Preview of Coppin State Game

UCLA gets one player back from injury -- but loses two more. It's the story of the season so far for the Bruins, even though it might not matter against a vastly under-manned Coppin State team Sunday at Pauley Pavilion...

UCLA (5-1) takes on Coppin State (0-5) at Pauley Pavilion Sunday afternoon.

The Eagles are a very short team who should stand zero chance of beating the Bruins or even giving them a competitive game, even with UCLA being so short-handed.. Of course, that's what I thought about Albany, although Albany has a much stronger (and taller) frontline than does Coppin State.

The Eagles do have a coach named Fang, which is a good start. Last year, they nearly won the MEAC conference, going 13-5 in conference play. Outside of conference, they were 0-9. They then lost their two All-Conference performers and their only big man, who all transferred out for some reason. Fang always wants his team to play a tough non-conference schedule to get them ready for league play, and this year is no different. They have played Clemson, Xavier and Charlotte, all on the road, and when they scheduled 16th-ranked UCLA on the road they assumed UCLA would have its full compliment of players. Give Fang credit for not taking the easy way out, despite having one of the shortest teams in D-I basketball.

I haven't been able to find anything out about how Coppin State plays, except that according to Coppin State's "Season Outlook" on their website, they say that Fang "preaches defense." Whether that means they use their speed (their one asset) to press and trap all over the floor before falling back into a zone or something else, I have no clue. We will all find out on Sunday.

Their star is 6-4 SO PF Darryl Proctor. He weighs 230 pounds, is a good athlete and plays hard, which sometimes makes up for his lack of height and sometimes doesn't. He is averaging 13.8 ppg and 6.0 rpg and scores almost all of his points inside the lane. That is the Bruins' weak link in their defense. I assume Luc Richard Mbah A Moute will be given the assignment of matching up with Proctor all night long.

Little 5-9 SO SG Darryl Roberts is the closest thing the Eagles have to a point guard. He scores 12.6 ppg. He is only averaging 1.8 assists per game compared to 3.2 turnovers per game. One assumes he goes one-on-one a lot and tries to use his quickness to get open shots and penetrate into the lane. He's only hitting 30.8% of his 3s, which should make a big difference from Jon Iati. Hopefully, Coach Howland will let quick Darren Collison guard the quick Proctor and keep Arron Afflalo where he belongs.

Tywain McKee, 6-2 JR SG/SF (9.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg) is more Arron's type of match-up. He originally committed to Temple out of JC, and that means John Chaney thought this guy could execute his famous zone. McKee is supposed to be a long-armed athlete with very good speed. He scores almost all of his points in the lane, despite his height, and is shooting only 20% from 3.

Brian Chestnut, 6-7 FR C (6.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg) is the closest thing to a big man and he's listed at just 210 pounds. He has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise for the Eagles, as he was supposed to be their third-string center at the start of practice. UCLA's post players have a huge size advantage over Chestnut and it will be interesting to see if any of them can come up with a big game. Chestnut is not a great athlete who is going to soar over the Bruin centers or drive around them at will. He should be UCLA's easiest post match-up of the season. At times in this game, we could see Howland play without a center and use Luc to guard Chestnut. Even Cedric Bozeman could take a turn.

The fifth starter for Coppin State changes from game to game. Fang has his choices, none of them particularly appealing. He does have Talmadge Bell, a 6-2 FR SG who is averaging 5.8 ppg and makes 45.5% from 3. He is the team's only good outside shooter. Others who will play a lot of minutes include Antwan Harrison, 6-3 SO SF/PF (4.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg), Chucky Ivey, 6-2 FR SG/SF (3.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and Augustine Woodley, 6-2 JR SG/SF (3.4 ppg), who has taken a lot of 3s and made 11.8% of them so far.

Other reserves include my favorite, Mike Miller, 6-2 SO SG (2.2 ppg), West Otis, 6-0 JR PG/SG (1.8 ppg), who started for this team last year but who is either playing hurt or in the dog house (I wouldn't want to be in the dog house with a coach named Fang), and two ineffectual semi-big men, Robert Pressey, 6-7 SO C (1.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg) and Michael Norwood, 6-6 JR PF/C (0.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg). All of these guys will play against UCLA. Fang goes 12 deep and uses his entire bench. That suggests energetic defense which might include a press. It certainly doesn't signal an effective or consistent offensive attack.

