Hoops Season Preview, Part 1

In our annual preview of the basketball season, we first break down the personnel of the 2007-2008 Bruins, the strengths and weaknesses, and try to foresee how all the pieces might work. The Bruins are talented and have so many different options...

There's something definitely new to the Ben Howland era at UCLA for the 2007-2008 season.

High expectations.

In his first four seasons, there were some expectations. After the Bruins went to the Final Four and the championship game in 2005-2006, there were expectations leading into last season. The expectations, though, were generally reasonable; after going to a Final Four, most UCLA fans expected UCLA to at least compete for a Pac-10 championship seriously and go deep into the tournament. If UCLA had gone as far, say, as the Elite Eight last year, most UCLA fans would have come away with satisfaction, not thinking that the team under-achieved. After all, UCLA had lost three starters from the Final Four team a year before.

And last year was easily the year that carried the most expectations under Howland since he's been coaching UCLA – until this year.

After two successive Final Fours, and with an addition of a recruit that seemingly completes the lingering hole in personnel, expectations in the UCLA community are for UCLA to return to another Final Four this season. In fact, we did a poll on the BRO premium football message board a while back and a majority of fans who answered it expected UCLA to do just that.

But are those expectations reasonable?

It's reasonable to expect UCLA to be as good as they've been in the last couple of years, and maybe even better. But expecting a team to reach a Final Four is a dubious endeavor; there are just far too many factors that can knock the proposition off-track. In the last two years, UCLA was very good – but also very lucky – to make the Final Four. How about the improbable Gonzaga miracle? Beating Kansas a year ago was highly fortunate. It's very likely that UCLA, as a team, will be better this season than it's been the two previous seasons, so people assume they'll go at least as far as they did the previous two years. But college basketball isn't a computer program. Luck plays such a big role in all of this that UCLA could be a far better team this season but get tripped up by some misfortune in an Elite Eight game.

But that doesn't mean it's not right to expect UCLA to be better as a team this season. Those expectations are completely reasonable.

What's most exciting about the program is how every season under Howland the team has improved. It's almost uncanny, and again, UCLA fans are being incredible spoiled because of it (What will happen the first season – like possibly in 2008 -- when Howland actually has a rebuilding year?). But it's very fun, and definitely a great time in the era of UCLA basketball.

We need, however, to have a little moment of appreciation, so we don't get too cavalier about UCLA's current success. UCLA fans, in a way, are fortunate that they went through the Dark Era, so that they don't take all of this success for granted and not appreciate it, and every once in a while you have to remember it so the current success is kept in perspective.

But even with the Dark Era in the back of our minds, keeping us grounded and appreciative, it's easy to get a little carried away with some fun, "unreasonable" expectations.

Every pre-season under Howland there have been a number of considerable unknowns and worries that have tempered expectations about the team. Last season, it was trying to replace three starters. Would Darren Collison be able to step into the starting point guard position? How would UCLA replace its center, Ryan Hollins? The year before, there were five new freshmen that were considerably unknown.

This season, however, there is quite a bit known, and quite a bit less unknown. We know the veterans on the team, and the one freshman who will impact the team predominantly is perhaps the most scrutinized and "known" player to come to UCLA in a very long time.

Reports out of practice are that, if you compare this team, at the same time, to the teams the last two seasons, it's not close. Even though the last two years the team had talent, there were some formidable issues, but going into this season there aren't many. UCLA easily has its most complete team under Howland to date, and we're hearing that the coaching staff is very pleased with the team, and not finding too much to be displeased about.

Hey, if Howland's happy, we're happy.

So, here's a rundown on the roster:


If we're talking about concerns, the biggest one for the season is replacing Arron Afflalo in the backcourt. Replacing his offense isn't really that big of a concern, but his defense, toughness and intangibles are.

So, let's start off with how UCLA hopes to overcome that.

Howland always put Afflalo on the opposing team's best perimeter scorer. He won't have that luxury this season. The guy he'll go to as the perimeter defensive stopper is now Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook has the potential to be every bit as good as Afflalo defensively. He's, in fact, more athletic and quicker. He plays hard, too, in much the same way that Afflalo did. Afflalo had a better natural feel for defense than Westbrook, but Westbrook has put a good deal of effort into learning how to be a good defender and he'll be vastly improved this season. He'll make mistakes, like perhaps getting too close to his defender at times, being overly aggressive, but, from what we hear, Westbrook is vastly more knowledgeable defensively than he was a season ago.

