Commentary

Bruins have the worst offense of Final Four teams

Originally Published: April 2, 2008
By Andy Glockner | ESPN.com

By slight statistical margins, UCLA has the best defense and the worst offense of the teams in San Antonio. The Bruins finished second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency (Kansas and Memphis also were in the top five) and seventh on offense (the other three Final Four teams finished in the top four). With Josh Shipp still mired in a terrible shooting slump, though, the offensive gap between the Bruins and the others is probably larger than that.

What we learned from games against comparable foes
UCLA played more games against the RPI top 50 than any of the other three teams in the Final Four, although the Bruins haven't faced any team with the total package of size, skill and speed of Memphis. They did see premium defense and shot-blocking teams in Stanford and Texas A&M and explosive, perimeter-oriented offenses such as Texas, USC and Arizona, so UCLA has a sense of the types of things Memphis can do. The Bruins completely shackled the Tigers two years ago in the Elite Eight, but that Memphis team was much younger and didn't have Derrick Rose.

UCLA's Big Picture

  Tempo Offense PPP Defense PPP
Season Average 64.8 1.14 0.91
vs. RPI Top 50 Average 61.9 1.10 0.99
vs. RPI Top 50 Median 62.0 1.09 0.99
Tempo is the amount of possessions per game. PPP is points per possession.

UCLA's overall stats against the RPI top 50 (1.10 points per possession on offense, 0.99 PPP on defense) suggest that the Bruins have been decent scoring the ball and haven't defended quite as well as you would expect given their overall numbers (1.14 and 0.91). That trend line flipped later in the season, though.

In a six-game stretch against top-50 foes from Feb. 17 through the second round of the NCAAs (games against Arizona and Texas A&M and two each against Stanford and USC), UCLA scored just 1.01 PPP, barely beating the national average. Conversely, it held those teams to a combined 0.93 PPP on defense, which explains how UCLA went 6-0 in that stretch, albeit with four wins by three or fewer points.

The offense woke up in the regionals against Western Kentucky and Xavier, but neither of those teams possesses close to Memphis' length and athleticism, so expect a performance more along the lines of the late-season run. UCLA likely will have to win this one with its defense.

What we learned from their losses/close calls
Opposing forwards seem to be the prime problem in the Bruins' three losses. UCLA was shorthanded in the frontcourt when USC's Davon Jefferson hit the Bruins for 25 points and nine rebounds in the upset at Pauley, but Jon Brockman hurt them with 12 points and 17 boards (nine offensive) in the loss at Washington and Damion James went for 19 points and 10 rebounds in Texas' two-point road win.

The Bruins also shot terribly from 3-point range in their losses, going a combined 15-of-63 in the three defeats. UCLA has taken only 15.8 3s a game this season, so the number of 3s taken in two of those games was very high (21 against Texas, 26 against USC). Some of that was dictated by game situation, but since the Bruins shoot only 35.0 percent as a team and, aside from Darren Collison (53.0 percent), no one on the team shoots better than Kevin Love's 36.3 percent, this isn't a recipe for consistent success.

Trends of note
• UCLA's "vaunted" defense is statistically a lot more like North Carolina's. The Bruins have the nation's 63rd-best 2-point FG defense, but they compensate with top-10 rates on the defensive glass and in not sending teams to the foul line.
• Their own mediocre 3-point shooting hurts the Bruins less because 3s constitute a lower percentage of their total shots than for almost anyone else in Division I (305th overall).
• UCLA likes it slow (64.8 possessions/game; 258th in D-I), but it can win when the tempo is faster. The Bruins are 6-1 this season when having 70 or more possessions in a game.

Closing thoughts
As powerful as this Memphis team is, it has been limited at times this season by strong defensive efforts. UCLA is going to need one because it's unlikely that Love, Collison and Russell Westbrook will go off the way they did against Xavier and there's no other consistent source of scoring on the roster right now, especially against a team as long and athletic as Memphis. Texas' D.J. Augustin wasn't able to win his battle with Rose, but UCLA's guards are going to have to do so Saturday. Given the occasional explosion by opposing forwards, you wonder whether Robert Dozier or (especially) Shawn Taggart could be an X factor for the Tigers. UCLA would be wise to establish Love inside early and try to get Joey Dorsey in foul trouble. He can be the emotional fulcrum for Memphis, and he's playing awfully well right now.

[Editor's note: Season stats and rankings courtesy of kenpom.com]

Andy Glockner is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's college basketball coverage and is the host of the ESPNU College Basketball Insider podcast. He can be reached at bubblewatch@gmail.com.