UCLA basketball en fuego!
Okay, that may be overstating things a bit, but they do have one of the longest active winning streaks in the country. They’ve won nine games in a row, including quality victories over #17 Missouri and at Colorado. During that stretch they’ve averaged almost 80 ppg while allowing less than 68 ppg. They’re 14-3, and of their three losses, (Georgetown, Cal-Poly and San Diego St.) , no one seriously believes they’d lose to Cal-Poly again, and I’d personally put my money on the Bruins in a rematch with San Diego St and certainly Georgetown.
So what’s going on? What are the reasons for the Bruins turn around? Statistically (based on regulation results), there is some difference between their 5-3 start, and their 9-0 run since, that suggests their offense has improved while their defense has not. (Stats adjusted for the 67-67 score at the end of regulation against UCI.) They’re averaging 4.6 more ppg in regulation (79.9 to 75.3), but giving up about 1.15 more ppg in regulation (67.9 to 66.75). Overall, that can be seen as a sign of improvement, but not an overwhelming one.
Looking a little deeper on the defensive side, the Bruins opponents are shooting a slightly higher percentage from the floor the last nine games 0.12% (41.26% versus 41.14%) than the first eight. Three point goal defense percentage, an early concern, does appear better by almost a full percentage point. (32.16% the last nine games versus 33.15% over the first eight.) That is good, but not nine in a row good. Right? In fact, their worst three point goal defensive game occurred during the streak versus Fresno State (58.82%). It should be noted that during the streak our opponents are shooting 3.625 less threes per game and making 1.4 less. Maybe that’s the reason for the streak.
Or maybe the schedule got easier over the last nine games. UCLA played 5 out of their first 8 (62.5%) games at home versus 6 out of 9 (66.7%) at home during the current streak. However, their first eight games didn’t include any true road games, whereas the current streak included two. Further, the average RPI rating of their first eight opponents was 143.6, while the average RPI of their last nine opponents is 131.1. In fact, they played and defeated their two highest rated opponents in the RPI (Colorado 17 and Missouri 22) during the win streak.
The reasons for the Bruins success don’t necessarily lie in the numbers. Perhaps the “eye test” is the best way to ascertain the reasons. What the eye test shows me is a team that is progressing nicely after a rough start. They’re gelling. They can win running (Missouri) or slowed down (Utah). They can win at home, on a neutral court or on the road. They can win when their leading scorer has an off night (Colorado). The numbers may not reflect it, but their defense looks better; at least insofar as the three freshmen who get significant minutes seem to increasingly understand their man-to-man roles and responsibilities. The Bruins appear to have good, skilled kids with great attitudes; even the homesick Tony Parker. They appear confident. So maybe their success during the win streak is all about the intangibles. I think that’s the case.
Is their success sustainable? If success is defined as winning out their schedule, I’d say probably not. Three road games in particular at ASU, Arizona and Washington appear to be the biggest impediments to that possibility, not to mention visits to Pauley by Oregon and the three other teams in the title race at the moment. However, if success is defined as steady, continued progress over the next 14 games culminating in a team ready to live up to realistic expectations for the season and a good seed (4 or higher) in the NCAA Tourney: it sez here there is cause for optimism.