It's finally here. With the Kings having a less than successful year, and UCLA football being UCLA football, the wait for basketball season has been particularly excruciating.
My gut feeling is that this team is going to be just as good as last year's team. I think they'll be more consistent. Last year's team at their best would probably beat this year's team at their best, but I think this year's team will play at a higher level more often than they did last year. A lot of that inconsistency was due to the fact that so many minutes went to freshmen, and a fair amount was to due to Ryan Hollins, the poster child for inconsistency (who took that title from Michael Fey, finally found a way to be consistently bad). But athletic seven footers don't grow on trees, and when Hollins was on his game, he really made a big impact. They'll miss that this year.
I'm especially curious to see how how much Ryan Wright, LRMAM, and Alfred Aboya have improved over the summer. One benefit to playing college basketball in Los Angeles is that if you hang around during the summer, there are a lot of opportunities to play pick-up games and test yourself against NBA level competition. I thought last season that these three especially, with a lot of raw ability, would really benefit from those opportunities (as it appeared Mata had last year before his injuries). If they all have made some big strides, the UCLA front line could be fantastic. I don't need to say anything about LRMAM, but Aboya showed flashes last year where he could blow by the occasional defender from the perimeter. Physically, Ryan Wright has the type of body that should allow him to be a force in the paint. If those two step up, and if Mata can return from his knee surgery, the Bruins are going to be very solid inside.
The return of Josh Shipp is also another key. Word is that before last year, he was outplaying Farmar and Afflalo, but obviously the injury to his hip took him out for most of the season. He's healthy, and his scoring ability is something that the Bruins really lacked last year. I'm really looking forward to seeing him on the floor.
Looking forward to seeing Keefe and Westbrook as well, but frankly, I don't expect major impacts from the freshmen this year, save for a game or two when they really step up, as seems to happen to every freshman at some point. The top 8 are pretty solid, and should dominate the minutes. Anything they get from the freshmen should be gravy.
UCLA basketball is finally back where it belongs.