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Get To Know A Marquette Basketball Opponent: UCLA Bruins

We meet up with our old friend Mick Cronin in just the third ever meeting between the two teams.

UCLA v Arizona Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Name: University of California, Los Angeles

Founded: That’s complicated. The existence of a state sponsored University of California system school in Los Angeles dates back to 1919, which is what UCLA uses as their actual founding date. However, that was the state legislature acquiring the land and buildings of the Los Angeles campus of the California State Normal School. That campus had been created back in 1881, with classes starting in August of 1882. So, in short, a school that started as a satellite campus of what is now San Jose State turned into a satellite campus of the University of California at Berkeley. It remained the Southern Branch of the University of California until 1927, when it officially became UCLA. The current Westwood campus wasn’t created and opened to students until 1929.

Enrollment: 42,732 this fall, with 31,636 undergraduates.

Nickname: Bruins

Why “Bruins?” Because it’s not the Golden Bears. As mentioned earlier, UCLA is technically just the southern branch office of Cal-Berkeley. So, when their football team was playing for the first time, they were called the Cubs because of the Bears up north. They adjusted to Grizzlies in 1923, probably just because it sounded meaner, but that didn’t last. In 1928, UCLA joined the Pacific Coast Conference, but the University of Montana already was the Grizzlies and they didn’t want there to be two of them. So, Bruins. Well, Bruins, once Cal-Berkeley agreed to stop using Bruins and Bears interchangeably.

How Quaint: I’m getting this last bit out of a discussion of Mardi Gras on UCLA’s campus, but it’s not actually about Mardi Gras. Here’s the whole sentence from UCLA’s alumni website:

For decades UCLA’s largest student-run activity, Mardi Gras had its roots in a 1943 “Carnival” held in the women’s gym that featured jigs and reels with Elizabethan costumes.

“In the women’s gym.” UCLA once had an entire separate gymnasium expressly for their female students to use. I’m not going to dig deeper here because it’ll probably just make my eyes roll out of my head.

Your Average Fraternity Singing Competition: The story behind the UCLA campus tradition of Spring Sing is delightful. Apparently tempers flared hot enough between various fraternities on campus about which group was better at serenading sorority members, and this led to an actual by-god competition with judging and everything. The damn thing led to crowds of 15,000 at the Hollywood Bowl and recordings of the winners put on sale on campus. It fell out of favor for a while in the late 1960s and 1970s, but it came back in 1978 and has endured since. The alumni website actually has a rundown of who won what awards every year since 1986.

Notable Alumni: Go get a beverage, because we’re going to be here for a minute.

Seven Nobel laureates, with Randy Schekman picking one up in Medicine in 2013 for the most recent one; Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson; filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola; Tinder CEO Jim Lanzone; six Pro Football Hall of Famers, including Troy Aikman; Allen Adham, Michael Morhaime, and Frank Pearce, co-founders of Blizzard Entertainment, best known as the producer of World of Warcraft; a metric ton of actors, to the point where you’re just better off going and reading the list yourself and telling me in the comments who jumps out at you; astronaut Walter Cunningham, who flew on Apollo 7; Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman; Michael Ovitz, entertainment agent and former president of the Walt Disney Company; Vinton Cerf, known as the “father of the internet”; tennis icons Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors; Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis; Diane Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube; screenwriter Shane Black; Marcia Clark, lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial; Johnnie Cochran, defense attorney, best known for his role in the O.J. Simpson murder trial; screenwriter and director Alexander Payne; John W. Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC; Academy Award winning composers John Williams and James Horner; Nixon administration officials John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman; a whole bunch of musicians, including Sara Bareilles, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek from The Doors; food critic Jonathan Gold, and finally, Rodney Alcala, aka “the Dating Game Killer.”

Honestly, that’s just scratching the surface and pulling out either names or occupations that you’d recognize right away.

Last Season: 19-12, with a 12-6 record in Pac-12 action. The Bruins had to win 11 out of their last 14 games in order to get there after falling to 8-9 with a home loss to Stanford on January 15. They actually ended up with a shot at the Pac-12 regular season title, but lost to crosstown rival USC in the regular season finale and thus finished one game behind Oregon.

Final 2019-20 KenPom.com Ranking: #78

Final 2019-20 T-Rank Ranking: #71

This Season: 4-1 after opening the year with a 73-58 road loss to San Diego State. They gave up a 25-9 run in that one that made the difference for the Aztecs. Then, two days later, it took the Bruins three overtimes to get past Pepperdine in the second game of the event that SDSU was hosting. Whatever was going wrong for UCLA in those two games — maybe not having Jalen Hill? — has been fixed, as they’ve easily handled Seattle, Cal, and San Diego since then.

Current 2020-21 KenPom.com Ranking: #27

Current 2020-21 T-Rank Ranking: #29

Stats Leaders

Points: Chris Smith, 15.0 points/game
Rebounds: Jalen Hill, 9.0 rebounds/game
Assists: Tyger Campbell, 6.8 assists/game

Returning Stats Leaders

Points: Chris Smith, 15.0 points/game
Rebounds: Jalen Hill, 6.9 rebounds/game
Assists: Tyger Campbell, 5.0 assists/game

That’s remarkably consistent. Isn’t it, though?

