2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 21 UCLA Bruins

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 25-10, 13-5 Pac-12 (1st); Lost to Minnesota in the Round of 64

Head Coach: Steve Alford (1st season at UCLA)

Key Losses: Shabazz Muhammad, Larry Drew II, Josh Smith, Ben Howland (coach)

Newcomers: Zach LaVine, Noah Allen, Bryce Alford, Wannah Bail, Steve Alford (coach)

Projected Lineup

G: Zach LaVine, Fr.
G: Jordan Adams, So.
F: Kyle Anderson, So.
F: Travis Wear, Sr.
F: David Wear, Sr.
Bench: Norman Powell, Jr.; Tony Parker, So.; Noah Allen, Fr.; Bryce Alford, Fr.; Wanaah Bail, Fr.*, Isaac Hamilton, Fr.*

They’ll be good because …: There is a lot to like about the talent on this roster, and if Steve Alford can catch a couple of breaks in his first season in Westwood, the Bruins have a chance to put together a team capable of winning the Pac-12. Jordan Adams should be healthy coming off of his broken foot, and if Zach LaVine ends up being as good as the folks around the UCLA program believe, the Bruins should have a pair of talented scorers surrounding Kyle Anderson. That should allow Anderson to be more of a playmaker on the offensive end of the floor this season even if he isn’t the primary ballhandler.

The Wear twins are good players and known quantities, but UCLA’s front court could make a massive leap this season if Tony Parker actually got himself into shape. We’ve been down that road with big UCLA centers (Josh Smith anyone?), but Parker’s talented enough to be one of the best bigs in the conference. The x-factors will be Wanaah Bail and Isaac Hamilton, both of whom are waiting for an NCAA ruling to find out if they will be cleared this season.

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But they might disappoint because …: The biggest issue that UCLA has is that there really isn’t a point guard on the roster. Anderson wants to be a point guard, but he’s slow-footed and 6-foot-8. At this level, he’s a power forward that UCLA can run their offense through. He can be Draymond Green, and that’s a compliment. But it doesn’t mean that he will embrace that role. Outside of him, who can run the show for UCLA? LaVine and Bryce Alford are known more as scorers than they are lead guards. Norman Powell is certainly at his best playing off the ball. Larry Drew II had a bad reputation for what happened at North Carolina, but he had a very good season running the show for UCLA last year. It’s weird saying this, but UCLA is really going to miss him.

The other issue is whether or not Alford can make the pieces on this roster fit together. He coaches a similar brand of basketball as former head coach Ben Howland, in that he wants his teams to be physical defensively and relatively deliberate on the offense end. These aren’t kinds that he recruited into the program. This is a team that had issues last season living up to expectations and fitting in together on the court, and a new coach is supposed to come in and solve those problems? That’s a tall task.

Outlook: I really don’t know what to expect from this UCLA team. I could see them battling Arizona for the Pac-12 title, and I could see them missing out on the NCAA tournament entirely. Much of their success will depend on two things — whether or not Hamilton and Bail will be available for Alford to use this season, and whether Anderson and Parker improve as sophomores.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind: the Pac-12 is going to be as good as it has been since the likes of Kevin Love and James Harden were still collegians. What that means is that UCLA won’t have much in the way of margin for error; it’s not crazy to think that the Bruins could slide into seventh in the conference. Is that enough for UCLA to get a tournament bid? And if they miss out on the Big Dance, will some of the Class of 2015’s elite recruits from SoCal — Ivan Rabb, Tyler Dorsey, Aaron Holiday — drop UCLA from consideration?

VIDEO: Leonard Hamilton gives awkward response when asked about Florida State not fouling

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Michigan outlasted Florida State in an ugly Elite Eight game on Saturday night as the Wolverines won 58-54 to advance to the Final Four.

The end of the game left a lot of viewers puzzled.