Jordan Farmar won't play in this game. That leaves Darren Collison to start at point guard once again. Darren had a terrible first half against Albany, turning the ball over 5 times, but he didn't commit a turnover in the second half, caused some turnovers and scored 8 points in the last 6 minutes to finish with 10 points and 3 assists against some quick, experienced guards. If he can play under control and be aggressive on offense, this game could be a blowout. He will again face some quick guards, but they simply lack the talent of the Albany players.

With Coppin State so size-challenged, one imagines that Arron, Ced and Mike Roll should all be able to shoot 3s over the teeth of the defense as well as get into the lane for some short shots. Since Arron is hitting 43.9% of his 3s, Ced is up to 57.1% and Mike is at 46.7%, we all have to admit that Ben Howland's halfcourt offense, despite some criticism, has been effective in getting guys open for good looks from 3. The big men need to set good picks without committing offensive fouls to free up their jump shooters. If the Eagles play zone, the Bruins need to minimize the dribble in favor of the pass and skip it over the zone for some easy looks from 3. Ced is especially skilled at that and I expect him to register more than his 1.7 assists per game average in this game.

Up front, Luc probably won't dominate this game on the glass like he did against Albany. He'll be matched up with Proctor for most of the game and that will be a tough match-up, and Luc will be spending more time with his back to the basket on defense and won't be in position as much for rebounds. Luc's defense against Proctor will be one of the keys to the game. Luc showed some offense against Albany and he should try to take the 6-4 Proctor inside and outside.

Once more, a big question mark looms over the Bruins' post play. They apparently have at least 4 centers and may soon have 5, but as they get one back, they apparently lose two of them for this game. It's like injury musical chairs. It only makes it more difficult to get consistent play from one of them, which may be the key to UCLA's success in the Pac-10. 7-0 SR C Ryan Hollins is averaging 5.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 1.2 bpg. With planned starter Lorenzo Mata out with a concussion he suffered in practice, Hollins will start. He has, at least, shown the ability to be a force in blocking shots and is able to draw fouls on immobile big men, but he'll be facing a series of strong, mobile big men in the Pac-10. Ryan seems to lack the strength and competitive fire to take over at the C position.

6-11 SR C Mike Fey, apart from the Memphis game, has shown nothing of what he showed last year, when he was something of a consistent offensive threat for the Bruins. Fey suffered an ankle sprain in practice Thursday and it will be a gameday decision whether he plays. He is averaging 4.4 ppg and 2.2 rpg, about half his numbers from last season. He has been plagued by injuries; hopefully, this explains his drop in production and just as hopefully he will recover from his injuries by conference play. Given Coppin State's lack of frontline talent, it would seem unnecessary to play Fey in this game. And even though we know that 6-9 SO C/PF Lorenzo Mata (3.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.0 bpg) won't play, he has apparently taken over the starting job for now. He has gotten maybe one pass from his teammates all year and often has no clue on defense. But he rebounds well, can block shots and he sets good picks. He's stuck back some offensive rebounds, which is more than you can say for Hollins or Fey. Ryan Wright, 6-9 FR C (1.0 ppg, 0.5 rpg), from what we hear, would have been getting more playing time anyway, and he almost certainly will in this game. He ended up the fourth-string center because the other three were beating him pretty soundly in practice, but given the game performances of all of the centers Wright looks like he's earned some more game minutes. With Mata and Wright, it's all about defense; if they can play defense, Howland will keep them on the court since they are both better rebounders than either Fey or Hollins.

UCLA gets back Alfred Aboya on Sunday. Alfred is a listed 6-8 235 FR PF/C, but there is debate about his true height. Some observers felt that Aboya was UCLA's best freshman before his injury, and it will be interesting to see how much he plays in the coming weeks. If he comes back from his injury strong, he could be in the starting lineup early in the Pac-10 season. He is noted for his boundless energy and enthusiasm for the game and a truly physical style of play, while he is still very raw offensively. Jon Brockman, the freshman at Washington, is barely 6-7 and has already established himself as one of the best centers in the Pac-10. Alfred at 6-7 can probably play the 5 quite effectively.

After the Albany game, I'm reluctant to predict that the Bruins can blow out anybody this season, at least not with the talent currently on the squad. The coaching staff seemingly has to motivate the Bruins to take these supposedly non-competitive games more seriously, make the half court offense more effective and solve the post problem. They still have a few games to work out the kinks and get Jordan Farmar back at 100%. Josh Shipp might be back in 4 weeks as well.

Predicted score: UCLA 74, Coppin State 57.

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