UCLA has announced their non-conference schedule for the 2014-2015 season, and it is more that respectable in terms of the kind of talent that Steve Alford has scheduled.
- Nov. 14 Montana State
- Nov. 16 Coastal Carolina
- Nov. 20 Nicholls State
- Nov. 23 Long Beach State
- Nov. 26-28 Battle 4 Atlantis (The Bahamas)
- Dec. 3 Cal State Fullerton
- Dec. 7 San Diego
- Dec. 10 UC Riverside
- Dec. 13 Gonzaga
- Dec. 20 vs. Kentucky, United Center (Chicago, Ill.)
- Dec. 28 at Alabama
The season kicks off fairly slowly, with three relatively uninspiring matchups before the Bruins play Long Beach State, one of the better mid-major programs on the west coast. After that, Alford’s club will head to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis, which will likely be the strongest early season tournament. It also features Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma and Georgetown, among others.
After a trio of in-state foes, UCLA will wrap up their non-conference schedule by hosting a borderline-top ten team in Gonzaga, taking on preseason No. 1 Kentucky in Chicago and heading to Alabama for their one true road game before kicking off Pac-12 play.
I think this is a smart bit of scheduling by Alford. He’ll challenge his team, but with Kyle Anderson, Zach Lavine, Jordan Adams and the Wear twins all gone from last year’s roster, he’ll give his young guys a chance to get acclimated to the college level before forcing them to square off against Final Four caliber competition.
He’s also managed to schedule five of his team’s six toughest games away from Pauley Pavilion, and while that won’t be the same as a road trip to Arizona, it will force his guys to be able to adapt to an arena that they aren’t used to.
This won’t be the best non-conference schedule we’ll see in 2014-2015, but it is still pretty strong.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.