They finished fourth in their conference, but improved drastically on the previous season (2002-2003), when they went 3-27. In fact, Chicago State had been on a string of eight or so pretty bad seasons. So the turnaround was considered pretty dramatic, enough to get Cougars coach Kevin Jones named Mid-Con Conference Coach of the Year.
They should definitely improve on that mark this season, returning three starters from that team and eight contributors.
Probably most signficant for the UCLA game is the loss of one of those returning starters for the Cougars, and perhaps their best player. Senior guard Craig Franklin must sit out the first five games of the season because of academic reasons. Franklin led the team in scoring (14.3) and assists a year ago.
Picking up the slack is his backcourt running mate and co-captain, 6-2 senior Tony Weeden. Both Franklin and Weeden made second-team All Mid-Con Conference a year ago, but Weeden will have to shoulder the responsibility of leading the Cougars without Franklin against UCLA. Weeden is a nice scorer, with a very good outside jumper. He'll be the primary offensive threat, and UCLA's defensive challenge will be to limit his open looks.
Sophomore Royce Parran (5-10) has taken over most of the lead guard duties in the absense of Franklin. He was the Sixth-Man of the Year in the Mid-Con conference a season ago. Parran has pretty good quickness, is a good passer, has a good outside jumper, but can go through periods of high turnovers, especially when he's trying to pick up the scoring slack in the absense of Franklin. The coach's son, sophomore Kevin Jones Jr. (6-1), started along with Parran and Weeden in the Cougars' two exhibition games, going with a three-guard lineup. Their height – 5-10, 6-1 and 6-2 – doesn't match up very well against UCLA's height in its backcourt of 6-1, 6-5 and 6-7. UCLA's length should be enough to limit the effectiveness of CSU's backcourt, especially if Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo and Dijon Thompson play defense with intensity.
Perhaps UCLA's biggest matchup challenge with CSU is its center. Originally from Lagos, Nigeria, sophomore Deji Akindele is 7-1 and pretty athletic. He's actually very similar to our own Ryan Hollins – athletic but raw and skinny, who doesn't have a very developed offensive game. Akindele does play well around the basket, where he gets most of his points, and is a good rebounder. Being raw, though, he is prone to foul trouble. Backing him up is 6-10 junior Marin Mulic, a 260-pounder from Croatia, but Mulic will play limited minutes to just give Akindele a breather.
Rounding out the starting lineup is 6-8, 240-pound big-bodied junior Nate Carter. Carter is the team's enforcer, the guy asked to set the picks and take the charges. He's pretty slow-footed, and sometimes Jones opts to go with a smaller, quicker lineup when he plays with 6-4 juniors David Inabnit or Aaron Strayhand.
The Cougars have a very short bench, primarily playing these eight along with sophomore guard Terren Wilson (6-1).
CSU is extremely over-matched by UCLA's size and talent, especially without Franklin. They're kind of similar to UCLA in is components, with one true inside scorer (Mike Fey and Akindele) and then some high-scoring guards. UCLA's true advantage is in its defensive capabilities against the Cougars, since its perimeter players are bigger and longer. The game should be won primarily by UCLA's perimeter defense limiting CSU's perimeter scorers.
To give you a west coast basis for judgment, you could probably say CSU's team this season is on the level of, say, UC Irvine in an average year.
Being UCLA's first game, with four true freshmen getting significant minutes, you can probably expect the Bruins to be a bit out of sync. Their defense should get them the advantage early, and then, as the game wears on and the youngsters settle down, expect UCLA to easily pull away.
Chicago State 68