The UCLA basketball team is off to an impressive 8-1 start and is ranked No. 23 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, but those marks must be taken with a grain of salt.
The Bruins only victory of note against a "power” conference team came against a mediocre Northwestern squad that won’t sniff the NCAA tournament this season, and the loss in UCLA’s most recent game at Missouri raised some red flags.
Next up on the docket after a warm-up game against Prairie View A&M is a showdown with Duke at Madison Square Garden. The Blue Devils are in the midst of a nearly two-week break between games but did knock off Michigan in their most recent outing.
Let’s dig into a few critical matchups as UCLA tries to pick up its first resume-building victory of the young season.
Jordan Adams vs. Quinn Cook
Jordan Adams is one of the best players in the country and simply doesn’t get the recognition he deserves because so many of his games take place after many of the nation’s college basketball fans are tucked inside their beds.
He is averaging a team-high (and imposing) 21.6 points a night to go along with nearly five rebounds and about three assists per game. He isn’t exactly a true point guard but constantly has the ball in his hands, making his 52 percent clip from the field all the more impressive.
On the Duke side is Quinn Cook, who is playing some of the best basketball of his career. The most notable improvement in his game is his decision-making, which has resulted in a better than 3.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The one area that Adams has a notable advantage over Cook is on the defensive end. Adams is averaging better than three steals a night and has quicker lateral movement than Cook. He won’t have many issues staying in front of Duke’s point guard and should harass him throughout the game.
Rodney Hood vs. Kyle Anderson
Take your pick with the matchup between Rodney Hood and Kyle Anderson—do you prefer the scoring threat that can put the ball in the basket from nearly anywhere (Hood) or the overall player who doesn’t score as much but does everything else more effectively (Anderson)?
Anderson is the Bruins’ best stat-sheet stuffer with nightly averages of 14 points, nine rebounds and better than seven assists. UCLA’s offense often runs through Anderson because of his distribution skills, and the more he can make Hood work on the defensive end, the less effective Duke’s second-best scorer will be on the offensive end.
Keeping Hood in check will be critical to UCLA’s chances because Jabari Parker will likely score plenty of points.
Bruins’ Frontcourt vs. Jabari Parker
For as talented as Adams and Anderson are, there is nobody on UCLA’s roster nearly as skilled as Parker.
He is arguably the best player in the entire country and has a chance to be the No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft. He scores 22 points a night and leads Duke in rebounding with nearly eight boards a game. Furthermore, he is gradually establishing himself as a better defender, especially around the rim.
If the Bruins are going to keep Parker in check, their frontcourt must be physical with him. Yes, Parker is an excellent outside shooter, but the best way for an elite scorer to get going is by converting easy attempts at the rim.
Tony Parker, David Wear and Travis Wear have a tall order in front of them. Completely stopping Parker isn’t going to happen, but UCLA can’t allow him to score 30 or more points in the Garden.
Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.