Team: UCLA Bruins
National Titles: 11
Final Fours: 18
Coach (record): Steve Alford (489-242, 28-9 at UCLA)
2013-14 record: 28-9
2014 NCAA Tournament result: No. 4 seed, lost to Florida in Sweet 16
Current Top 25 (and one) rank: Unranked
All-Time Record vs. Kentucky: 4-6
- G: Isaac Hamilton
- G: Norman Powell
- G: Bryce Alford
- F: Kevon Looney
- C: Tony Parker
(Key Reserves: Jonah Bolden, Thomas Welsh)
Early scouting report/how they match up vs. Kentucky: If Kentucky was one of the big winners of the early-entry deadline, UCLA was at the other end of the spectrum. The Bruins expected to lose Kyle Anderson, but the departures of Zach LaVine and Jordan Adams also hit Steve Alford's team hard. Adams was a particularly rough decision for the Bruins, as he initially announced he was returning to Westwood -– only to change his mind on the final night before the deadline and enter the NBA draft. Throw in the fact Travis Wear and David Wear ran out of eligibility, and Alford has a tough task ahead of him.
Fortunately, he brings in one of the best recruiting classes in the country – and also adds former UTEP signee Isaac Hamilton, who sat out last season after not being released from his letter of intent with the Miners. Hamilton will be one of the main keys for the 2014-15 version of UCLA, as he was one of the best scoring guards in the class of 2013, but will be asked to be a playmaker and ball-handler for the Bruins. Alongside him on the perimeter will be rising sophomore Bryce Alford, the coach's son and a knockdown shooter from 3-point range. He will also asked to handle the ball and initiate offense this season. Norman Powell is the best returnee on the roster, after averaging 11.4 points last season. He will have to take on a leadership role this season, and will also be counted on for perimeter defense.
The frontcourt is made up mostly of freshman, with rising sophomore Tony Parker the elder statesman down low. Parker showed some flashes of his potential production late in the season, including 11 points and six rebounds in the Round of 64 against Tulsa. Incoming freshman Kevon Looney, Jonah Bolden and Thomas Welsh are all top-40 prospects, with some recruiting services rating all three as five-star players. Looney is the most highly-touted of the group, and his ability to score inside and outside will be necessary for UCLA. He was also one of the best rebounders in the class. Bolden has a skillset that reminds some of rising NBA star Nicolas Batum, as Bolden is a versatile forward who can do a little bit of everything. He creates matchup problems and is a very good passer for his size. Welsh improved greatly as his high school career progressed, and the 7-footer can finish around the rim and rebound effectively.
Newcomers needing to make immediate impacts has been the norm in the past for Kentucky, but it will be the key for UCLA this season. The Bruins will be counting on three true freshmen and Hamilton to play big minutes right off the bat. In mid-December, the Bruins should have their roles somewhat set, but Kentucky's mix of talent and experience is going to be hard to overcome. The Wildcats bring back multiple first-round picks and also have one of the best recruiting classes in the country. It will be interesting to see how UCLA lines up against the size of Kentucky. The Bruins are probably most dangerous offensively with three guards on the court, but they could have trouble defending against the Wildcats' height across the board. Guys like Parker, Looney, Welsh and Bolden will have to hold their own down low, while the perimeter players need to knock down shots. Moreover, can UCLA speed up the tempo? Kentucky's transition defense could be beaten last season -- the Bruins need to get out and play in the fast-break.
It's a tough task, but the December showdown with Kentucky will show us how much UCLA has progressed the first two months of the season.