So, Westbrook will be used as the perimeter defensive stopper, and he'll also get time backing up Darren Collison at point guard. Westbrook worked hard on his skills over the off-season and his handle has improved. He's still not an excellent ballhandler, but he's far more confident in his dribble than a year ago. His passing ability, which was always naturally good, has gotten better as he's come to be more familiar with the workings of a half-court offense and – specifically – Howland's half-court offense. He's executing far more instinctively. His shooting was a big emphasis for him in the off-season and, while it's still not lights out, it's also improved. Westbrook also, as we saw a year ago, is very good at penetrating, probably as good as Collison. He was out of control at times last year, but there were also times when Westbrook was just about the only guy who could create off penetration. He's very good at then pulling up and nailing the mid-range.

There will also be times when Westbrook plays alongside Collison – like we said, when UCLA needs some defensive energy against a high-scoring wing, but also at other times when the match-up dictates it. The athleticism and quickness on the perimeter that a backcourt of Collison and Westbrook brings is an incredibly potent weapon not to use, and we think Howland, as he grows more confident in Westbrook, will find himself compelled more and more to use it.

Westbrook will be a huge component of the team this season. Between backing up Collison at the one, and getting some time at the off-guard, you can expect Westbrook to get 15-25 minutes per game. The fact that Howland has such a hard-working athlete with probable pro potential as his back-up at the point guard position, who is also able to give you impact minutes at the two, is just incredibly fortunate. It's a testament to UCLA's depth and talent, since Westbrook would be starting at just about any other D-1 program in the country – and it's mind-blowing to think that UCLA picked up Collison in the spring, when many recruits are considered just fillers to a roster.

The backcourt will go as Darren Collison goes. Collison is considered by many national pundits as the best point guard in the country, and we have no reason to dispute that. He's at least one of the few quickest, and his athleticism is something that UCLA fans should appreciate – since you might not see the likes of it again after this season. Most insiders believe Collison, who came close to leaving for the NBA after last season, will go pro after this season.

But we all know Collison is a great athlete – but what many of the national pundits don't know is that he's not a natural point guard. Many times you hear national commentators describe him as the best pure point guard in the country, which brings a bit of a chuckle to any BRO who knows better. This is not to dispute that Collison is a great point guard, but his point guard skills aren't of the pure variety like, say, his predecessor, Jordan Farmar. Collison, who was an off-guard in high school, doesn't have naturally great vision and can be inconsistent in his decision-making. But some insider practice reports have indicated that Collison has continued to improve in both areas over the off-season and has been particularly impressive in recent practices. If he will, indeed, improve in those areas this season, there isn't any reason to believe he actually could be the best point guard in the country. Collison, last season, showed he had improved offensively, with his unorthodox outside shot being very good (in fact, he led the Pac-10 in 3-point shooting with 44.7%). He hit so many clutch three-pointers that were the proverbial stake-in-the-heart shot. And his defense, well, is superb. Howland maintains that Collison is the best on-ball defender he has ever coached.

Collison led the Pac-10 in assists a season ago (5.7 per game), while averaging 12.7 points per game. He probably played too many minutes, since Howland didn't have enough confidence to use Westbrook for more than just a few minutes a game as the back-up point guard, if that. But this year, with Howland not afraid to use Westbrook, Collison should be better-rested, especially down the stretch of the season, and be capable of expending even more energy on the defensive side of the ball. If he did show some lack of great decision-making at times last aseason, there was a case to be made that fatigue played a part in that, too, so a more-rested Collison should be even better in that regard.

Josh Shipp might have been the biggest worry coming into the fall, with his second hip surgery in the off-season. Every preview of UCLA, including those coming from Howland himself, in the off-season were tempered with concern over Shipp's physical status.

But as just about every player on the team has sat out some during fall practice because of a bump or a bruise, Shipp hasn't missed a session. The UCLA coaches are giddy with how he's looked physically. He's still paying close attention to his hips, and they require some extra stretching and trainer attention, but Shipp has been fine physically. He's not in the kind of shape he was in the summer of 2005, before he suffered the injury to the hip and required the first surgery, but he looks to be in better shape than he was during last season.

