UCLA Basketball: Previewing The Indiana State Sycamores

It’s here.

UCLA basketball is now just days away before the 13th-ranked Bruins re-open Pauley Pavilion by hosting the Indiana State Sycamores on November 9.

The anticipation for this season has been built up like crazy, ranging from the 2012 recruiting class to the Bruins’ trip to China to center Josh Smith’s weight issues. This season has potential to be wind up as the most successful season since 1995, and it also has the potential to entirely implode, which would surely end with Ben Howland’s dismissal at the end of the season.

Of course, the storylines will begin when the Bruins play these Sycamores in New Pauley, a game that the Bruins should win handily in order to get the season started on the right foot.

Because, let’s be honest, Indiana State hoops is as bad as it gets. Aside from ranking in the low-200s in nearly ever statistical category known to man, they were largely disappointing in 2011-12, more son than these UCLA Bruins were in that season. Despite having an 18-15 record, they were otuscored by their opponents 64.9 to 64.2.

Defensively? This Indiana State team wasn’t the worst in 2011-12, doing well enough to earn themselves the “middling” label. Their highest national ranking in 2011-12 was the amount of free throw attempts allowed, earning themselves a spot at No. 82 in the country. Aside from that? The squad was thoroughly unimpressive on this side of the ball, although played “well” enough to consider if their trajectory might see an improved defense in 2012-13.

Offensively? Far worse. Bottom-feeding worse, even. Indiana State shot at a horrifyingly low 42 percent clip from the floor last season, which is likely why they were putting up the 258th most points in the nation last season.

It gets worse, because the Sycamores lose their leading scorer from last year in Dwayne Lathan, who accounted for 12.3 points a game while shooting at a respectable 46 percent from the floor. They’re also losing Carl Richard, their third-leading scorer from a year ago, although it’s likely they aren’t going to miss 39 percent shooting clip in 2012-13.

For all those headaches, though, Indiana State does return Jake Odum, a serviceable point guard who is the true offensive initiator in this Sycamore offense. Not only with the point man the second-leading scorer for Indiana State in 2011-12, but he also led the squad in assists at nearly five a game, while also being the best player on the court on a per-minute basis, earning a team-high PER of 20.1, while his efficiency in passing is exemplified by his 35 percent assist rate. To top it off, the kid is the most efficient player defensively, too, allowing a team-best 95.6 points scored per 100 possessions (colloquially known as a stat called “defensive rating”).

Of course, UCLA shouldn’t stress over Odum if Larry Drew II is going to be starting at the point for defensive purposes, which Ben Howland has intimated since the signing of his monster recruiting class which includes point forward Kyle Anderson. Odum won’t be a point man worth over-looking, but Drew II can solidify his spot on the starting line-up — Norman Powell nipping at his heels — with a solid defensive performance against a decent 1 in Odum.

Offensively, in general? UCLA should easily hang 80 on the Sycamores, especially if Ben Howland has half-heartedly abandoned his love for a slow-down offensive given the talent he has at his disposal (with point forward Kyle Anderson running fast-breaks and outside scorers Jordan Adams and Tyler Lamb, if not Shabazz Muhammad, waiting out in the perimeter). This, of course, is a huge uptick from the Bruins’ godawful 67.8 points a game.

The Bruins will need to win this game convincingly to get off on the right foot because Indiana State is the very definition of a “cupcake” match-up. Given that the Bruins will be at home — their real home, in Pauley — anything else would be a massive disappointment.

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