It’s the Sweet 16! Who would’ve thought that Alabama would be in this position exactly two years ago when Nate Oats was hired? We all knew the talent was there...we just had to put it together. Alabama will face the Bruins tomorrow for an opportunity to advance to the Elite 8 for the first time since 2004. Tip is set for 6:15 on TBS from Hinkle Field House.
The Opponent: If you’re a stat buff, I invite you to check out Bobby’s latest entry which contains a link for all of UCLA’s stats. Mick Cronin’s Bruins have had a fair season in a PAC 12 that seems to be much deeper than anyone initially thought it to be. UCLA finished 4th in that conference and currently sit at 20-9.
The Cronin hire was an odd one when it was originally announced, though I can’t say that I’m surprised to see the success he’s had. Cronin is a great basketball mind and UCLA will certainly provide the resources needed to maintain a well ran hoops program. The Bruins have 3 starters that average double figures in Juzang, Jaquez and Campbell. Two of those 3 were offered by Alabama during their high school days. Cronin does a great job using sets to get his shooters in positions for open looks and Campbell is a great distributor within the system. He was 2nd in the PAC 12 at 5.5 assists per game. The UCLA offense has been quite successful in this Sweet 16 run...but they haven’t faced anything like Alabama yet. Facing The 3rd ranked team in KENPOM’s defensive efficiency stat won’t be nearly the same as Abilene Christian.
Players to Watch: Is there any doubt that the biggest X-Factor in this tournament is John Petty Jr? While Jahvon Quinerly has been virtually unguardable and Jaden Shackleford continues to quietly fill it up...it’s Petty that is capable of taking Alabama to a new atmosphere. There isn’t a team in America that would’ve beaten Alabama last weekend. Not Gonzaga. Not Baylor. Maryland played a great game, but the Tide was simply a buzzsaw that was clearly fueled by the momentum that Petty provides when he’s on. It’s almost as if his confidence rubs off on his teammates.
For UCLA- the choice has to be the aforementioned Juzang. The Kentucky transfer can score it in bunches. The 6’6 G now has 6 games on the season in which he’s scored 20 or more. Juzang will likely get a large dose of Herb Jones in his grill but Petty or Ellis could also handle the assignment. Mick Cronin loves to use off ball screens to free up Juzang for open looks. Alabama defenders could get burned if they choose the under route on said screens.
My Thoughts: UCLA has had a great run. Has the competition been great in the NCAAT? Meh. They have the pedigree and the coach, however. Mick Cronin will have a gameplan. The man can coach and he’ll have the Bruins ready. However, none of it will matter if Alabama is shooting the ball nearly as close as what it was last weekend. I think we’ll cool off a bit but the Tide seems locked in thanks to the veteran leadership on the team. You can bet that Reese, Petty, Jones and Bruner will set the example once again. UCLA will play well...but the Tide is just too deep and too hungry.
Prediction: Alabama 78, UCLA 70