Shipp also has improved his game from last season – most notably his shooting. Shipp went through a considerable slump last year shooting the ball from the outside, only to have it come back during March, which was fortunate. But he averaged just 31.6% from three and just 20.8% in the Pac-10. You definitely need more production from your shooting guard than that and, if watching Shipp in the off-season and the practice reports are any indication, UCLA will get it. Shipp's shooting has been one of the most noticed improvements about the team in practice so far. His stroke is shorter and he doesn't need near as much time or space as he did previously – and it's going in far more frequently.

Shipp isn't naturally great off the bounce, but he is a crafty player, and he reportedly is using his smarts offensively in practice, being far more selective in when he takes the ball to the hoop than he was before. If Shipp can improve his three-point shooting and cut down on his turnovers off drives, his offense should be vastly improved. He is UCLA's top returning scorer, averaging 13.3 points per game last season, and with him being the go-to guy on the perimeter, getting those kick-outs from UCLA's new interior-oriented offense, you'd have to think that number will improve this season.

The biggest factor that will determine just how long Shipp stays on the court isn't his hips, but his defense. It could potentially be UCLA's one real weakness – that when you want to keep Shipp in the game for his offense, he might be a liability on defense. Without Afflalo to take the opponent's best scorer, that job could now fall to Shipp sometimes. Shipp, again, though, is crafty, and can be deceptive defensively. Howland also cites how much better his defense was during the NCAA tournament last season, which we don't dispute. There's a question, though: Why did Shipp only play with good defensive intensity during the tournament? We'll see early on, as UCLA lines up against some soft non-conference opponents, if Shipp will indeed bring the tournament-level energy to his defense.

From all reports of practice, one player that has continued to improve and has impressed is Mike Roll. And this, despite the fact that he's impacted by turf toe in both of his big toes. But even with that, Roll has been very good in practice, continuing to develop his game in the off-season. The reports are that he's far better at finding space off the bounce – at least enough to be able to get off a mid-range pull-up. If he can do that, and make defenses honor his driving ability just a little, he'll be a vastly more difficult offensive option to guard. His shooting has also improved, shooting with more consistency in practice from the outside. He's always had the most naturally great feel for the game of anyone on the team and reportedly he's making the least amount of mistakes offensively than anyone on the team during practice. Roll isn't a lightning quick defender, but he has continued to improve physically, having slimmed down, which has improved his quickness and his ability to stay in front of his man.

According to some reports, Roll and Shipp have been so good offensively that Howland is tempted to start both, despite the fact that it could limit the team defensively.

Nikola Dragovic, the 6-8 sophomore from Serbia, is the biggest wildcard on the team this season. Because of eligibility issues, he couldn't play until a dozen or so games into the season last year, which pretty much set him back the entire season. Now, this fall, he shows up to UCLA and informs the coaching staff he had off-season surgery for double hernia. The surgery definitely has limited him some physically in the fall practices, and it would be a shame if this, like last year, would limit him early and keep him out of the rotation for a chunk of the season.

But despite those setbacks, Dragovic has made the coaching staff notice him in practice. Last year he was so fundamentally raw, particularly on defense, that he just wasn't ready for significant minutes. Now, a year later, and having been in Howland's program, he's come a long way. His defense still isn't particularly excellent, and he'll always been challenged by smaller, quicker wings, but he's far better at using his length to stay in front of his man, which will get him more of a chance to get on the court. And with the way Dragovic can shoot, Howland wants to get him on the court. Howland said recently that Dragovic could be the best on the team at naturally finding space to spot up and get off his shot, and he's been draining them in practice. You could seem him being used liberally as a zone buster, utilizng his height to shoot over zones. If Dragovic can, actually, be a significant contributor, it gives UCLA another option on the wing.

Chace Stanback, the true freshman, was reportedly a deer in the headlights at the beginning of practice, and it's not difficult to understand why. Being thrown into Howland's practices, with information and detail coming at him rapid fire, Stanback was understandably in a state of shock. But the coaching staff was impressed with how quickly Stanback got over it and starting getting in the flow. Recently he's had his best practices. He started out shooting the worst on the team from three, but recently has shot considerably better. Stanback has a naturally good feel for the game, and is a good passer, which will help endear him to Howland. His issue will be whether he can, with his height (at about 6-7 now), guard smaller, quicker small forwards. There are those that believe Stanback will grow into a Dijon Thompson type of four man, which fits into Howland's version of the four. For now, though, Howland has him at the three. This season, it doesn't look like Stanback will have too much opportunity, with the playing minutes pretty well-absorbed by the veterans in front of him, especially if Luc Richard Mbah a Moute does, indeed, pick up some minutes at the three spot.


