Chaminade Preview

The Maui Invitational begins first-round play today and #1-seeded UCLA takes on D-II Chaminade, a team that shouldn't be near as good as D-II Humboldt State, who UCLA beat by 26 in one of its exhibition games...

UCLA, after notching a solid win last Wednesday when they defeated a pretty good BYU Cougar team by 13 at Pauley Pavilion in the season opener, now finds itself in what is arguably the premier early season tournament in the country, the Maui Invitational. The tournament field of eight includes at least six teams that one could reasonably argue are NCAA Tournament caliber, including Oklahoma, Georgia Tech, Memphis, Kentucky, a better than you would expect Purdue squad, and of course, the Bruins. In fact, the only two "weak" teams in the field are DePaul and the tourney hosts, Chaminade. This tournament will be a good measuring stick for the Bruins as they are clearly the most talented and deepest team in the field. However, there are potential stumbling blocks in Kentucky and then whomever UCLA would play on Wednesday. But previewing those games is, literally, for another day. First, the Bruins must play the host Silverswords in the last game on Monday night.

Chaminade has been the host of this tournament since its inception over two decades ago. Over the years, the Swords, a traditionally decent Division II school from Honolulu, have been part of some of the biggest upsets in college basketball history, including the famous defeat of the Ralph Sampson-led Virginia squad in the early ‘80s. However, that team, and the one that defeated Villanova several years ago, were dominated by upperclassmen. This year's version of the Swords has exactly one senior and only four returning players. So, let's get this out of the way quickly: UCLA is going to beat Chaminade. The question will be by how much.

Chaminade's not without any quality. At the point returns senior Zach Whiting (6'3" 205 lbs.), a two-time all-conference player and an all-region player in last year's post-season tournament. Whiting is the leading returning for the Sword in points with 14.1 PPG, and assistst at 8.1 APG and is the 2nd leading returning rebounder at 5.0 RPG. Any shot Chaminade has at beating the Bruins or anyone else in the tournament really begins and end with Whiting. He is capable of making some highly regarded guards look pretty bad, as he did the past two tournaments in Maui. He's a penetrator and a passer who can get to the hoop with either hand. In fact, Whiting may be one of the most physical and one of the quickest point guards that the Bruins see this year. Couple that with the fact that most D-1 schools would take this kid for granted when they play the Swords and one can see how and why he is able to take advantage of some players. If he has a weakness, it's probably outside shooting. It's not as if Whiting can't do it (he averaged 43% from behind the arc last season), it's that he didn't do it a lot. He only took 35 3s all of last season. Afflalo will probably be matched on Whiting only because Whiting might be a bit too strong for Darren Collison to keep out of the lane. Afflalo, while not as quick as Whiting, is much stronger and is the kind of defender that will make it his mission to keep Whiting out of the lane. Add to this mix that a young man with the pride of Afflalo must be going through a slow burn because of what was admittedly a poor offensive showing against BYU. While it's true that this may cause Afflalo to press even more on the offensive end, if past history holds, he'll be very, very good on the defensive end. If the Bruins can get a big early lead, expect several players to rotate onto Whiting in order to keep all of the Bruins fresh. So expect to see Collison and Russell Westbrook on Whiting from time to time. Regardless of whose assignment Whiting is, Howland will probably ask that player to step off of Whiting just a bit. This will force Whiting to move laterally, keep him out of the lane and ultimately frustrate him. Basically, the Bruins should be saying to Whiting, "Beat us from outside if you can."

The other guard position will probably be handled by junior Ryan Hirata (5'8" 160 lbs.). Hirata was out for all but one game last season, and he was injured in the first minute of that game. He's quick and smart, but not very strong. Collison should be able to exploit the match-up with Hirata on both ends of the floor.

Up front, the Swords do return two players. Junior Marko Kolaric (7'0" 230 lbs.), a post from Serbia, will try to go toe-to-toe with Lorenzo Mata, Alfred Aboya and Ryan Wright. Kolaric started only 6 games last season and only averaged about 18 MPG, but he was solid in those minutes. In fact, if one does the math, Kolaric would have averaged over 10+ PPG and 10+ RPG if he was a 35-minute guy. Point is, the kid can play. Kolaric is not a real athletic threat, though. He moves fairly well side-to-side but is S-L-O-W up and down the floor. With the Bruins running more, this should prove to be an advantage for UCLA. And with the next tallest player being a generous 6'7", Chaminade can't afford to have Kolaric off the floor that much. Kolaric is not a typical Serbian post, since he likes the low block and rarely attempts an outside shot.

The other returning player is starting junior forward Stewart Kussler (6'5" 215 lbs.), who could be a mirror image of Josh Shipp from Shipp's freshman year. He averaged 7.7 PPG and 3.8 RPG last season, and is a player who does many of the little things, like hitting the offensive boards, making the right pass and tipping the ball the right way. Shipp will more than likely find himself facing Kussler, in fact. It is imperative that Shipp take advantage of this match-up, especially on the defensive end of the floor. Everyone knew that there was going to be a defensive drop-off from Cedric Bozeman to Shipp, but Shipp's performance against BYU was marginal at best and lazy at worst.

The remaining Swords are ALL newcomers. There is little known about them except that they aren't all that big. So like I said earlier, the Bruins will win. But there are some things to look for in this game. First, can the Bruins come out flying and essentially end the game before halftime so that the bench can get some serious minutes. Those minutes will come in handy later in the season and by getting up big early, it would allow Ben Howland the opportunity to keep the main rotation fresh for the next two games in the next two days.

Keep an eye on both Afflalo and Shipp in this one. They both had off offensive games last week, but they went about it differently. While both had difficulty getting their shots off, they differed in their effort to get open. Will Afflalo let the game come to him? Will Shipp start playing with more fire on both ends of the floor?

Of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Prince's name. Don't expect Luc Mbah a Moute to have anywhere near the kind of game he had against BYU. At least let's hope not. If he does, that means he played a lot. But there isn't anyone on Chaminade that can hang with Luc. I'd personally like to see his 8-10 foot jumper a few times, just to keep other teams honest later in the year.

The Swords will probably throw different zone looks at the Bruins all game long with the idea to force the Bruins to try and win from the outside. But Chaminade simply doesn't have the length, especially down low, to keep the Bruins from getting good entry passes inside. Chaminade may be able to pull off another big upset in the future (are you listening DePaul?), but this isn't the game where it should happen. Chaminade is, like I said earlier, a decent D-II team. Humboldt State is a VERY good D-II team and the Bruins beat them by 26. Pomona is probably 10 points better than the Swords and the Bruins beat Pomona by 30. Feel free to do the math.

UCLA 90
Chaminade 56


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