be 285. He's a big boy, he's got big hands, he's light on his feet for how big he is. He's just got a long ways to go.
On the team's defensive woes:
Generally they're trying to find their identity. How they're really struggling is they haven't been able to play with consistent effort specifically on defense. That's mainly why they're struggling, as they're a pretty young team.
Howland has gotten away a little bit from his reptuation of demanding you play with intensity on defense in the last couple years. It doesn't seem like there's necessarily accountability on defense this year either. The tone is kind of set by Honeycutt and by Nelson, who can sometimes slack off on defense yet stay in the game.
It's definitely a big issue within and around the UCLA program. Has Howland lost his identity of being such a great defensive coach and demanding such a strong defensive effort from his team?
On his prediction for the game:
I would surprised if UCLA won the game, given all the factors. This is their one, true first road game. They played at neutral sites in New York, so they're on the road for a real road game against a hostile crowd in a tough place to play in college basketball.
They're a young team, they're starting a bunch of youngsters. There's no seniors. They're having issues with turnovers, issues with focus. Their strength is probably their front court, and they're playing a team in Kansas whose strength is probably their frontcourt also. Most of the time UCLA will have an advantage in the frontcourt, and this is a game they probably won't.