UCLA Basketball: No need to panic this early in the season

UCLA is 5-3 at this point in the season and fans are starting to worry that the Bruins will not be able to match the success on the hardwood court as they have done the past three seasons. However, now is not the time to panic as this season's team has time to grow, develop, gain experience and more by the time February and March comes around.
ULCA v Villanova
ULCA v Villanova / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

Here are three things to think about moving forward before there is a need to press the panic button.

No. 3: There has been a ton of turnover from last season to this season and this season's team needs time to learn to play together and develop.

Last season's team lost three players to the NBA draft as Jaime Jaquez Jr. was picked by the Miami Heat in the first round and Amari Bailey and Jaylen Clark were both selected in the 2nd round of the NBA draft. Also, the Bruins lost David Singleton and Tyger Campbell who both were starters for UCLA last season. That is a ton of production and experience that the Bruins lost from last season that they needed to replace for this year's team.

UCLA did bring in an amazing recruiting class but all seven of them are true freshmen and need time to develop. One of the true freshman Sebastian Mack, is currently the leading scorer for UCLA and he will only continue to develop as the year goes on. Another one of the highly touted true freshmen Aday Mara has shown flashes throughout the season and his potential is very high as stated on the tv broadcast when the Bruins played Villanova, as it was said that over 40 NBA scouts were in attendance in part to watch Mara play in-person.

The Bruins also have a very talented true freshman who has only played in half the games this season, Berke Buyuktuncel, who did not get cleared to play early in the season by the NCAA and did not play in their last game due to an injury. UCLA also brought in a transfer from Utah in Lazar Stefanovic who is currently the Bruins leading scorer but shot 29% or under in half the games this season from the field. In other words, all of these new players who were not on the team last season need time to play with one another to collectively improve and help UCLA win games moving forward.

No. 2: The defense has shown to be solid this season and the team's offense may just need time to develop and reach their full potential.

UCLA is number 4 in scoring defense in the country and that is not the only team defensive ranking that is impressive this season as they are No. 11 in the nation in field goal percentage defense as well. They are only giving up 58.75 points per game and against two ranked teams they lost by only two and four points. Their defense has kept them in games and if and or when their offense gets going, UCLA will be able to pick up some marquee wins.

The Bruins have players who can score but the ball movement in the half-court needs to improve and if UCLA can get low post-production from Adem Bona who is currently their second-leading scorer and the true freshman Mara, that will open up outside shots from Mack, Stefanovic, Andrews, and McClendon. Also, two true freshmen Jan Vide and Ilane Fibleuil have not seen a lot of playing time but as the season goes on, they can become key contributors on offense off the bench by the time early February comes around. Head Coach Mick Cronin just needs more time to help with the development and continued improvement of this offense as he will help this young and inexperienced team grow throughout the season.

No. 1: The tough non-conference schedule will help prepare this team for Pac-12 conference play.

Yes, UCLA has played some not-so-great competition this season but they also have played some tough and talented teams on the road and on neutral courts this year. Playing Marquette and Gonzaga in Hawaii as well as playing Villanova on the road will help this team once conference play begins. The Bruins also in non-conference play will go against Ohio State on a neutral court and host Maryland this month. The experience that the team will get from playing these top-tier teams will only benefit them going into conference play.

UCLA opens up against Oregon State on the road in Pac-12 play and this is a game the Bruins should be able to win on Dec. 28. Then two days later the play Oregon on the road which will be a tougher match up but also a game that UCLA can win. Then the Bruins have arguably their easiest games at least on paper when they host Stanford and Cal. UCLA if they were to start league play 3-1, would be a good sign for this team moving forward.

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