With college football season finally here, we are just a handful of weeks from the start of the basketball season tipping off. With UCLA’s schedule already released, let’s take our first look at what we can expect from the Bruins in the first two months of the 2016-17 season.
November 11: vs. Pacific
2015-16 KenPom Ranking: 236
Last Season: 8-20 (No postseason)
Top Returning Players: F Ray Bowles (11.1 PPG), G T.J. Wallace (10.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG)
It should be a cakewalk in the home opener for the Bruins. The Pacific Tigers are coming off a treacherous 2016 season, losing eight of its final 10 matchups and failing to qualify for the WCC Tournament. Pacific didn’t rank in the top 150 nationally in any major offensive category. Look for UCLA to start off the season with a tally mark in the win column.
November 13: vs. Cal State Northridge
2015-16 KenPom Ranking: 239
Last Season: 10-20 (No postseason)
Top Returning Players: G Micheal Warren (12.7 PPG), G Aaron Parks (13.3 PPG, 1.5 SPG)
The Matadors, led by former UNLV standout Reggie Theus as head coach, are still looking for the school’s first winning season 2009, where CSUN dropped a 2/15 matchup against Memphis in the round of 64. The perimeter game could be key, as CSUN finished 330th in 3-pt field goal percentage and 344th in opponent’s 3-pt field goal percentage last year. The scoreboard operator could be busy in this Sunday matchup.
November 17: vs. San Diego
2015-16 KenPom Ranking: 274
Last Season: 9-21 (No postseason)
Top Returning Players: F Brett Bailey (6.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG), G Olin Carter (7.3 PPG)
Second year head coach Lamont Smith is still getting comfortable in USD, a program that has mustered only two NCAA Tournament appearances in the past 29 years. Despite a dismal 9-21 record this past year, the Torreros did manage to destroy San Diego State’s tournament hopes with a 53-48 win in Petco Park in early December. The loss proved costly for SDSU, and UCLA will hope that they can avoid an encore.
November 20: Long Beach State
2015-16 KenPom Ranking: 96
Last Season: 20-15 (NIT First Round)
Top Returning Players: G Justin Bibbins (12 PPG), F Gabe Levin (9.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG)
If you believe Long Beach State manages to post challenging non-conference slates year after year, you’re correct. Dan Monson’s teams have competed against some of the best in the country recently, including Virginia, San Diego State, Oregon, Arizona, Duke, Xavier, Louisville, Syracuse, VCU and Michigan, just in the past three seasons. LBSU doesn’t always have the most talented teams, but Monson’s squads will always be competitive and fearless, which could make this matchup an interesting one.
November 24: Portland (Wooden Legacy)
2015-16 KenPom Ranking: 214
Last Season: 12-20 (No postseason)
Top Returning Players: G Alec Wintering (18.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 1.5 SPG), G D’Marques Tyson (10.4 PPG)
The only guaranteed matchup of the Wooden Legacy for the Bruins is against Portland, a middling WCC team. The Pilots are still hoping to break one of the nation’s longest NCAA Tournament droughts, which reached 20 years this past spring. All eyes will be on Portland point guard Alec Wintering, one of the best mid-major players in the country that not many know about.
November 25: Dayton/Nebraska (Wooden Legacy)
The second day of the Wooden Legacy should present UCLA’s first true challenge of the season. The Dayton Flyers, which have three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in school history, will be heavily favored against a struggling Nebraska program. Archie Miller’s Flyers recorded a 7 seed in last year’s tournament, but retain the main nucleus that has averaged 26 wins per season the last three years. Watch out for UD.
November 27: Texas A&M/CSU Northridge/New Mexico/Virginia Tech (Wooden Legacy)
The final matchup of the Wooden Legacy will be against one of the teams listed above. The trio of Texas A&M, New Mexico and Virginia Tech all have a legitimate chance of reaching the championship game. You can take a glance at SB Nation bracketologist Chris Dobbertean and his Wooden Legacy primer, where he projects Virginia Tech downing UCLA in the 3rd place game.
November 30: vs. UC Riverside
2015-16 KenPom Ranking: 230
Last Season: 14-19 (No postseason)
Top Returning Player: F Secean Johnson (12.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG)
Not much to see here. Another ‘gimme’ on UCLA’s schedule is a favorable home matchup against UC Riverside. The Highlanders lost 34.2 points per game of offense to graduation this spring.
December 3: @ Kentucky
2015-16 KenPom Ranking: 6
Top Returning Players: G Isaiah Briscoe (9.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG), F Derek Willis (7.7 PPG)
Don’t be fooled by the lesser-known returning players, Kentucky is stockpiled yet again with the nation’s premier young talent. John Calipari is welcoming five-stars PG De’Aaron Fox, SG Malik Monk, and forwards Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel, and Sacha Killeya-Jones. This game also takes place in Rupp Arena, one of the loudest and most hostile venues in sports. Must-watch TV indeed.
December 10: vs. Michigan
2015-16 KenPom Ranking: 58
Last Season: 23-13 (Round of 64)
Top Returning Players: G Derrick Walton (11.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG), F Duncan Robinson (11.2 PPG)
Michigan is one of the most intriguing Power 5 teams this upcoming season. The Wolverines have a dangerous squad that returns five players that averaged over 7.5 points per game last season. Michigan will be reliant on its offense and shot-making abilities, and you can also expect UM to fire every open opportunity on the perimeter. The Wolverines attempted 901 shots from deep last season, good for 13th in the country.
December 14: vs. UC Santa Barbara
2015-16 KenPom Ranking: 102
Last Season: 19-14 (Vegas 16 Second Round)
Top Returning Player: G Gabe Vincent (14.1 PPG)
Although UCSB had a modest 19-win season this past year, ‘16-17 doesn’t look nearly as promising for the Gauchos, who lost seven players to either graduation or transfer. Santa Barbara will be short of offensive firepower to match up with UCLA’s improved offense.
December 17: Ohio State (Las Vegas, NV)
2015-16 KenPom Ranking: 80
Last Season: 21-14 (NIT Second Round)
Top Returning Players: F Marc Loving (14 PPG, 5.3 RP), F Jae’Sean Tate (11.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG)
Thad Matta’s Buckeyes stumbled last season, failing to notch an eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. OSU did bolster its frontcourt, with the addition of 4* PF Derek Funderburk and 4* C Micah Potter. Don’t expect Ohio State to go down quietly in this neutral site matchup.
December 21: vs. Western Michigan
2015-16 KenPom Ranking: 183
Last Season: 13-19 (No postseason)
Top Returning Players: G Thomas Wilder (18 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.6 SPG), G Tucker Haymond (15.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG)
UCLA finishes off its non-conference slate with a home game against the Western Michigan Broncos. WMU returns some nice pieces this season, including one of the better backcourt duos in Thomas Wilder and Tucker Haymond. If last year was any indication, the Broncos struggle on the road. WMU was victorious only twice away from its home arena last season.
What are your expectations for the Bruins in non-conference play?