There isn't too much more hype we can offer about Kevin Love that hasn't already been done.

We can say, though, that Love has very much lived up to the expectation in practice so far. The coaches expected him to be very advanced offensively and he has been, and have some things to learn defensively, and that's been the case.

It's amazing everything that just the addition of one player can bring to a team, though. UCLA got to the Final Four the last two years lacking any real interior offensive game, and Love definitely now brings that piece to the puzzle. With the added big body that can really bang, he's added so much to the physicality of the team, as all the reports from practice can attest.

You can expect Love to be very good offensively, with an array of baseline moves that will have you gasping – at least initially, since you aren't used to seeing that from anyone in a Bruin uniform since – well – when? Defenses also can't lose track of him on the perimeter because he's very capable of making his outside jumpers, all the way out to the three-point line. The aspect offensively, though, where he could really have a considerable impact that not many note is his passing ability. He is one of the best passing big men you might ever see in college basketball. Opposing teams will be wary of double-teaming him in the post since he can pass out of it so well. He is a master at, with his back to the basket, finding an open cutter.

The aspect you might not see impact the team offensively as you might think is his much-heralded outlet passes. There isn't any question that Love has an uncanny knack for it, but in college basketball it's easy to see teams rotating back their guards in transition to take away the easy basket UCLA could get from a Love outlet. There will probably be times when opposing teams aren't dilligent in preventing in, but don't expect UCLA to be getting lay-ups on Love's outlet passes on every other possession.

It's not hard to see Love lead the Pac-10 in rebounding as a freshman. Double digit rebounds is completely reasonable to foresee. It's also not hard to see him averaging, say, 14 points her game, too.

And, sorry to say, Bruin fans, it's not hard to see him spending only one year in Westwood. Most close to the situation aren't expecting more.

But if it is just for one year, hopefully Love won't have too many regrets about not coming back for his sophomore season.

If you had to say that one player has been called the most improved during fall practice that would probably be Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Mostly for three reasons: 1) He's in better shape, 2) He looks like he isn't bothered by the tendonitis in his knees that hindered him a year ago and 3) his outside shot has drastically improved.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We've all heard reports of players' outside shots improving in the off-season. Then they typically get into the season and nothing's changed (witness Ray Young). But Mbah a Moute has been shooting the ball so much better in practice, to the point that the coaches have dropped their skepticism, so maybe it's safe for us to abandon ours, too. Mbah a Moute's stroke looks entirely different, starting higher and with a far shorter stroke. He said the UCLA coaches broke it down last spring and started from scratch and then Mbah a Moute worked long hours on it in the off-season.

If it is, indeed, true, then UCLA is by far a better team than previously thought. If Mbah a Moute can consistently nail an outside jumper, he's the most dangerous player on the team, and perhaps one of the most dangerous in the Pac-10. If defenders have to come out and honor his outside shot, he'll go around bigger, slower fours and smaller, weaker threes. If he can really shoot, many fans believe he'll play the three – but Howland could be so enticed to play him at the four, where he'd be able to best exploit the mis-match.

If we're talking about puzzle pieces, it would be a very significant one for Mbah a Moute, one that could definitely make him a viable candidate for the NBA after this season. He has so many other pieces – the athleticism to guard, as Howland says, a 1, 2, 3, 4or 5; that great, natural knack for rebounding, and a very good court sense.

Some sources close to the program have said that Howland might be tempted to keep Mbah a Moute at the four because the rapport between him and Love at the five has been powerful. Two players both with a great feeling for the game, they have reportedly been really good working off each other on the baseline, and inside-out.

Mbah a Moute's shooting, however, could be the next biggest puzzle piece to the Love addition. If it pans out, UCLA's offense could be incredibly difficult to match up against. UCLA, in fact, could shift from a defensive-oriented team to an offensive one.

Lorenzo Mata-Real will have an interesting role this season. A returning starter, it's uncertain at this point whether he could start this year as a senior. And it's not because Mata-Real hasn't improved – which he has. He has steadily improved his back-to-the-basket game, playing slower and more under control, and being able to put in a jump hook from either baseline with either hand. And his outside shooting – from 15 feet and in – has improved.