Bigs? Oh, you bet. Jalen Hill missed the first two games of the season, but the 6’10”, 245 pound California native has been coming off the bench to average 9.3 points and a team high nine rebounds since then. Like I said though, he’s a reserve after starting 25 games a year ago. Junior Cody Riley (6’9”, 255 pounds) is the starter for UCLA, getting them 10.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game. Leading scorer Chris Smith is Tall Guy at 6’9”, but he’s not Big Man because he’s only weighing in at 215 pounds. Still, at 7.0 rebounds per game, it’s not like he’s not taking advantage of his height.

Shooters? Most definitely, but we have to attach a couple of asterisks along the way. Part of the reason why Chris Smith is leading the team in scoring is because he’s shooting 53% from downtown. That’s only on three attempts per game on average, though, or a little less than one-third of his overall attempts. He’s probably not going to stay that hot all year, but he did hit 35% a year ago. Sophomore Jaime Jaquez (6’6”, 220 lb.) is leading the team in three-pointer attempts per game at 4.2 per outing, and he’s cashing 48% of them. Last year, he only hit 32%, though, but did get up to 33% in conference play. “Not That” David Singleton his hitting on 40% of his long range attempts through five games. The 6’4”, 210 pound junior has been a quality shooter in his career for the Bruins up to and including the fact that 40% is actually a decrease from 41.3% his first two seasons. Finally, Johnny Juzang is shooting 50% on the season. However, that’s a 1-for-2 mark against San Diego on Wednesday after he missed UCLA’s first four games. He did shoot 41% on triples in SEC play for Kentucky last season after a very big struggle with his shot early in the year. With that said, he did only attempt 27 threes in 15 SEC games.

Head Coach: I’m hearing Crick Monin. Former Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin is in charge out in Westwood now. After compiling a 296-146 record in 13 seasons with the Bearcats, Cronin decided to make the big leap out to LA last year. Mix in his three years at Murray State, and Cronin has a career record of 388-183. However, Cronin is just 3-4 against Marquette, with all seven coming as top guy at Cincinnati. He has won three of the last four times that MU has seen him, though, and has beaten a ranked Marquette team in each of the last two encounters.

What To Watch For: I think this game might be decided by two things. First is pace. Through five games, Marquette has an adjusted tempo of 71.8 possessions per game according to KenPom.com. That has the Golden Eagles right about in the middle of the country in terms of pace, but that’s most likely misleading because of early season blowouts. Last year, MU was #60 in the country with an adjusted tempo of 70.7 possessions/game. The point is that Marquette seems to be going a little faster than they did a year ago, at least in the early going. UCLA on the other hand is glacially slow. KenPom ranks them as #336 in the country, but that includes the 54 teams that haven’t played a game yet and just have the preseason projection in place. If we look at raw tempo, or pace of play not adjusted for opponent quality, then UCLA is #260 out of 303 teams that have put possessions on the board so far this year.

The point of all of this is that Mick Cronin has the Bruins going ultra slow while Steve Wojciechowski is more than comfortable playing at a more frenetic pace, perhaps even more so than last year. You can ask questions about which one is better, of course, and even which team would be more affected by being forced to go at the other one’s speed. I think this situation tips towards Marquette. The Golden Eagles got slowed down to 63 possessions by Wisconsin after topping out over 72 possessions in each of their first three games..... but MU knocked off the then-#4 ranked Badgers at that pace. If Marquette’s big focus this season is defense, then you can see how they would be okay playing with fewer possessions if they know they can get stops when they have to get them.

The other item that stands out to me as potentially game altering is the three-point shooting. Both teams have benefited from bad shooting against them this season, while both sides are taking advantage of good shooting on their own offensive ends. Both defenses are holding teams under 30% shooting from behind the arc, but there’s evidence to suggest that’s just luck more than anything MU or UCLA are doing. However, UCLA’s defense is much worse (#255 in the country) at denying three-point attempts than Marquette’s (#146) is. The Bruins are giving up threes on over 43% of shots this season. Not made threes, just attempted ones. If the Golden Eagles can focus on getting good shots, and if they get everyone on the court involved at knocking down jumpers, that bodes well for MU. If UCLA is bad at denying shots and bad at closeouts, that could lead to open looks, which leads to made shots. If the Golden Eagles can take — and of course make — more threes than UCLA does, that would seem to be something that can tip this first road game of the season in Marquette’s favor.

Of course, UCLA has a whole bunch of guys who 1) can knock down shots and 2) are pretty confident and comfortable launching right now. MU is going to have to find ways to disrupt those shooters, and disrupting all of them is not going to be easy. That path may start by making Tyger Campbell uncomfortable on the court. The sophomore from Iowa currently has the #39 assist rate in the country, and his #313 ranking in turnover rate isn’t exactly bad, either. Campbell is listed at 5’11”, though. That gives anyone that Marquette throws at him on defense a size advantage. If D.J. Carton and Symir Torrence and Greg Elliott can use that advantage to cut down on Campbell’s sightlines, that’s going to help Marquette’s ability to defend against open threes.

All-Time Series: UCLA leads, 2-0. Both games were in Milwaukee as home games for Marquette. The first was a 68-52 loss in 1949-50, while the second was a 61-52 defeat at the hands of a #5 ranked Bruins squad in 1964-65, which was Al McGuire’s first year in charge.