Dec 15, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Prairie View A

UCLA Basketball: How Can The Bruins Shore Up Bad Three-Point Defense?

Can UCLA hoops shore up terrible three-point defense?

To answer this question we first have to establish that the Bruins do indeed play bad 3-point defense. According to the NCAA’s Men’s Basketball statistics, UCLA ranks 142nd in 3-point defense percentage out of 345 teams overall as of 12/14/12. At first glance, we appear marginal in this area of measurement. We’ve allowed 64 3-point field goals (3pgs) out of 201 attempts for an overall opponent percentage of 31.8%. (The worst percentage is 47.8% by Nicholls State and the best is 21.3% by Providence.) How do we compare to the top teams? Mighty Indiana is 23rd, Duke is 125th, Michigan is 137th, Syracuse is 14th and Florida is 147th. 3-point defense percentage appears to be kind of meaningless relative to team success. You would certainly be hard-pressed to convince anyone that Duke, Michigan and Florida are bad teams, so perhaps marginal 3-point defense percentage isn’t necessarily indicative of bad 3-point defense.

Another statistic we can look at is 3-point attempts per game. As noted above, UCLA has allowed 201 attempts after nine games. That means that our opponents have attempted 22.3 per game. Looking at the top five ranked teams again here’s what we find: Indiana allows 22.3 attempts per game, Duke 16.3, Michigan 18.2, Syracuse 21.0 and Florida 15.6. (Mount St. Mary’s is the king having allowed only 10.4 per game and Lipscomb is the worst allowing 27 attempts per game.) We’re at the high end when it comes to attempts allowed, but Indiana and Syracuse are right there with us. So what does it all mean?
It means the truth is it comes down to individual team defensive style and scoring potential. Indiana scores 89.1 points per game (ppg), Duke 80.0, Michigan 79.1, Syracuse 84.6, and Florida 73.6. To be successful, generally, Indiana doesn’t appear to have to be as tough on 3-point defense as Florida because they’ve got a highly proficient offensive team, and so on. (Butler taught IU something yesterday about how important defense is if they want to be a champion.)

As for our Bruins, we need to determine what our defensive style needs to be, including how we defend 3-point goals, relative to our scoring potential. The Bruins averaged 75.6 ppg through their first nine games. (77.5 ppg after last nights’ destruction of PV A&M) So, we’re scoring enough so far to be considered a good offensive team. The question is our defense.

If we go back to our 3-point percentage, 31.8%, I believe Coach Howland would tell us that is an unacceptable percentage for his idea of a strong defensive team. I would concur. Consider, during the Bruins FF runs from 2006 to 2008, we allowed opponents to shoot only 26.7%, 27.6% and 27.5% from 3-point range respectively. We’re obviously not there.

If I were to compare this team to any of its’ recent predecessors, I’d compare it to the 2004-2005 team led by freshmen Jordan Farmar and Aaron Afflalo. That team allowed opponents to shoot 29.2.% from three point range, finished 18-11 and lost in the first round of the tourney to Texas tech. That kind of outcome is not what was expected of this team, but honestly it seems likely. Unless….Unless we shore up our 3-point defense.

How do we do that? Zone defense, in my opinion, ain’t gonna cut it. (As we say here in Indiana.) Why? Because Coach Howland doesn’t believe in it, his players know he doesn’t and their relative lack of proficiency in playing it reflects that. The fact is we have to get to where we can play “in your face” man-to-man defense at or near the level the great Howland Teams did years ago. The solution is literally that simple. We know Coach Howland can teach it. As Jay Bilas has said, “Ben Howland hasn’t forgotten how to coach defense”. The question is do we have the players to do it. I am skeptical, but hopeful. I think the will exists among the players. As usual, only time will tell, but our best chance at shoring up our 3-point defense is well executed, energetic man-to-man defense.

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