Cal State Northridge Preview

UCLA opens its season Friday against Cal State Northridge, and will try to erase the bad Big West season-opener memory from a year ago. The Bruins are superior in just about every match-up with the Matadors...

The UCLA men's basketball team opens its 2010-2011 campaign on Friday when it hosts Cal State Northridge at Pauley Pavilion. For the Bruins this game represents the beginning of erasing last season's poor record, poor fundamentals and poor chemistry. Cal State Northridge comes into the game hoping to be competitive and perhaps even pull off an upset, much like its Big West brethren from Fullerton did in UCLA's season opener a year ago. This match-up clearly favors the Bruins in virtually every category, but there are also some interesting subplots to the game as the season begins.

CSUN is led by Coach Bobby Braswell, who is in his 15th season with the Matadors. Braswell and CSUN had a poor season in 2009-2010, finishing with an 11-21 record and 6-10 in the Big West Conference. This came on the heels of two straight conference titles. Braswell acknowledged openly in the off-season that last year's Matador team suffered from a chemistry issue, among other things. Sound familiar, Bruin fans? Braswell has brought in 10 new players, including 8 freshmen, to fill out his 17-man roster.

Braswell will bring a fairly athletic team into Pauley, but one that is not as dangerous as Fullerton was last season. For one thing, the Bruins are certainly more focused and more together with regard to team chemistry than they were last season. Also, Northridge simply doesn't have the kind of athletes that are going to give the Bruins fits this year, athletes that, say, Kansas has. Still, the Matadors will enter the game knowing they have nothing to lose and it will be incumbent on the Bruins to match CSUN's effort and intensity levels.

From a fan's standpoint, and perhaps even from Coach Ben Howland's standpoint, the key match-up is going to take place at the point. It remains to be seen if Howland will start newcomer Lazeric Jones or returning junior Jerime Anderson. Neither has truly excelled in the two exhibition games. The key for them, and to a large extent for the Bruins this season, is for them to keep turnovers to a bare minimum and to generally play solid on-ball defense. If they are successful in those two areas then the Bruins could have a much better year than many are predicting.

Junior Dathan Lyles (5'11", 175 lbs.) is the starting point guard for CSUN. He looked good in the Matadors' preseason victory last Saturday over Redlands, scoring 12 points, dishing out 5 assists along with no turnovers in his 27 minutes of play. Lyles is not overly quick but he is strong and he should give both Jones and Anderson a challenge in the battle for the point. He isn't a great outside shooter so perhaps the Bruins can sag off him just a bit, but that isn't likely as Howland likes to put serious ball pressure on the opposition in his version of halfcourt man-to-man defense.

The shooting guard will be Raymond Cody (6'5", 190 lbs.), who led the Matadors in scoring in their first exhibition game with 17 points. He is an inside/out player who got to the line 7 times against Redlands and had 3 or his 4 made field goal attempts come from behind the arc. He only took 9 shots to get his 17 points so he is an efficient shooter. While he isn't an elite athlete, Cody does present a challenge to UCLA's Malcolm Lee. Lee is the Bruin who is best at defending his player aggressively one-on-one. It will be interesting to see if Lee can force Cody to play laterally and if Lee can fight through the screens that CSUN will inevitably set to free up their best shooter.

The small forward for the Matadors is senior Rashaun McLemore (6'5" 205 lbs.), who is probably one of two "go-to guys" on the CSUN roster. He scored 14 points in the exhibition victory over Redlands, all of which came from his mid-range game. He was 0-3 from behind the three-point line and 0-2 from the charity stripe. However he finished 7-14 from the floor and pulled down 4 boards. He is probably CSUN's best defender. Tyler Honeycutt and Tyler Lamb are probably too much for the Northridge senior but it would be a relief for Howland if Honeycutt plays inspired defense.

Senior Lenny Daniel (6'8" 205 lbs.) is probably the most talented player on Braswell's roster, and is clearly the team's leader on and off the court. The concern with Daniel has always been his volatility. He had issues of "hot-headedness" last season and, in fact, didn't play against Redlands as a "coach's decision," which leads you to believe it was behavior-related. Daniel has been quite outspoken in the CSUN student newspaper this past week about his perceived match-up with UCLA's Reeves Nelson. Assuming Nelson has recovered enough from his hip flexor injury to play, Daniel certainly has a quickness advantage over Nelson. Daniel has stated several times this week that he's going to "make him move his feet," meaning he is going to try and face up against Nelson and try and nullify Nelson's strength and girth advantage. Daniel did recognize that Nelson has an advantage in both areas. If Nelson struggles on the defensive end don't be surprised to see Howland go to Brendan Lane, especially after Lane's performance against Cal State Los Angeles on Tuesday. Lane is a better defender than Nelson, as he moves better laterally and understands what Howland wants out of his ‘4' on the defensive end. Add to that the fact that Lane's length is something Nelson can't replicate, and something Daniel may not have planned for, and you can see how and why Lane may get more than bench minutes against the Matadors, especially with Nelson possibly still not 100%.

