Friday, April 04, 2008

Thoughts on Tomorrow's Final Four

I tend to be a pessimist when I'm around optimistic people, and I tend to be an optimist when I'm around naysayers. So there are groups of Bruins fans out there who should probably temper their enthusiasm, but some of the local scribes should probably watch some tapes of UCLA's exits the last two years.

Memphis, like Florida, is long and athletic. They have a great point guard, and come at you with a lot of size. But there are two key differences between the teams that will take the floor tomorrow and the teams that played the last two years:

The first is that there is no Corey Brewer. He was the true matchup nightmare for the Bruins the last two years, and not surprisingly, he led the Gators in scoring in last year's national semi. He was a 6'9" wing player who dwarfed just about any Bruin who tried to guard him. He created all sorts of problems both in the paint and from beyond the arc, going 4-5 from three. Chris Douglas-Roberts will not be easy to guard, and he's the most Brewer-esque player on the Tigers. But he'll likely be guarded by UCLA's best and most athletic defender. And while he'll take the three, he prefers to take the ball to the basket. If Westbrook can slow him down on the perimeter, and funnel him towards UCLA's interior players, they may be able to neutralize him somewhat. They aren't going to stop him, but they may be able to slow him down. And while Memphis is strong inside, they aren't as skilled as Florida was in the paint last year.

The second huge difference is Kevin Love. Last year, Aaron Afflalo was limited by early (questionable) fouls. Without him, the offense essentially relied on Darren Collison and Josh Shipp. Shipp responded with a solid 18 points, and Afflalo chipped in 17, many after the game had already been decided. This year a great deal of the offense still comes from the guards, but the addition of Love provides the Bruins an opportunity to look for easier baskets when shots aren't falling, and keeps opponents from focusing all of their efforts on the perimeter. In last year's game, early in the second half, the Bruins trailed the Gators 32-28 following a Mike Roll three pointer. Six minutes later, they trailed 49-32. In that stretch, they missed five jumpers and three layups. They didn't have an interior threat to turn to when the going got tough on the outside. The balance they bring this year should keep them from going long stretches without scoring.

There are other factors as well. First is the experience the Bruins bring. It's a big week for these kids, and though they're used to being on TV and being hounded by the press, the final four is a bit of a different animal. UCLA's experience with the week and its demands should be a plus. Second, UCLA has time and again found the ability to overcome large second half deficits. There was a sense last year (rightly so) that when Florida went on their run that the Bruins were done for. I'm not so sure that will be the case this year. They seem to find a way to lock down on defense, and slowly chip away at a lead until it's gone. They won't be rattled.

Memphis is a great team, to be sure, and I'm not going to predict a result one way or the other. But I think UCLA is in a much better position now than they were last year.

1 comment:

waters96 said...

You pretty much called it perfect. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the disaster in San Antonio.