By adding the nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class to last year’s punishing front line, UCLA became an instant front-runner for the Pac-12 title.
Loaded though the Bruins will be, they shouldn’t expect a cakewalk in a conference that’s going to see plenty of other teams improve after last season’s league-wide downturn.
This trio of opponents is likely to give UCLA the most trouble in Pac-12 play next year:
The Bruins have size aplenty, but none of their big men plays defense at a level suitable for containing Arizona’s prize recruit: high-scoring, seven-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski.
The Wildcats have plenty of other big bodies in their freshman class, so UCLA (even with frosh Tony Parker providing it with offense) will actually be at a disadvantage in the paint.
The Bruins’ own star freshman, SF Shabazz Muhammad, will also be in for a tough time against savvy Arizona senior Solomon Hill. Throw in another dose of offensive firepower in the Wildcat backcourt (highlighted by Xavier transfer Mark Lyons), and UCLA will get all it can handle from Sean Miller’s new-look squad.
UCLA's likely backcourt consists of two converted high-school small forwards (Kyle Anderson at PG and Jordan Adams at SG), a fact that will make for a tough adjustment to the college game.
With so little experience on the outside, especially on defense, the prospect of facing the best pair of guards in the Pac-12 isn't a walk in the park.
Cal’s Allen Crabbe is one of the top returning scorers in the conference (15.2 points per game), while PG Justin Cobbs is both a skilled passer and a tough defender who will test Anderson’s ball-handling.
The Golden Bears won’t be bereft up front, either, as 6’10” rising junior Richard Solomon should provide enough muscle to keep Parker from taking over inside.
The Beavers finished an ugly 7-11 in conference play a year ago, but they return more talent than almost any other Pac-12 team. Star Jared Cunningham jumped to the NBA, but the core of last year’s underclassman-heavy squad returns otherwise intact.
PG Ahmad Starks, at 5'9", will have his problems with the 6’7” Anderson, but Starks also racked up 1.7 steals per game and will make sure the freshman can’t get comfortable with the ball.
Up front, 6’7” Devon Collier (the Beavers’ leading returning scorer at 13.1 points a night) and the 6’10” tandem of scorer Angus Brandt and shot-blocker Eric Moreland will fight fire with fire against the Bruin forwards.