But where does Mata-Real fit in? If, like we mentioned above, UCLA wants to go with an offense-oriented line-up, you could see Love and Mbah a Moute getting many minutes beside each other. If UCLA wanted to go with a defensive-minded line-up, more than likely Alfred Aboya would get plugged into the four alongside Love. If UCLA goes up against teams that opt for two big post players, you could see Mata-Real and Love playing alongside each other. There will also be moments when the Mata-Real/Love combo would be tempting for Howland to just merely physically dominate a weaker opponent inside. Mata-Real, too, will get the back-up minutes at the five behind Love.

But you could also see Mata-Real perhaps being squeezed out a bit in terms of playing time.

It would be a risky proposition, but if you could pull it off, it would be a tremendously great thing if UCLA could redshirt Mata-Real this year. Next year, if Love went pro, Mata-Real would return as the clear starting five, on a team without any other experienced ones. It's uncertain if UCLA is even considering it, and probably unlikely since Howland tends to usually want to have as many bodies available at his disposal right now, especially in a year where he could win a national championship. If Mata-Real can contribute 15 significant minutes per game that helps them win a national championship, there's no dilemma for Howland, and understandably.

So, one big, interesting question for the season will be just how Mata-Real fits in.

Alfred Aboya, the 6-7 junior, will be a much-needed role player, as he has been during his two-year career at UCLA. Aboya has gained a rep as a physical enforcer type, mostly because he's responsible for 75% of the injuries coming out of practice, seemingly. But you can't under-value just how key it is to have a 240-pound stud come into the game and continue the physical beating that the starters initiated on the opposing team. Aboya is a very good post defender, not only strong, but very quick, and can guard anyone from 6-6 to 6-10, which makes him very valuable. His outside shooting has also improved, so watch for him, when left open from 15 feet, to not hesitate to take that shot this season.

James Keefe is currently recovering from the shoulder surgery he had August. He said recently that he's on track to return in early December.

Keefe, before the injury and surgery, was drawing rave reviews in the spring workouts. He's physically matured, with more bulk along his shoulders and back, which makes it far harder to push him around inside. He was also shooting the ball better, making him the kind of threat we anticipated him to be coming out of high school as a McDonald's All-American. It will be interesting to see, returning from the injury, just how long it takes him to get into the flow, and break the playing rotation. In a perfect world, if UCLA suffered no injuries this season, it'd be ideal if Keefe could also redshirt this year. But if he returns to the team in good form, and doesn't take long to get back into the swing of it, we've heard that the coaching staff was impressed enough with him last spring to expect him to make strong contributions.


One of the most interesting aspects of the team to watch for this season is how, with the addition of Love, the offense change.

UCLA's offense admittedly has been limited since Howland has been at UCLA. It's actually the most impressive thing about his tenure in Westwood – that he went to two Final Fours without any real inside scoring presence.

He now has that in Love.

So, the question is: Will UCLA shift from an outside-oriented offense to an inside-oriented one? Will UCLA's offense initiate in an inside-outside manner?

Howland's a pretty smart guy. He knew what he didn't have before, so he made UCLA perimeter oriented. But he now knows what he has in Love.

It's not a coincidence that practice reports have said Howland is emphasizing the post-feed entry pass.

It's probably safe to say that we'll see UCLA dump the ball down quite a bit more often, and run set plays to get Love a little more freed up with screens in the post. And you'll probably see quite a bit more action in the form of away screening on the weak side opposite of where the ball is posted up, to get his perimeter guys cutting and spotting up to give Love all the assist opportunities he could want.

Even without Afflalo, expect UCLA to be a better shooting team than it was a year ago. Shipp will be better, as will Roll and Westbrook. And if Mbah a Moute, again, can do during the season what he's doing in practice, then it's not close. Also throw in Dragovic contributing. And with a more inside-outside approach, UCLA's perimeter shooters should have quite a bit more space to shoot.

Against a zone, UCLA should also be better. Zones can be beat when you pass well, and UCLA will be a better passing team with the addition of Love. Zones can be beat when you shoot well, and as we've repeated, UCLA should improve its shooting. You can also beat zones with penetration and last year Collison was really the only one who had the capability of doing it. This year, with more time for Westbrook they'll have more capability of penetrating a zone.