With the Seminoles in the midst of a furious rally, the team seemingly gave up in the final seconds. Down by four points with 11.8 seconds left, Florida State didn’t foul to extend the game as Michigan ran out the clock for the win. Since the Wolverines struggled from the free-throw line and missed two front-ends of one-and-ones in the final few minutes, the Seminoles fouling to extend the game seemed like a potential strategy.

Many viewers, as well as the broadcast crew working the game, wondered aloud why the Seminoles wouldn’t attempt to foul in that spot.

So Dana Jacobsen of CBS asked Hamilton about the final seconds of the game in a postgame interview.

An awkward interview ensued.


No. 3 Michigan outlasts No. 9 Florida State to advance to Final Four

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Michigan struggled to generate consistent offense, but the Wolverines held off No. 9 seed Florida State for a 58-54 win on Saturday night during the West Regional final in Los Angeles.

The No. 3 seed Wolverines (32-7) are headed back to the Final Four under head coach John Beilein for the first time since 2013 and for the eighth time in program history.

Making things look easy during a Thursday night blowout win over Texas A&M, Michigan made 10 first-half three-pointers to cruise to victory. During the Elite Eight, Michigan couldn’t generate any consistency from the perimeter. Only shooting 18 percent (4-for-22) from three-point range, Michigan missed ten straight three-pointers at one point as they had to grind out a win in an offensive struggle. Redshirt sophomore guard Charles Matthews paced the Wolverines with 17 points, while junior big man Mo Wagner chipped in 12 points despite an 0-for-7 shooting night from three-point range.

Even though Michigan has been known as a traditionally offensive-minded team under Beilein, it has been consistent defense that has the Wolverines advancing to San Antonio. Outside of the barrage of three-pointers Michigan hit against the Aggies on Thursday, this is a team that has struggled offensively during most of the 2018 NCAA tournament.

A year ago, Michigan advanced to the Sweet 16 behind a potent offense that had veterans like Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin and D.J. Wilson. When all three of those guys moved on this offseason, the Wolverines became a more focused  team on the defensive end. The offseason saw Michigan hire assistant coach Luke Yaklich, as he became the team’s defensive coordinator. Point guard Zavier Simpson took over for Walton as the sophomore’s defensive-minded approach also aided in Michigan’s transformation into a two-way team.

It hasn’t always been pretty during the past few weeks, but Michigan is playing some of its best ball of the season right now. And the team’s offense isn’t even knocking down shots. Holding Florida State to only one field goal over an 11-minute span was the cushion that ultimately helped Michigan prevail when its offense couldn’t buy a bucket from the perimeter. That 11-minute stretch on defense was also something that last season’s Michigan team could not have pulled off.

Florida State (23-12) did its best to hang around despite having major offensive issues of their own. The Seminoles found themselves trailing by three points with under a minute left, but they couldn’t get over the hump in the final few possessions. Senior forward Phil Cofer (16 points) and junior guard P.J. Savoy (12 points) were the only two double-figure scorers for Florida State as they shot 32 percent (16-for-50) from the field and 25 percent (4-for-16) from three-point range.

The Seminoles were down by four with under 15 seconds left but they opted not to foul to extend the game. Michigan surprisingly ran out the clock as Florida State’s comeback (and season) ended in underwhelming fashion.

Michigan advances to next weekend’s Final Four in San Antonio as they’ll take on No. 11 seed and national darling Loyola.

Loyola-Chicago’s Sister Jean gets her piece of the net

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Loyola-Chicago’s hero — their 98-year old chaplain, Sister Jean — got her reward for being the good-luck charm that got the Ramblers to the Final Four.

Think about this:

  • The Ramblers beat Miami on a game-winning three with 0.3 seconds left
  • They beat Tennessee on a jumper with 3.6 seconds left that bounced off the rim, the backboard and the rim again before going in.
  • They needed a three with 7.6 seconds left to help them hold off Nevada in the Sweet 16.
  • A senior that never averaged more than 8.3 points and that had a season-high of 14 points against something called Eureka this season went for a career-high 23 points to get the Ramblers to the Final Four.

She earned this piece of the net.

