Kansas Preview

UCLA takes on #14-ranked Kansas in the semi-final of the Maui Invitatational, and it will be UCLA's first real test against a legitimate team...

By beating Chaminade, 92-60, the UCLA Bruin men's basketball team advanced to the semifinals of the Maui Invitational and will take on the #14-ranked Kansas Jayhawks Tuesday night.

Kansas defeated Georgetown in a close game, 67-63, in the late game on Monday.

UCLA looked much different in the second half of the Chaminade game than they had in the previous two games and the first half on Monday. With Kansas not having much depth, the question for the Bruins is whether or not they can keep the intensity and generally smart play they displayed in the second half against Chaminade when they face Kansas.

In their victory over the Hoyas, the Jayhawks showed a significant lack of depth. Coach Bill Self only has eight players who average in double figures for minutes played and he relies heavily on several players to go for the majority of the game. Arguably Self's best player is junior post Thomas Robinson (6'10" 237 lbs.), who put in 20 points against Georgetown and pulled down 12 boards. He is very quick for his size and more athletic than anything the Bruins have up front, however, he has had a history of being neutralized by big, physical players. Further, Robinson is, at best, an average free-throw shooter. He does lead the Jayhawks in rebounding and is second in scoring.

Self's other go-to player is senior guard Tyshawn Taylor (6'3" 185 lbs.). He leads Kansas in scoring and, although he doesn't attempt many, he is by far the leading three-point shooter on the team, hitting at 71%. He is shifty and quick for his size and knows how to get into the lane and draw contact. He's been to the line almost as much as the rest of the team combined. In fact, Taylor and Robinson have combined to attempt 43 of the team's 61 free throws.

Self starts a three-guard line-up and often goes with four wing players plus Robinson on the floor. The other starters are junior wing Travis Releford (6'6" 207 lbs.) and junior point guard Elijah Johnson (6'4" 195 lbs.). Defensively, the Bruins would be better off forcing both Releford and Johnson into outside shots, where they are a combined 6-23 from distance. Johnson, in particular, is pretty poor at only 4-17. Both had decent games against Georgetown, but they were eventually overmatched by Kentucky's talent last week. While they are quick, they aren't demonstrably so, but they, along with Taylor, will be among the bigger guards the Bruins will see this year.

Next to Robinson, Self usually starts junior Jeff Withey (7' 235 lbs.) at center. Withey only plays about 18 MPG but he is the second-leading rebounder on the team at 5.2 RPG. He isn't very athletic and will have a hard time guarding either Josh Smith or Reeves Nelson, although Nelson has had trouble players with length over the years. The other forward that gets some minutes of significance is sophomore transfer Justin Wesley (6'9" 220 lbs.), who is essentially a poor man's Withey. The thing about the Kansas frontcourt is that it's attempted only one three-pointer this season and that was from seldom-used junior transfer Kevin Young (6'8" 185 lbs.). The fact that Robinson, Withey and Wesley are in no way outside shooting threats should influence how the Bruins defend the Kansas posts. The Bruin bigs should give them a cushion when the Kansas big men place themselves around the arc. However, Howland has rarely shown a propensity since he's been in Westwood to deviate from his preferred defensive style, so expect the Bruin posts to come out to the arc to defend their respective men.

Kansas is certainly more athletic than UCLA, but not as much as some may think. One thing that the game against Chaminade proved is that the Bruins can be their own worst enemy (the LMU and MTSU games as well as the first half of the Chaminade game being the evidence), but that they can be pretty good when the proverbial light goes on. Although Chaminade is a D-II squad, they are arguably better than the CSSB team that UCLA beat in the preseason. Further, the Silversword guards were pretty quick and the Bruins (outside of Lazeric Jones) generally did a good job of keeping those guards out of the lane. Jones, in fact, may be the crux of the game for the Bruins. He finally got on track against Chaminade, playing more under control in the second half and taking more shots within the flow of the offense rather than forcing them. However, his defense still leaves much to be desired and Howland will have to pick his poison with Jones and who he matches up with against the Jayhawks. Jones will more than likely be put on Johnson, with Jerime Anderson and Tyler Lamb matched up on Releford and Taylor. If Jones becomes a defensive liability, it will be interesting to see if Howland will stick with him or go to Norman Powell, who has the athleticism to shut down Johnson.

In the second half on Monday, the Bruin offense flowed much better than in previous games. It's no coincidence that Travis Wear played with more purpose, Reeves Nelson brought energy off the bench (even if he still jogs back on defense after missed shots), and the Bruins got quicker ball reversals and more post touches. As the Bruin offense balanced out they started getting uncontested shots from all over the floor. On the defensive end, while the Bruins were able to shut down a good shooting team in Chaminade, the Silverswords are still a D-II team. Actually, Chaminade helped UCLA's cause by its increasingly bad shot selection. The Bruins can't count on the Jayhawks to be so poor in choosing their shots.

If the Bruins can play the majority of the game as they did the second half of the Chaminade game (and actually it was only after the insertion of Nelson that the Bruins took off) then they should beat Kansas. However, that would mean trusting a squad that has only shown mental toughness and smart play, at best, one half out of six halves. This game will be close but the Bruins are a work in progress. If De'End Parker was playing, I might even have picked the Bruins, but guard play wins in college basketball and while the Kansas guards may not be the best, their athleticism gives them a decided advantage.

Kansas 68

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