Will the Bruins run more? Every year they say they will, and you continually hear Howland yelling from the sideline, "Push it! Push it!" UCLA got out and ran a little more last year than it did the previous year. With Darren Collison you're bound to get some transitional baskets. Kevin Love's outlet passes should add a few more. It's legitimate that Howland wants to run; again, he's pretty smart and recognizes that baskets in transition are far easier than those in a half-court offense. Josh Shipp has been perhaps the best wing starter in recent years in getting out on the break, and maybe with more minutes for the fleet Westbrook, UCLA will indeed be able to get more baskets in transition.

Free-throwing shooting is definitely an area that needs improvement from a season ago. UCLA was eighth in the Pac-10 in free throws (66%). If you exclude Darren Collison (81%) and Josh Shipp (78%), the returning Bruins shot just 49.8% collectively. Love is a good free-throw shooter, so that will help, especially if that takes Mata-Real off the line, since he shot just 37%. Also, with Mike Roll's increased time, he should get more than the eight free throws he had last season, and that should also help the free throw shooting percentage.


We'll concede that perhaps UCLA's defense might not be as good as it was a year ago. It will improve in the post, since Love is just so physical. But the ball is mostly handled outside and without Afflalo as UCLA's go-to defensive perimeter stopper, this is, perhaps, UCLA's biggest vulnerability. You can easily see a quick, 6-4-ish opposing wing being too big for Collison to guard, and too quick for Shipp. Because of that, Westbrook's defensive contributions will potentially be a significant key.

It also very well could be that UCLA will shift a bit more toward a style where it beats you by out-scoring you. It would be a pretty significant departure, since Howland has hung his hat on defense. And this isn't to say that Howland's 2007-2008 Bruins won't be a good defensive team. But the fact that Howland emphasized defense when he began his career at UCLA was, first, a great promotional move. It gave UCLA an identity under Howland. And secondly, Howland recognized that, when you're re-building a program, it's the best quick remedy for getting a team that doesn't have a great deal of talent to be able to be competitive in every game. But now that Howland has the offensive talent, this year's Bruins could more likely be a team that outscores you 85-65 than 70-50.

It's funny, though, that we've heard other schools, particularly those in the Pac-10, emphasizing defense, as a direct reaction to the success that Howland has had in using it to build a program.

Where UCLA should drastically improve is in rebounding. It's the other of Howland's calling cards, but last year UCLA was just good at rebounding, but not great (fifth in rebounding margin in the Pac-10). With the addition of Love, and with Mbah a Moute probably looking more like the rebounding machine he was as a freshman rather than last year when he was hindered by his knees, UCLA should improve upon that drastically. You wouldn't expect a potential frontline that includes Love, Mata-Real and Mbah a Moute to be beat for many rebounds. It's not a stretch to think Love will compete for the Pac-10 rebounding title and should average in double figures for the year.

What Howland has this year, with the personnel on the team, is a vast array of options. In college basketball it's all about match-ups, and UCLA has so many different things it can throw out at other teams, or counter with. If the opposing team doesn't have a particularly quick shooting guard, you can go with Shipp at shooting guard. If they do, Westbrook is your man. If the opposing team has a quick four man, Mbah a Moute gets the assignment. If they have a bigger four, there's Mata-Real or Aboya. If they have a smaller three, you can get a considerable mis-match by putting Mbah a Moute at the three. If the opposing team starts essentially two point guards, you have Collison and Westbrook. There aren't too many scenarios where UCLA can't match up, or create a match up where they have a considerable advantage.

As we said at the top of this article, one thing UCLA will have to replace is Afflalo's intangibles. There isn't enough you can say about Afflalo's competitiveness, and it definitely rubbed off on the team. Even though Howland gets credit for returning defense to the popular lexicon of college basketball, he still needed Afflalo as his defensive poster boy.

So, who will take over the mantle of leadership left open by Afflalo's departure?

Collison is trying to make this team his, and he is well-liked and respected enough by his teammates to do it. He also has that Mr.-Clutch aspect to his game, like Afflalo did, that makes teammates trust him. Also, the team is now made up of so many veterans, who have been through the wars that led then to two Final Fours. Collectively they know what it takes. And while it might be too much to expect from a freshman, Love is a natural leader and is way beyond his years in terms of maturity. So, combined, there isn't too much to worry about in terms of finding enough mental toughness and leadership to guide the team through the season.

Next Up: An analysis of UCLA's schedule and its opponents...

Bruin Report Online Top Stories