The Bruins (2-5) are coming off a home loss last Saturday when UCLA dropped a 10-point decision to Texas at the Sports Arena. Penn (5-5) is coming off a week that saw them lose by 8 at Villanova in a game that was more of a blowout than the final score indicated, and a win on Wednesday against Delaware.
Penn is coming across the country in what is obviously the longest road trip of the year for Coach Jerome Allen's Quakers. Penn has played 7 of their previous 10 games in the friendly confines of the Palestra in Philadelphia. In fact, Penn has only been out of the Philadelphia area once in their 10 games and that was a trip to nearby Baltimore. The Quakers have played their other two "away" games at the aforementioned Villanova (which is essentially in Philadelphia) and at Rider (New Jersey), which is about 20 minutes due east of Philly. The point is that this will really be Penn's first true road test of the year.
Allen, who was a star player for the Quakers in the mid ‘90s, certainly has a very good and very experienced line-up he can put on the floor against the Bruins. While Penn isn't a one-man team, they certainly are driven by do-everything senior point guard Zack Rosen (6'1" 175 lbs.). Rosen will arguably be the best scoring point guard the Bruins face this season. He is a product of St. Benedict's High School of New Jersey, a school with a rich basketball tradition. Rosen could have gone to a much more competitive and bigger basketball school but ultimately chose to go with Penn's Ivy League education. Rosen leads the Quakers in points (22.1 PPG), free-throw attempts (51), free-throws made (47 for a 92% success rate), three-pointers taken (60), three-pointers made (33 for a 53% clip), assists (56), shot attempts (129) and shooting percentage (55%). He is clearly quicker than UCLA's Jerime Anderson, Lazeric Jones and Tyler Lamb, and to say he's going to be a handful for the Bruin defense is an understatement. Rosen alone makes Penn a threat to not only win the Ivy League but also to pull off a first-round upset in the NCAA Tournament.
As if Rosen weren't enough to deal with, Allen can turn to another senior Tyler Bernardini (6'6" 210 lbs.), who will play small forward. Like Rosen, Bernardini is an outside shooting threat and, although he's only hitting at a 32% rate on the season, he's much better than that. Also, like Rosen, Bernardini will drive to the hoop. In fact, about the only differences between Rosen and Bernardini are their respective heights and Rosen's superior athleticism. Their games are very similar. Bernardini gets to the free-throw line almost as much as Rosen. Tyler Lamb will probably defend Bernardini, and he'll have his hands full, as Bernardini averages 12.9 PPG and a team-leading 5.9 RPG.
The off-guard should be sophomore Miles Cartwright (6'3" 175), a California native. Cartwright is a decent ball handler but is quick himself and will pose further issues for UCLA's defense. However, he doesn't have Rosen's quickness or Bernardini's size so Anderson and/or Jones should be able to stay with Cartwright for much of the game. There is some question as to whether Cartwright will play as he sat out Penn's victory over Delaware on Wednesday night with a concussion. He is the third double-digit scorer for the Quakers, averaging 11.2 PPG. Cartwright has proven to be a poor outside shooter, averaging only 26% on his three-point attempts. If Cartwright can't go then sophomore Marin Kukoc (6'7" 185 lbs.), will start. The Illinois native is almost strictly an outside shooter and isn't much of a rebounder but he understands what Allen is trying to get the Quakers to accomplish on both ends of the floor.
A third senior, Rob Belcore (6'6" 225 lbs.) will ostensibly play the power forward spot, which only means that Belcore will defend the Wear brothers when Penn is playing defense. Belcore is the "glue guy" for the Quakers and averages only 5.6 PPG. Further, he averages just 4.6 RPG. While he'll shoot the three, he does much of his damage within 10 feet of the basket. He is definitely the more physical of the two between him and Bernardini.
The post will be played by either freshman Henry Brooks (6'8" 215 lbs.) or sophomore Fran Dougherty (6'8" 225 lbs.). Brooks has started 2 games while Dougherty has started the other 8. Brooks is the more athletic of the two while Dougherty is the more physical. However, both should be completely overmatched by either Josh Smith (even with his funk) or Anthony Stover. Even Travis Wear should be able to dominate his match-up in the post if Howland asks him to play the five.
