Head Coach: Ben Howland (342-175, 17th season)
Record: 8-4 (No. 60 KenPom ranking)
Best victory: 86-79 over No. 10 BYU at semi-home
Worst loss: 66-57 to No. 118 Montana at home
These Bruins are a lot like last year's Bruins. They don't have the series of horrendous losses at home, but they've been just as inconsistent. They'll play down to the wire with Kansas on the road, then lose to Montana at home. They'll beat BYU, then barely be able to beat UC-Irvine. These guys were picked to finish third in conference before the season started, but at this point, it's hard to believe that these Bruins are suddenly going to be able to figure out how to bring it every night.
Offense: 110.4 adjusted efficiency (43rd); 51.5 eFG% (81st); 20.9 TO% (164th); 37.4 OR% (45th); 39.0 FTR (156th)
UCLA is much improved on this side of the ball from last year, and that's attributable to a couple of different factors.
First, the Bruins are much improved at offensive rebounding, up from 270th a year ago. That has a tendency to happen when you've got a 6-foot-10, 305 beast of a big man who also happens to be the best offensive rebounder in the country. Joshua Smith, out of Kentwood High School, is rebounding approximately one out of every four of his team's missed shots. For context, one out of 10 is considered pretty decent. And now that Smith has figured out how not to foul out of every game, he's starting to have an extreme influence over his team's offensive production.
The second area the Bruins have improved is in 3-point shooting. They're still not a great outside shooting team -- their 34.5 percent from 3-point range is decidedly average -- but it's better than their 32.4 percent from a year ago. They're also shooting fewer 3s, which is allowing them to be more efficient with their scoring.
Individually, you've got to know where two guys are on the floor: Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson. Honeycutt plays the most minutes on the team and uses nearly 25 percent of the Bruins' possessions. His offensive rating is nothing to write home about (just above 100), but he nearly beat Kansas by himself. He's flammable. Nelson, on the other hand, uses fewer possessions but is great at just being in the mix. He scores efficiently because of his ability to get to the free throw line.
One bugaboo for UCLA has been turnovers. Point guard play has been a major weakness for the Bruins and could be a problem against a team like WSU that forces turnovers.
Defense: 95.1 adjusted efficiency (83rd); 47.1 eFG% (121st), 19.6 TO% (240th), 32.3 OR% (159th), 34.6 FTR (116th)
Just like last year, this year's Bruins don't even remotely resemble the Bruins of the Final Four runs. Those teams were built on defense -- in your face, in your shorts, ball hawking, harassing defense. Two years ago, UCLA ranked 21st in opponents' turnover percentage. A coach can live with that if his team is excellent at defending shooters, but this team doesn't do that well, either.
That poor effective field goal percentage is largely the product of poor 3-point defense. The Bruins give up 34.9 percent from out there. That's probably the best place to attack UCLA, as they block 14 percent of opponents' 2-point shots -- 23rd nationally. You'd think you'd be able to chalk that up to Smith, but Honeycutt is actually the team's best shot blocker at 4.6 percent -- 243rd nationally
One little thing to keep an eye on: The top 100 teams that UCLA has played -- Villanova, VCU, Kansas and BYU -- posted free throw rates of 54.8, 40.6, 54.5 and 60.8. These Bruins struggle to defend athletic teams, and the Cougs may be able to take advantage of that.
Overall: The talent still seems to be there, but the inconsistency makes it tough to get a bead on these guys. On paper, this looks like a game the Cougs should win, but at the same time, there's plenty of reason to believe that UCLA will give them everything they can handle. Of course, it wouldn't be shocking if WSU blew UCLA out. The bottom line is that there's a wide range of plausible outcomes in this game, and that alone should make this entertaining fare.