A long off-season of hype finally comes to an end as the No. 13 UCLA Bruins finally take to the hardwood at the new Pauley Pavilion in a regular-season opener against Indiana State.
The Sycamores are certainly not burdened with the same type of expectations that hang on the shoulders of their opponents in this matchup. Indiana State turned in a solid year last season, finishing 18-15 overall and 8-10 in conference play. It was a step backward for the Sycamores who had made a trip to the NCAA Tournament in the previous season. Now Indiana State will be looking to the 2012-2013 campaign, needing to replace four starters.
For a team that didn't make it into the NCAA Tournament let alone deep into it, UCLA was one of the more talked about teams in the nation this off-season. There was one reason for that with heralded recruit Shabazz Muhammad signing with the Bruins back in April. Unfortunately for head coach Ben Howland as well as Bruins fans, Muhammad will not get a chance to live up to his hype in this game as he is sidelined with a shoulder injury. His timetable for return is uncertain. Even without Muhammad, UCLA would have reason to be optimistic after finishing 19-14 overall last season. However at a place where there is barely enough room for all the championship banners of years past, being optimistic is catamount to failure.
Jake Odum is the one starting holdover for Indiana State and if any starter could be returning its likely Odum would be one of the first selected. Odum (11.0 ppg, 4.9 apg) plays the point as well as any guard in the MVC and can score. He had 20 games with double-digit point totals last season including a 34-point eruption against Illinois State. Obviously Odum can't carry the team on his own and others will need to step up. That is especially true on offense as Indiana State only scored 64.8 points per game last season, the eighth best mark in the MVC. On defense the Sycamores held their own surrendering only 64.7 points per game.
Not having Muhammad certainly will alter Howland's gameplan early in the season. However, Howland still has a wealth of talented performers to keep the team going. Former McDonald's All-American and North Carolina-transfer Larry Drew was another nice addition. Drew saw his minutes and production plummet when he lost the starting point guard job to Kendall Marshall, but will be able to fill in an important role as distributor with Lazeric Jones (4.1 apg) and Jerime Anderson (4.2 apg) both gone. Tyler Lamb (9.0 ppg) has starting experience and is an effective scorer, although he is listed as questionable after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday. In the frontcourt the Bruins are in the hands of the Wear brothers. The two formed a very effective tandem inside last season. Travis (11.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) was slightly better on offense, while David (10.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) attacked the boards a bit more efficiently. Joshua Smith (9.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg) isn't a Wear brother but is a solid frontcourt option.