The UCLA basketball team touched down in Australia on Friday evening for what should be a tremendous experience for the players and coaches.
Over the next several days, the Bruins will play exhibition games against three Australian teams: Sydney University on Tuesday morning, Melbourne United on Aug. 27, and the Brisbane Bullets on Aug. 29. The team will also do some sight-seeing throughout Australia over the nearly two weeks the Bruins are there.
The exhibition campaign starts off bright and early tomorrow morning, with a 2:30 a.m. PST tip against Sydney. The game will be live-streamed on Youtube. The remaining two games are not yet scheduled to be televised, and any streaming potential will depend on the wifi in the arena, which we've heard can be spotty.
That said, if you're interested in staying up late or waking up early to watch the game Tuesday morning, here are some things to focus on.
1. The debut of the freshmen.
With the departure of Jonah Bolden, and the injury to Prince Ali that could sideline him through the early part of the season, UCLA is going to be dependent in large part on the contributions of its touted freshman class to begin the season. This will be everyone's first look at Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, and Ike Anigbogu in UCLA uniforms, and it's going to be interesting to see what kind of roles they've already carved out for themselves. It's a fair bet that Ball and Leaf will begin the season in the starting lineup, but where Ball fits in should be interesting to see -- will he be entrusted with the keys to the offense to start the season, or will UCLA play him off the ball, at least to begin the season?
2. Will Aaron Holiday start?
Holiday started basically all of last year, but with Ball coming in and Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford returning, someone is going to get squeezed out of the lineup, and our guess is that it ends up being the underclassman Holiday. Hamilton emerged enough offensively last year that we have to imagine his spot is safe, and Alford will almost certainly remain in the starting lineup as well. That could leave Holiday in the second unit, backing up at three positions.
3. Is Thomas Welsh ready to emerge as a force down low?
The center is now a junior and in sole possession of the starting job at the 5. He's going to be counted on to play major minutes this year, and while he's made some obvious progress in his two years on campus, UCLA needs him to take a leap this year in terms of his strength and assertiveness. He didn't appear to gain much strength or size between his freshman and sophomore seasons, so seeing if he has gotten bigger physically this offseason will be interesting.
4. How deep will the rotation be?
We know some combination of Ball, Holiday, Hamilton, Alford, and, when healthy, Ali will be rotating through the three guard spots, and we know that some combination of Welsh, Leaf, and, probably, Anigbogu will be manning the majority of the minutes at the two post positions. We're not totally certain how ready Anigbogu will be to play major minutes -- freshman posts are a tough thing to gauge. Defensively, he's pretty advanced, but he's not quite an impact player offensively yet. And it's no certainty when Ali will be ready to play. So, that's a seven to eight-man rotation at full strength, albeit very freshman-heavy, and the rotation is possibly as short as 6 guys if Anigbogu is a little less ready than we're projecting, or if Ali takes longer to come back from injury. A seven- or eight-man rotation is workable, but a six-man rotation, with two of those six being freshmen, would be a major obstacle to having a very good season. If one of Gyorgy Goloman or Alex Olesinski has developed quite a bit in the offseason, that would go a long way toward improving the math, so that's something worth watching as well.