No problem, right? Some joke team from north of the border who UCLA's Canadian freshman Ryan Wright probably didn't look at once, let alone twice during his recruitment?
Think again. Friday night, UCLA takes on Canada's version of UCLA . . . under John Wooden.
The Carleton Ravens are coached by a man named Dave Smart, who's one of the rising stars in international basketball.
Under Smart's guidance, the ravens are 139-16 in 6 seasons. That's right, 16 losses in 6 years.
They've won the CIS Championship (the Canadian equivalent of the NCAA Championship) the last 3 years in a row.
Last season, they were a perfect 28-0.
Of course, they built their record playing teams from Canada, not North Carolina or Arizona. But to give you an idea of how tough these guys could be, they played an exhibition game against Murray State in September of this year and lost 67-63. In case you don't know, Murray State won 17 games last season, returns all 5 starters and is expected to make a strong run for the NCAA Tournament. Of course, I doubt that Murray State had much time to prepare for that game back in September. Arizona State defeated Carleton Thursday night, 70-58, but I think UCLA fans should be expecting a real team with real players in Pauley Pavilion Friday night.
The best of those players are the Ravens' returning starters, Osvoldo Jeanty, Aaron Doornekamp and Jean Emmanuel Jean Marie.
Jeanty was All-Canada last season, and he is a quick 6-0 combo guard with a great touch from the outside. In Carleton's 10 exhibition games this season, he's averaged more than 7 3-point field goal attempts per game and he's made 45% of them. He's leading the Ravens with 15.9 ppg and also leads the team in assists at 3.9 per game. Thursday night against Arizona State he attempted 15 threes and made six of them.
Doornekamp is a versatile, mobile post player with inside-outside skills. He's listed at 6-7 and 210 and averaging 15.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg and 3.2 apg. UCLA could have some trouble matching up with him when he's on offense, just as he could have trouble guarding a big, physical post player (assuming the Bruins can find one of those by Friday).
The man with four names, JE Jean Marie, is a physical, athletic guard with good size (at least for a Canadian player) at 6-3 and 197. He's more likely to score in transition or in the paint than by jacking it up from the inside.
The other two starters for Carleton will likely be Stuart Turnbull, 6-2 SO, and Daron Leonard, 6-6 200 JR, who both started against ASU. Turnbull is another physical guard who averages 7.6 ppg. Leonard is a smallish post player with 9.3 ppg and 3.1 rpg.
The key substitutes will almost certainly be Pat Ross, 6-0 SR (7.2 ppg), who's hit 53% of his 3s in the exhibition season, Ryan Bell, 6-4 JR (7.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg), another undersized but quick and active post, and Kevin McCleery, a 6-7 freshman who's the baby of the team. McCleery is averaging only 2.2 ppg and 2.8 rpg, but he's listed at 225 and he's had one double-figure scoring game already. Given Carleton's obvious lack of size in the post, one can guess that McCleery will play an increasing role for this team as the season wears on.
It's difficult to describe Carleton's style of play for you, since I haven't seen them. I do know that in their 10 games, they've scored over 80 points 6 times. Their three losses were 67-63 to Murray State and 70-58 to ASU, as mentioned above, and 61-59 to something called St. Francis Xavier, so it seems clear that when a team can slow the game down and put the defensive clamps on the Ravens, they can beat them.
Of course, UCLA is going to try to play pressure defense and score in transition this season, so there won't be any slowing down of the pace in this game. So, Carleton probably stands a chance of staying with the Bruins for a large portion of the game, especially if their guards are hot from the outside and UCLA fails to establish something resembling a strong post presence inside to take advantage of the Ravens' lack of size. Coach Ben Howland said defensively Carleton tends to pack it in, double the post when the ball is caught down low and make opponents beat them by shooting over the top.
Last night, Howland said that, if Arron Afflalo plays, UCLA's starting lineup would be Afflalo, Darren Collison at the point, Cedric Bozeman at small forward, Luc Mbah a Moute at the four and Ryan Hollins at center. If Afflalo can't go, substitute in Mike Roll for him at shooting guard. It would really help the Bruins if Aaron Aflalo is ready to play and ready to play well (and we'll find out his availability today). They will need him to match up with the physicality of some of Carleton's guards. And they will need his talent, period, because quite frankly the starting lineup without him isn't as good as Murray State, who only beat Carleton by 4 points.
The Bruins' bench will feature Kelvin Kim and the afore-mentioned Ryan Wright, neither of whom is likely to play much during the regular season. Lorenzo Mata could see 25 minutes of action. More walk-ons could figure into the mix. I won't go into an analysis of UCLA's players, since Tracy has already done a thorough job of that (Season Preview). But I will say that with all of the injuries, UCLA certainly picked a lousy time to play a seasoned championship team like Carleton.
But here's how the Bruins can win: Defense. Collison might be a freshman, but he has the quickness to even stay with a player as quick as Jeanty. Bozeman is actually one of the better defensive players in the Pac-10 (when healthy). Every educated observer who has watched Mbah A Moute play has praised his defensive abilities. And Ryan Hollins with his length and agility is a legitimate defensive presence in the post when he stays out of foul trouble. And Afflalo, if he's healthy, is the best defender on the team.
If the Bruins can get their defense going, they can get their transition game going. Collison, Roll, Bozeman and Mbah A Moute may not be starting by January 1, but they can all play transition basketball. Even Hollins can run. But it's doubtful that the Bruins will look strong in their half-court offense. Unless Collison and Bozeman surprise me with their 3-point abilities, the Bruins lack the outside shooting to keep Carleton from squeezing them inside. And with the Ravens' lack of size, you can bet that they squeeze the paint.
I question whether the Bruins will get quality defense from their bench in this game, but if Mike Roll can play his part the starting lineup has the potential to be a strong defensive team, even this early in the season. Look for the starters to play a lot of minutes in this game. Howland may go to his bench early on, but his competitive juices will start to flow when he realizes he isn't playing a cupcake.
I look for this to be a very close game. An undermanned UCLA squad is facing a veteran, seasoned team which isn't used to losing.
My prediction: UCLA 75, Carleton 72.