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: 48,048 this fall, with 33,040 undergraduates.
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.
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.
Last Season: 31-6, with an 18-2 record in the Pac-12. That got them a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament, where they advanced to the Sweet 16 before getting knocked out by 33 seeded Gonzaga.
Final 2022-23 KenPom.com Ranking: #3, the best KenPom ranking at the end of a season in computer/UCLA history. FACT: John Wooden never had a top 10 KenPom season, much less a top 5.
Final 2022-23 T-Rank Ranking: #4, also a ranking that John Wooden never achieved.
Preseason Poll: UCLA was picked to finish third in the Pac-12 this season, but they did garner four first place votes, as the Pac-12 let 26 media members vote on their poll instead of having the league’s coaches do the voting. Kind of sensible, honestly.
This Season: 3-0, with a 31 point win over Saint Francis, an 18 point win over Lafayette (more on this in a bit), and a 20 point win over LIU, all at Pauley Pavilion.
Current 2023-24 KenPom.com Ranking: #36
Current 2023-24 T-Rank Ranking: #32
Returning Stats Leaders
Points: Adem Bona, 7.7 ppg
Rebounds: Adem Bona, 5.3 rpg
Assists: Dylan Andrews, 0.9 apg
Current Stats Leaders
Points: Adem Bona, 18.0 ppg
Rebounds: Adem Bona, 8.7 rpg
Assists: Dylan Andrews, 3.5 apg
Bigs? The Bruins have two notable bigs with slightly similar names. Adem Bona is a 6’10”, 245 pound sophomore forward/center from Nigeria. He’s the guy leading the team in scoring and rebounding, and he’s averaging just under 29 minutes per game. Bona also chips in just over an assist and a steal per game and he’s averaging 2.3 blocks a night so far. Aday Mara — see it now? — is a 7’3”, 240 pound freshman center from Spain. He played somewhat sparingly in the first two games of the season, just five minutes in the opener, but he started — yes, with Bona — and played 24 minutes against LIU on Wednesday. He had 14 points, four rebounds, two assists, and four blocks against the Sharks.
We’re not done yet! Devin Williams is a 6’10”, 200 pound freshman, but he’s only played 12 total minutes split between two of UCLA’s three games so far this year. Kenneth Nwuba is a 6’9”, 255 pound senior who is averaging 15.3 minutes a night, but he only contributes 4.7 points and 2.0 rebounds. There’s two more freshmen who are 6’9” and 6’8”, but the Bruins haven’t gotten them into a game yet, and given the level of competition jump up involved here, I doubt Marquette will see either one of them.
Shooters? Dylan Andrews is, at least based on this year’s stats so far, UCLA’s only long range threat. He’s connecting on 38% of his four attempts per game after shooting under 32% as a freshman last season.
Lazar Stefanovic is the only other Bruin averaging more than two attempts per game, and he’s not that far behind Andrew’s at 3.3 tries a night. He is way behind Andrew’s in terms of success, as he’s only shooting 20% right now. He was a 34% shooter in two seasons with Utah before transferring to Westwood, and he converted nearly 36% of his attempts last season. On one hand, maybe he’s due to come out of his funk. On the other hand, maybe UCLA’s lack of outside options has the 6’7” Serbian firing off a few less than optimal attempts per game.
Head Coach: I’m hearing Crick Monin.
UCLA is coached by The Greatest Coach In UCLA History (#SandTheCourt) (#NellCanStay), Michael Walter Cronin, aka Mick. He is in his 21st season as a Division 1 head coach and his fifth on the sidelines for the Bruins. He has an overall record of 463-206, and UCLA’s most recent victory was Cronin’s 100th in Los Angeles against just 36 losses.
What To Watch For: It’s time to bring back a
time honored favorite gimmick that we used in our last preview! Let’s play another round of Streaky Or Good!
In UCLA’s season opener against Saint Francis, they had a run of 13-1 late in the first half and closed the game on a 10-0 run. That’s a combination score of 23-1 in eight minutes of action…… and a combination score of 52-43 in the other 32 minutes against the Red Flash, currently ranked #359 out of 362 teams on KenPom.com.
In Game #2, UCLA found themselves trailing Lafayette, currently #329 in the KenPom rankings, 43-34, with about 15 minutes left to play. The Bruins then closed the game on a 34-7 run to beat the Leopards by 18.
In Game #3, the Bruins had 16-2 runs at nearly the exact same point in the first and second halves, combining for a 32-4 score against LIU, KenPom’s #356 ranked team. The Sharks controlled the other 29 minutes, outscoring UCLA by a score of 54-46 in a game that UCLA ultimately won 78-58.
I’m seeing 89-12 favoring UCLA in 34 minutes and 140-132 favoring three of the 35 worst teams in college basketball in the other 86 minutes, 72% of the season so far….and two of them are amongst the seven worst teams in the sport.
So I ask you: Is UCLA Streaky Or Good?
One of two things is going to happen in this game. Option 1: Marquette plays Marquette Basketball, zipping around the court with the ninth shortest offensive possession length in the country, raining in buckets at a top 40 clip and UCLA can’t figure out how to slower them down.
Option 2, and this should be pretty obvious to you: UCLA figures out how to slow Marquette down and drag the Golden Eagles into a rock fight at less than 67 possessions, one of the 40 slowest paces in the country so far this season. At that pace, Mick Cronin’s lads are able to make the best use of the size of Adem Bona and Aday Mara to lean on MU’s otherwise undersized defense and grind away at them.
Can Marquette win if Option #2 happens? Sure? Does it feel likely? Not as likely as Option #1, that’s for sure!
One final thing. I’ve mentioned that UCLA has started out the season with three games against bottom tier opponents. Ignore the part where they were shaky against them for long stretches for a second. I have to respect what Mick Cronin was doing by scheduling those three games before heading to Hawaii.
The fact of the matter is that UCLA returned just three of the eight guys who averaged more than 10 minutes a game last season. The three guys they did bring back — Adem Bona, Dylan Andrews, and Kenneth Nwuba — were #6, #7, and #8 on that list a year ago. The Bruins lost A LOT of what made them one of the best teams in the country a year ago. If you wanted to say they lost almost all of it, I’m not going to argue with you.
It was going to take some time to shake all of these largely speaking unfamiliar pieces into a completed puzzle, and I have to presume that’s why Cronin scheduled the way he did. Is the fact that UCLA was able to go on those runs proof of concept as to how good they can be? Seems possible. The fact that they needed those runs to win those games is maybe kinda proof that the puzzle isn’t finished yet, and that might be the best thing about this matchup for Marquette and their experience playing together last season.