This game will begin to answer the many questions regarding the Bruins this year. In fact, there is probably more uncertainty surrounding this season's version of the Bruins than at any time since Steve Lavin was fired and Ben Howland took over.
The first and most obvious question revolves around new head coach Steve Alford. You'd have to say that Alford hasn't had the greatest reception from the Bruin faithful so far. However, Alford could change much of the skepticism surrounding his appointment by leading the Bruins to the Pac-12 conference title or a deep NCAA Tourney run in March. The skepticism is fueled by many factors, but the only ones that matter for the purposes of this preview and the ones to follow revolve around his actual coaching acumen. Those questions deal specifically with the types of offenses and defenses that Alford will employ, as well as his use of personnel. Alford has been an adherent to the traditional motion offense at his stops in Southwest Missouri State, Iowa and New Mexico, while he has used both man and zone defenses, depending on the perceived weakness of the opposition.
For my purposes, I am interested to see how Alford performs as a game manager. Alford's regular season records at both Southwest Missouri State and New Mexico deserve praise, but his years at Iowa became increasingly mediocre as his tenure moved on. Further, is Alford's less than attractive NCAA Tournament record indicative of problems making in-game adjustments?
The Bruin players have several notable questions, starting with Jordan Adams' health and fitness. He is bound to show a little rust to start the season after sitting out for a lengthy rehab of his broken foot. It will bear watching how much freedom Adams gets as the assumed first option on offense.
Tony Parker was bound to get more minutes the moment he decided to return to Westwood after Ben Howland's firing. His minutes should now increase exponentially with the recent bout of appendicitis suffered by Travis Wear. Without Wear for at least the immediate future, there is a question as to whether Alford will turn more to freshman Wanaah Bail or senior David Wear for minutes at the center position. Bail has some lingering injury issues that might make the decision easy, at least for a while. Parker certainly looks physically better than he did last season, however it remains to be seen if that will translate to more comfort on the court.
There's really no question as to Kyle Anderson's ability to play the point. The question, really, is who will be the back-up point guard. Many have speculated that Alford's son, freshman Bryce Alford, will take that role. Others have suggested it will be fellow frosh Zach LaVine. Alford and the staff have said a few times publicly that his type of motion offense doesn't need a true point guard. We'll get our first clue Wednesday night.
The bigger question is: Who is going to guard the opposition's point guard? The chief candidate right now is junior Norman Powell. Will he be up to the task? If not Powell, then will it be LaVine? Alford? Tyus Edney?
From what we know, the coaches themselves aren't too certain about this yet, and are just as eager to watch how it sorts out in the games.
San Bernadino will have many questions as well, though they do have some personnel that could hurt the Bruins. Junior Lacey Haddock (6'3" 185 lbs.) was the third-leading scorer for Coach Jeff Oliver's Coyotes and was the only player to start all 29 games last season. He's a decent inside-out scorer who hit almost 40% from behind the arc.
There are three transfers that the Coyotes will rely on heavily, including Texas A&M transfer Andrew Young (6'8" 245 lbs.), who will test Parker, Nevada transfer Jordan Burris (6'7" 220 lbs.) and Tulsa's Donte Medder (6'2" 195 lbs.). Medder, who you might remember UCLA flirted with in recruiting, is probably the best of the group.
However, the game is less about San Bernadino and more about the questions UCLA faces coming into the season. Keep in mind that this season is critical in terms of Alford's long-term prospects in Westwood. Recruiting has been sketchy so far and Alford needs a big season in order to start some recruiting buzz. Even a decent year may not be enough to get the kind of 2015 class Alford needs to be successful at UCLA.
So, we have a great deal of questions, and the answers begin to reveal themselves Wednesday night.