Los Angeles, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Steve Alford regime will open up on Friday night when his No. 22 UCLA Bruins take on the Drexel Dragons in a non- conference bout at Pauley Pavilion.
There were heavy expectations placed on the Dragons entering last season after the squad posted a school-record 29 wins the year prior and was considered one of the biggest snubs on Selection Sunday. However, the Dragons were unable to live up to their billing as they plummeted to just a 13-18 overall finish and a meager 9-9 record against the Colonial Athletic Association in 2012-13. The Dragons really hurt themselves on the back end of the schedule as they lost five of eight games in the month of February. The issue was scoring for the Dragons, who were one of the worst offensive teams in the CAA, negating the benefits of the stingy defense they have always played under head coach Bruiser Flint. There are three starters back from last year's squad, led by the backcourt duo of Franz Massenat and Damion Lee, as well as explosive guard Chris Fouch, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility after a season-ending injury last season.
Although the Bruins won the Pac-12 regular-season title, led the league in scoring (74.4 ppg) and ended the year in the NCAA Tournament, Ben Howland was still shown the door. Alford should take note as his predecessor went to three Final Fours, but some slight stumbles cost him his job. Alford spent the previous six seasons at New Mexico, during which he led the Lobos to three NCAA Tournament appearances and no fewer than 22 wins in any season. However, the Lobos never advanced beyond the Round of 32. Alford has some talented pieces to work with even with leading scorer Shabazz Muhammad gone to the NBA. Jordan Adams is a prolific scorer and Kyle Anderson brings a ton of versatility. Alford's task is simple, but challenging, as the administration grew tired of the mediocrity that colored the last four years of Howland's tenure.
These teams met for the first and only time during the 2005 NIT Tip-Off. In that contest, Jordan Farmar netted a crucial free throw with less than a second to play to lift the Bruins to a 57-56 victory.
If there is a positive to be taken out of last year for the Dragons it was how well they continued to buy into Flint's defensive gameplan. Thanks to heavy pressure in the backcourt the Dragons limited opponents to just 63.3 points per game. Drexel found much less success on the other end as the team failed to score at a high rate. In all the Dragons averaged 63 points per game on 41.2 percent shooting, ranking near the bottom of the CAA in each category. The defense should be solid again, especially at the guard sports, with Massenat (14.7 ppg, 4.2 apg) and Lee (17.1 ppg) back. Scoring will be bolstered by the return of Fouch, who averaged a hefty 16.7 ppg prior to his injury last season. To help out offensively, Massenat needs to improve on a ghastly 36.5 field goal percentage. Dartaye Ruffin (6.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is the most experienced frontcourt contributor on the roster. He started in all but one game he played in last year. The rest of the rotation, which is normally a small group, will feature Kazembe Abif (4.4 ppg) and Tavon Allen (6.6 ppg).
The Bruins should be able to make Alford's first year a success, even though Muhammad and his 17.6 points per game are no longer around. Adams (15.3 ppg) was arguably a more important player for the Bruins as he was a multi- dimensional talent contributing at both ends. Then there is nightmare matchup and versatile contributor Kyle Anderson (9.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 3.5 apg). At 6-9, Anderson is a tough target for any guard or forward to stop and his ability to fill the stat sheet is invaluable. Normal Powell (6.1 ppg) will also work into the backcourt rotation. One of the three or possibly a newcomer needs to take over the point since Larry Drew (7.5 ppg, 7.3 apg) is gone. Travis and David Wear will again be anchors in the frontcourt. Travis (10.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg) is the returning starter and the more talented of the two. That's not to say David (7.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg) isn't more than capable of producing at a high level. The frontcourt also looks improved thanks to center Tony Parker, who started in both of the Bruins' preseason games and hung up a 17-point, 16-rebound effort in one of those contests.