Tuesday, March 14, 2006

UCLA vs. Belmont - NCAA Game Preview

By Bruin Basketball Report

The No.7 ranked UCLA Bruins begin their quest for a twelfth NCAA Men's Basketball Championship banner with an opening round game against the Belmont University Bruins in San Diego on Thursday.

Pac-10 regular-season champion, UCLA (27-6, 14-4), swept through the Pac-10 Tournament last week in convincing style, smashing opponents by an average margin of almost 18 points a game. Two of the wins were against NCAA tournament-bound teams, Arizona and California.

UCLA was rewarded by the NCAA selection committee with a No.2 seed in the West (Oakland) region.

"I'm excited about a No. 2 seed. It was well-deserved," coach Ben Howland said. "Our guys have worked very, very hard. One of the criteria that is used by the NCAA is how are you playing at the end of the season."

In addition to their march through the Pac-10 tournament, UCLA enters the NCAA tournament with a seven-game winning streak, and are ranked in the top 10 in both national polls for the first time this season.

The UCLA Bruins take on another Bruin team - the Belmont University Bruins.

Belmont University, located in Nashville Tennessee, is known more for the country music performers it’s produced, rather than NBA basketball players.

Belmont (20-10, 15-5), was co-conference regular-season champion of the Atlantic Sun conference.

Atlantic Sun conference teams include; Campbell, East Tennessee St., Florida Atlantic, Gardner-Webb, Jacksonville, Kennesaw, Lipscomb, Mercer, Northern Florida, and Stetson.

A former NAIA division powerhouse, Belmont, made the move to Division 1 seven seasons ago. This year’s regular-season conference championship was the first one won by the school at Division 1.

In the Atlantic Sun conference tournament, Belmont defeated archrival Lipscomb, 74-69, for the title which earned the team an NCAA automatic-bid to the tournament. Belmont received a No.15 seed in the West regional.

Belmont finished the season with a No. 117 in RPI and an extremely low strength of schedule (SOS) of 239.

Belmont ranks seventh best in the nation in scoring offense with 81.8 points per game; however, two other Atlantic Sun conference teams, Campbell (82.8) and East Tennessee St. (81.6) rank in the top 10 in points scored per game as well.

From a conference perspective, the Atlantic Sun conference has one of the poorest scoring defenses in the country, the teams combine to allow a whopping 75.3 points per game. Obviously, not much defense is played in the Atlantic Sun conference. Belmont allows 75.9 points per game.

As a team, Belmont shoots extremely well from the floor, making 50% of their field goals (4th best in the nation); in addition, they hit on 38.2% from three-point distance.

Belmont plays an uptempo game (72.4 possession per game), and runs a motion offense looking to hit the open man - the team averages more than 17 assists per game.

Many of their assists are the result of lay-ups off back cuts or back screens which open up because of an opponent's concern over Belmont's prolific three-point shooting.

On the other hand, as a result of their uptempo offense, Belmont is prone to turnovers averaging 16.3 per game.

Four players average double figures in points scored for Belmont:

The leading scorer on the team is guard Justin Hare (So, 6’3, 185). He averages 15.9 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. He shoots 48% from the field and is a deadly marksman from three-point distance shooting at 39%.

Hare scored a career-high 32 points to lead Belmont to the conference tournament title last week, and was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

Arron Afflalo, of UCLA, will certainly get the initial assignment on Justin Hare. Afflalo, the team’s best on ball defender has been a nightmare for most opposing players.

Center Boomer Herndon (Jr, 6’11, 260) scored 14.9 points, grabbed 7.5 rebounds, and recorded 1.8 blocks per game this season. He takes up a lot of space underneath with his size, and can be an effective scorer in the low blocks. He is shooting over 59% from the field.

Junior guard Josh Goodwin (6’2, 200) averages 12.5 points and shoots 48% from the field, and just as well from three-point distance hitting at a 46% clip. In a conference game against East Tennessee St., Goodwin made 11-16 on three-pointers.

Brian Collins (Sr, 6’4, 175) averages 10.9 points and 4.4 assists per game. Although not a three-point threat like the other Belmont guards, he still shoots extremely well from the field averaging over 51% from the field.

Coming off the bench to provide a spark offensively is three-point specialist Andy Wicke (Fr, 6’3, 185). He averages 8.6 points per game and shoots almost 40% from three-point distance.

On the defensive end, Belmont usually prefers to play man-to-man defense; however due to the athleticism of UCLA, we may see Belmont employ much more zone defense in this game to help negate some of UCLA's advantage in this area.

Look for UCLA to come out and immediately establish a slower, more methodical tempo in order to cut down on Belmont's offensive opportunities, and to make them work hard on both ends of the court.

Belmont does not have the depth to stay with UCLA nor have the ability to handle its physical style of play.

If Belmont gets hot in the early going, especially with its three-point shooting, they may be able to stay in the game with UCLA. But by the second half, one would expect UCLA to pull away if they haven't already.

Ultimately, UCLA should win this game going away, but Howland knows he can't let his team look past Belmont to the next round.

"Some higher seeds always get upset in the first round every year." Howland said, "We're preparing so that won't be one of them."

"We have to look at Belmont right now and just focus on them. It's one game at a time."



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