Cartwright's availability is key for the Quakers as they aren't very deep. There is a significant talent drop-off and drop-off in athleticism when Allen goes more than two deep into his bench.
Then there's the question of UCLA's depth. De'End Parker is still out for Saturday with patellar tendinitis. Shooting guard Norman Powell is "probable" for the game, after an allergic reaction Wednesday that kept him in the hospital overnight for observation. Powell might be the only UCLA player athletic enough to stay in front of Penn's perimeter players, but there is the question of whether he'll be 100% and Coach Ben Howland's willingness to play him for significant minutes. Even if Powell does play and is fully healthy, the bottom line is he is still a freshman learning the nuances of good Division 1 defense, going up against Penn's savvy seniors.
With Powell, the Bruins have just nine scholarship players available, and two of them – Stover and Brendan Lane – Howland doesn't seem to want to play, averaging just 6.2 and 4.8 minutes per game.
As dangerous as Penn sounds, the real question for the game is whether or not the Bruins will put forth the kind of effort necessary to beat a team that they are, quite frankly, better than. The chaos of the past week has been well-documented, including Reeves Nelson's suspension, rumors flying all over the Internet regarding Coach Howland and whether the team likes/respects him, whether or not Howland is on the hot seat. The Bruins can individually and collectively respond to the distractions in a variety of ways, from completely imploding to the players coalescing as a result of Nelson being gone. There simply is no telling how UCLA will respond to the week.
In terms of on-court analysis, UCLA will again face an opponent that will force the Bruins to either hit outside shots or be very patient with the ball on offense. Penn will show the Bruins some man defense but expect Allen to mix the defenses and show the Bruins quite a bit of zone. UCLA has struggled against zone because they haven't shot the ball well and they haven't been patient enough on offense to work the ball into the low post, where the Bruins have an obvious advantage. One of the areas that Bruins also struggle with offensively is their collective ability to make an accurate and timely post-entry pass. Only Anderson and Lamb have shown a propensity to be able to do it and it seems as if Lamb has regressed in that area.
Using dribble penetration to attack a zone defense is another way the Bruins can beat Penn. The Bruins haven't done this much this year, but when done correctly, the ball moves quickly around the perimeter (also an area of concern for the Bruins) and after two to three rotations, there should be a gap in the seam of the zone that can be exploited. When that's done the player with the ball has the option of going to the hoop, pulling up for a jumper, passing back out of the zone or making a dump-down pass. Surely the Bruins will look to dribble penetrate more against a zone as the year progresses, but UCLA always seems dumbfounded by a zone.
Speaking of zone defenses, Howland spoke about using a zone defense roughly one month ago and he did sparingly after that comment. This week he made a similar comment after the Texas game. Texas dominated the Bruins in the second half because the Longhorns spread their offense more, utilizing more floor area. The answer for the Bruins wasn't necessarily to go to a zone, but rather to not allow their defense to ball guard their men 30 feet from the basket. However, that's what Howland has had the Bruins do for his entire time in Westwood without change, so to combat that spreading of the floor, which Penn may do, Howland should utilize a zone. Using a zone will also help if the Bruins are shorthanded. Interestingly, David Wear has enough quickness to stay with Penn's wings so this might be a game in which Howland could steal a few minutes with D. Wear at the three.
Penn was supposed to challenge for the Ivy League title this year, and they should, but they clearly aren't as good as many people on the East Coast predicted. They have more talent than they've showed in actual games. They rely entirely too much offensively on Rosen, so much so that the Bruins may be better off allowing him to get his points and work on shutting out the remaining Quakers. While Rosen really is a very good player, he isn't supported by much. UCLA should be able to dominate in the paint on both ends of the floor; Penn is getting outrebounded by its competition on the season.
UCLA will more than likely be focused for the game as it's not at the Sports Arena (so hopefully no lighting issues) and they'll want to rally around what's happened in and around the program this week. Granted, the players may not like Howland, but they certainly haven't shown a propensity to quit. As stated above, UCLA's bench is short, which made fatigue a key in its loss to Texas, but Penn isn't deep either. Combine all that with the fact that Penn is flying across the country and playing in their first real road game of the season it should be enough to overcome Rosen and the Quakers…however, I reserve the right to say "I told you so" if the Bruins implode and get beat.