Preview of Western Illinois

We've labeled two of UCLA's previous opponents as the worst teams the Bruins would face this season, but the Western Illinois Leathernecks probably deserve the designation. The challenge for the Bruins will be to keep WIU under 50 points...

UCLA returns to action on Tuesday night in an exhibition match against Western Illinois. Oh, wait…I have just been reminded that the Bruins are actually in the midst of their December regular season schedule, but it seems as if UCLA's exhibition opponents were of a higher quality than is WIU. Yes, this is a thinly-veiled criticism on the nature of UCLA's 2007-2008 non-conference schedule. It's not necessarily the competition that is being criticized, but rather the way that the lesser opponents have been placed on the calendar. Tracy Pierson stated in his Idaho State review that playing opponents such as ISU or Tuesday's opponent, the Western Illinois Leathernecks, could cause the Bruins to become more complacent as they head into the meat of their schedule. This is probably not what Coach Ben Howland had in mind when he helped to make the schedule after last season. Certainly he had a reasonable expectation that the away game against Michigan next Saturday would provide the Bruins with a stern test. However, with the way the Wolverines have been playing if the Bruins don't run away and hide from UM then something probably isn't quite right. But that preview is for another day. The point is, the Bruins aren't playing competition that will prepare them for the Pac-10 season.

I stated in the Idaho State preview that ISU could be the worst team on the UCLA schedule. Well, if they're not, then that dubious award could go to WIU. This is probably the worst team in the Summit League (the former Mid Continent Conference), which is among the lowest rated conferences in the country. To put it in perspective, if Idaho State played in the Summit League, they'd probably finish in second or third place. That's a pretty damning indictment of a conference of which I am very familiar (I received my undergraduate degree from Valparaiso University, which, up until this year, was a Mid-Con power. They have since moved to the Horizon League, which features mid-major power Butler). I am hoping that none of the Bruin players are BRO lurkers, at least not this week, so that they don't read the following:

WIU is bad…REALLY bad.

Western Illinois is coached by Derek Thomas, in his fifth season in Macomb, Illinois. It would be difficult to gauge how good of a coach that Thomas is considering the black hole that is the WIU program. They have finished in last or next-to-last place in the Mid-Con for the past seven seasons. Like I said, "bad."

The first issue for WIU is that they are very small. They only have three players over 6'8" and two of them are freshmen. One of them, James Granstra (6'10" 245 lbs.), has started all but one game he's been able to play. He'll go about 16 minutes but he only averages 1.4 PPG. He does pull down 3 boards per game. I know Granstra, having seen him in high school here in Minnesota. Granstra works hard but is very slow and challenged athletically. In all honesty, he wouldn't start on the high school team where I currently work. I don't mean last year, I mean now.

The other frosh, Delvon Johnson (6'8" 210 lbs.), plays only 8 MPG. He goes for 2 PPG and 2 RPG. Even if Thomas decides to play one or both of the freshmen for extended minutes, they aren't ready for this kind of game nor will the team be ready to have them in the line-up for more than a few minutes at a time.

The third "tall" player is senior Louis Johnson (6'8" 230 lbs.). Johnson has played about 10 MPG and has started once. He averages 2.6 PPG and 1.3 RPG. In essence, the three "bigs" for WIU play about 33 MPG and average 6 PPG and 6.3 RPG. That's not very good. Kevin Love, Lorenzo Mata-Real, Alfred Aboya and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute could have a field day. They should have a field day. In fact, if the Bruins don't pound the ball inside it will lead to the first criticism I give of Howland since he's been in Westwood.

The Leathernecks are a bit better at the guard positions. They have to be better than the frontcourt, right? Senior David Jackson (6'4" 190 lbs.), is the best player on the team. He leads the team in scoring at…11.6 PPG…and he's the only Leatherneck who averages in double figures, and is second in rebounding at 4.8 RPG. He also leads the team in three-point shooting percentage…at 38%. Jackson is a decent player, certainly one who could get minutes on many teams, but he wouldn't crack the rotation in Westwood.

Sophomore David Nurse (6'2" 175 lbs.), is the designated shooter. He is tied for second on the team at 9 PPG but he is only 14-42 from behind the arc. He's strictly a spot-up shooter. That's the only part to his game that should cause the Bruins any concern.

Junior David DuBois (6'5" 215 lbs.) averages 8.2 PPG and does so as the Leathernecks' "do-everything" player. He hasn't made a ‘3' yet this season and is only shooting 41% from the floor. He is a floor-burn player but isn't in the same class athletically as Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, let alone the Bruin starters. He leads the team at 7.1 RPG.

Senior Jerryck Owens-Murray (6'6" 225 lbs.) provides the only real inside punch, but does it as an undersized player in his own conference, let alone against a team like UCLA. He averages 9 PPG and 3.7 RPG. He plays strictly in the paint.

Freshman James Washington (5'10" 170 lbs.) is the point guard. He is actually playing pretty well and has real potential to be a very good player down the line. He has 27 assists on the season against only 20 turnovers, which is excellent considering how bad the Leathernecks are. He is decent from beyond the arc at 32%, but he will keep the defense relatively honest. The area that Washington needs improvement is in his overall shooting percentage, where he is only at 39%. Washington may be good one day, but he is very raw to now have to face Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook.

The final two players that see minutes are junior Nikola Bodic (6'5" 215 lbs.), who is a carbon copy of DuBois without the rebounding, and junior Josh Rivers (6'0" 175 lbs.), a shooting specialist who will spell anyone and everyone in the backcourt. He's only 31% from behind the arc.

UCLA must use games like this to get players like Josh Shipp more used to passing the ball inside. They can also continue to work on their zone offense, and I think that beating a zone is as much about confidence as it is anything else, and gaining confidence against a zone (which they will face in this game) will help them to be more confident against Michigan's zone on Saturday and Stanford's zone in several weeks. Finally, it will allow Mike Roll to really start getting his feet under him. Roll will need to be fit and ready to go come the New Year. He may be the key to the team as he has the ability to force teams to extend their zones or come out of it.

The Bruins can win this one by 60 or 70 points if they decide to bring it on the defensive end. If the defensive intensity is there, the Bruins could hold the Leathernecks to under 40 points. If the Bruins show that intensity, I just don't see where the scoring is going to come from for WIU.

This one should be easier than Saturday's game.

Western Illinois 40

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