The post for CSUN is junior John Hayward-Mayhew (6'8", 220 lbs.), who really is the only post they have and he isn't very wide or tall. He is strictly an inside player so he won't be pulling Josh Smith or Anthony Stover out of the paint when CSUN has the ball. This match-up is a huge advantage for the Bruins. Hayward-Mayhew fouled out in the Redlands game and his replacement, senior Michael Lizarraga (6'7", 230 lbs.), picked up four fouls in just 12 minutes of playing time. There is virtually no way that either Matador can handle the Bruin post players. Because neither CSUN big man has a real face-up game the match-up discrepancy is even bigger because that should allow Stover and Smith the opportunity to stay in the lane and block or alter shots. This is by far the biggest match-up disparity in the game.

Braswell played 13 players in the overtime victory over Redlands but his bench will probably be considerably shortened on Friday night. True freshmen Jordan Mitchell (6'8", 185 lbs.) and Josh Greene (6'0", 175 lbs.) will both get minutes. Mitchell started against Redlands in place of Daniel and played 20 minutes but he missed all three of his shots and his one free-throw attempt. Greene will be a pretty good player and he plays on the offensive end with confidence that belies his age (he took 12 shots against Redlands) but he plays out of control right now, which isn't a surprise. He is clearly the best option Braswell has off the bench to provide offense. He only hit 3 of his 12 attempts against Redlands but he is a threat to put the ball on the floor or shoot the ‘3'. The last player who should get significant minutes is junior Vinnie McGhee (5'10", 165 lbs.), who is almost strictly a three-point shooter, which is odd considering his slight stature. The Bruin bench, with Tyler Lamb, either Anderson or Jones, Lane, Stover, and possibly Matt Carlino, is far stronger in all aspects of the game than is the Matador bench.

Braswell is going to try and play both man and zone, with the latter being more prevalent as Braswell knows the Bruins are not exactly an outside shooting juggernaut. However, the real question for CSUN is how they will score. Even if they have someone who can beat Jones/Anderson off the dribble anyone who enters the paint is going to face a Bruin team that has great shot-blocking ability. However, Howland would certainly like to see his wing players and guards step up on the defensive end and not see the team rely on its inside length. Remember, this is a Bruin team that is still learning how to rotate over in ‘help' on defense and will likely give up some easy baskets as they miss rotations. The question is whether or not CSUN has the kind of team that can take advantage of UCLA's learning curve. The answer is a resounding ‘no'.

CSUN is nowhere near as dangerous as Fullerton was last season. They simply don't match-up well with the Bruins particularly in the paint. The best they can hope for is that the Bruins collectively don't close out well on outside shooters and those shooters get abnormally hot from the outside. They went 8-25 against Redlands. The Bruin guards/wings should be able to get serious ball pressure on the Matadors, knowing that they have very long help in the paint. Further, the Bruins should win the rebounding battle by a wide margin. Knowing that UCLA wants to get out and run as much as possible off rebounds and dead balls Braswell will certainly have his players rotating back to prevent easy baskets. The Matadors would be at a major rebounding disadvantage anyway even if they threw all five players on the floor at the backboard. The Matadors were outrebounded 55-42 by Redlands.

Bruin fans should look for several things in this game:

1) Will Anderson or Jones be able to play solid on-ball defense and stay in front of their men?
2) Will Nelson play defense the way Howland wants, and if not will Howland hesitate to play Lane over Nelson?
3) How will Josh Smith's stamina be and will the Bruins look to take advantage of his size on the offensive end when he is in the game? Will he be able to stay out of foul trouble?
4) Will Tyler Honeycutt play under control on most possessions?
5) Will the Bruins run as much as they have in the preseason and if they do will it cause a mental letdown on the defensive end?

The Bruins should bring a good and intense effort to the game simply because they have to know what happened last year in the season opener and they'll want to collectively erase that memory. The old adage is that "you're only as good as your last game," and in the Bruins' case, that means they weren't very good. Expect that to change with a victory on Friday. The only thing that will keep this game even within shouting distance is if the Bruins are too amped in the beginning of the game (expect that, especially from the frosh), and if they get sloppy when they have a big lead (expect that, too). Still, the Bruins should win easily in a game that will not seem anywhere near as close as the score.

Cal State Northridge 65

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