The Atlanta Falcons are trying to recruit Sister Jean from Loyola

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The Atlanta Falcons are American sports’ most cursed franchise now that the Chicago Cubs have won a World Series.

Hell, Atlanta sports in general are a minefield of terrible losses, blown seasons and heartbreak.

Which is why the Falcons, who may or may not have blown a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, are trying to get Sister Jean on their payroll:

Stay away, Falcons.

Sister Jean is ours.

Sincerely, College Basketball

No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago advances past Kansas State, to Final Four

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Sister Jean strikes again!

Ben Richardson, a senior guard who’s never averaged more than 8.3 points in a season, broke double-figures just four times during his senior year and had a season-high of 14 points that came in a game against something called Eureka, scored went 6-for-7 from three and scored a career-high 23 points for No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago as college basketball’s latest Cinderella finished off their run to the Final Four with a 78-62 win over No. 9-seed Kansas State.

A No. 11-seed is the lowest-seeded team to ever reach a Final Four, and Loyola is just the fourth No. 11-seed to get to the Final Four. LSU did it in 1986, George Mason made it in 2006 and VCU reached the Final Four out of a play-in game in 2011.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this win was that it was never really in doubt. Kansas State led 3-2 for 17 seconds in the first half … and that’s it. The Ramblers opened the game on a 15-5 run, took a 36-24 lead into the break and led by as many as 23 points in the second half.

Perhaps this is what says it all — The Ramblers emptied their bench to let the walk-ons get some run.

In the Elite Eight.

Their bench players dribbled out the clock to send them to the Final Four.

For a team that needed game-winning jumpers in the final 10 seconds in the first three rounds of the tournament, Kansas State was the lowest seeded team that the Ramblers played in the tournament. I guess it’s fitting that they were the game they finally won comfortably.

And to be frank, this is the postseason run that we all needed this year.

Let’s start with the basics: Nobody wants to see Kansas State in the Final Four. I’m sorry Kansas State fans, but that’s the truth. This run has been fun, it might have saved Bruce Weber’s job and I’ve gained a whole new level of respect for the fight and the grit that guys like Barry Brown Jr., Cartier Diarra and Xavier Sneed play with.

But if you are going to give me the choice between seeing a miracle mid-major run to the final weekend of the college basketball season or a middling power conference program that happened to get hot against a lucky draw in the NCAA tournament, I’m taking the mid-major.

Every. Single. Time.

And I guarantee that I’m not the only one.

If we’re not going to get a blueblood, give me the little guy.

Especially when they are being led to glory by a 98-year old nun named Sister Jean.

That is the other part of this: Everything about this Loyola-Chicago team is good. They are what makes college basketball so special. They are why this event is the best sporting event in America. And they are making this run in the tournament in a year where the sport has been marred by scandal after scandal.

There was the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball that resulted in assistant coaches at four programs getting arrested. There was the arrest of the three UCLA players that turned into an international incident covered by TMZ, CNN and FOX News when LaVar Ball stood up for his son and got into a war of words with Donald Trump. There were the accusations that were levied at Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo that he covered up sexual assaults committed by players within his program. There were the reports that leaked before the start of the NCAA tournament that tied players at myriad programs with taking impermissible from a disgraced NCAA agent, and then the controversy surrounding a report that Sean Miller was caught on a wiretap discussing a payment of $100,000 for Deandre Ayton.

Anyone paying attention to college basketball from afar would think that the sport is an absolute cesspool, and whether the fact that it is may or may not be true depending the way that you view amateurism and the ability of college athletes to earn money off of their likeness, the bottom-line is this: College basketball’s public image has never been worse.

Until now.

Now we have a team from the Missouri Valley — a league that Wichita State and Creighton left because it wasn’t good enough — heading to the Final Four. We have a mid-major program whose most famous member is their 98-year old chaplain. We have a program with a head coach that is so far from the glitz and glamour of $3,000 suits that he wears outfits that look like this.

This is why college basketball is the best.

Because things like this can happen.

Tonight, we are all Ramblers.