Texas-UCLA Preview

Longhorns, Bruins enter Saturday's contest with plenty of similarities ... like a need for a big win.

Like Texas, UCLA enters Saturday's contest at Reliant Stadium with a 5-3 record. And like the Longhorns, the Bruins have a young roster that has yet to hit its stride.

KenPom has the Bruins as the slightly better team, with UCLA at 33 and Texas at 41, but (in part because of the semi-away nature of the contest) has Texas as a one-point favorite 66-65. And the Bruins are more well-rounded, with a top-50 mark in both Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (25) and Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (50). The Longhorns, meanwhile, are top heavy. They boast an elite defense (4), but a poor offense (167). Tempo will also be interesting to watch, with UCLA playing at a faster one, but with Texas boasting more size and length in the front-court.

But part of that has to do with the fact that the Bruins employ their second-tallest starter (6-9 235), as a guard. Anderson was one of the more intriguing prospects in the 2012 recruiting class, a tall player who could handle and pass and who played plenty of point guard. He isn't asked to do that for UCLA, as Larry Drew II (6-2 180) has emerged as one of the country's premier playmakers and assist men. But, in large part thanks to Anderson's size, the Bruins rank No. 4 nationally in average height, though they will be somewhat undersized, especially in terms of depth of height, at the interior positions.

Drew is one of three North Carolina transfers on the Bruin roster, and after struggling for the Tar Heels, he has found his niche for the Bruins. Not much of a scorer — he averages 5.3 points per game — Drew excels at setting up the Bruin offensive players for easy points. His 8.5 assists per game ranks among the nation's best, and his 6.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is absurd. Because of that, he's become nearly indispensable, logging almost

Anderson is one of two wings utilized by the Bruins. He has yet to find his shot, making just 32.8 percent of his attempts. And because of that, he's scoring just 6.6 points per game. But Anderson impacts the game in other ways, grabbing 8.1 rebounds and dishing out 3.5 assists per game.

UCLA gets most of its scoring from wing Jordan Adams (6-5 220) and three/four combo Shabazz Muhammad (6-6 225). Muhammad was one of the country's top prospects in the Class of 2012, and he works well out of the post because he's an outstanding low-post scorer, potentially the best of that class. Muhammad is also an excellent offensive rebounder for his size. And while Adams currently leads the team in scoring at 17.8 points per game, it wouldn't be hard to see Muhammad, 16.0 in his first five games, catching him.

Adams is more of a long-range bomber than Muhammad is, taking 5.75 threes per game. But he balances that out by getting to the free throw line consistently. In fact, that's the one thing the duo truly has in common. Muhammad gets to the free throw line 5.9 times per 40 minutes, Adams 5.8. Both of those rank among the top 200 in the country*, and both can hit their free throws, with Adams making 90.7 percent of his free throws to Muhammad's 73.3 percent.

* For comparison's sake, Texas's Cameron Ridley goes to the line 6.3 times per 40 minutes, with Sheldon McClellan going 5.9 times.

Muhammad uses a slightly higher percentage of possessions, while Adams takes a bit higher percentage of the shots. But make no mistake: either is capable of going on a scoring rampage.

But with Muhammad as the projected starter at the four, and with former mammoth post player Joshua Smith (6-10 305) leaving the team, the Bruins are short on true post players. The starter at center is Travis Wear (6-10 230), who would probably be a four at a lot of places. Travis, who transferred from North Carolina with twin brother David Wear (6-10 230), is averaging 11.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, though he's not a great shot-blocker with just 1.25 blocks per game. David is the the first (only?) big man off the bench, scoring 8.6 points and grabbing 5.1 rebounds per game. UCLA occasionally goes big by pairing the two together … the Bruins did that while Muhammad was either out or finding his sea legs after returning from NCAA-mandated suspension.

But Smith was the Bruins' No. 3 post player behind the Wears before leaving, and fourth big Tony Parker has played a grand total of four minutes in UCLA's last three games.

UCLA also doesn't go deep in the backcourt, though Norman Powell (6-4 215) might as well be a starter. He has started six games this season, and even in the two games when he came off the bench, he played well over 20 minutes. Powell has taken the second-most three-pointers to Adams, and is making 37.5 percent of those shots. He is fourth on the team in points per game, averaging 11.0 per contest.

So where will this game be decided? Neither team has had much success on "neutral" courts, with Texas going 1-3 and UCLA going 1-2. And both teams' primary weaknesses match up: Texas commits way too many turnovers, and the Bruins' main weak spot is generating turnovers from its opponents.

Make no mistake: there's a lot on the line Saturday. It might not seem like it now, but both of these teams are capable of making a run to the NCAA Tournament. And both will need a big non-conference win or two to either get there or to improve their seeding. If UCLA goes on to show massive improvement, a win over the Bruins would look much better in March than it would now. And the opposite is also true.

So forget about the 5-3 records. For both teams, this is a chance to steal what could be a "good win" over a squad that is struggling at present.

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