What to watch: UCLA vs. No. 8 Duke

UCLA (9-1) vs. No. 8 Duke (8-2)
Madison Square Garden, 4:33 p.m. PT
TV: ESPN (Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale, Andy Katz)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)

1. This is UCLA’s shot to earn some more national respect before conference play. Ten games into the season, the Bruins look like a good team, not a great one, and a loss at Missouri was enough to drop them from No. 18 in the Associated Press poll to out of the rankings entirely. First-year head coach Steve Alford has said a few times this season that he wants to schedule tougher opponents in the future, and was responsible for getting Duke on the calendar with relatively late notice.

The eighth-ranked Blue Devils are a five-point favorite heading into New York, where they will almost certainly play before a de facto home crowd. Durham is only a 90-minute flight (or seven-hour drive) from New York City, and plenty of fans and students could fold the game into their holiday travel. Even if the Bruins don’t leave the East Coast with 10 wins, they can leave a lasting impression if they can play a tough game down to the wire.

2. How much man defense will the Bruins play? UCLA has mixed in some zone defense with its man schemes, but Alford’s history with the latter likely means that the team will trend that direction sooner or later. The Bruins have yet to prove that they can run an adept man defense, however: many of their players aren’t quick enough to lock down opposing stars, and their rotations aren’t all that crisp at this point.

Enter Jabari Parker, the one-and-done freshman who is second in the ACC in both points (22.0) and rebounds (7.6). The Bruins will most likely rotate multiple defenders to try and flummox the future lottery pick; how successful they are will be key to getting a win, as well as offer a hint at UCLA’s defensive ceiling. Sophomore forward Rodney Hood and junior guard Quinn Cook also average well into double-digit scoring, with the latter also averaging 6.6 assists.

3. Can Tony Parker show signs of improvement? It’s becoming a tired refrain, but UCLA is still lacking in the frontcourt and the 6-foot-9, 255-pound sophomore is still their only true big man. Dropping approximately 25 pounds over the offseason was supposed to result in a second-year breakout for the former four-star recruit. So far, though, he hasn’t done much with his increased minutes.

He’s up to 20.8 per game after playing a paltry 6.3 last year, but he has yet to make the leap to become a legitimate weapon on the inside. Since his 21 points and 12 rebounds against Oakland a month ago, he’s averaging 5.3 and 5.0 rebounds.

Duke’s strengths don’t lie in their frontcourt, so Parker won’t be tasked with guarding an elite big man tonight. The only Blue Devils close to his size are Josh Hairston (6-8, 235) and Semi Ojeleye (6-7, 230), and they average 2.4 and 2.8 points per game, respectively.

Also keep an eye on UCLA freshman Wanaah Bail, who has the athleticism to complement the Bruins on both sides of the ball, but is still trying to find his game after knee surgery in June (as well as a prolonged absence from competitive basketball). Both David and Travis Wear are who they are at this point: stretch forwards who can do some damage with their jumpers (especially Travis), but don’t have much to offer down low.

4. What will Kyle Anderson do for his homecoming? There’s not a ton of intrigue here, with the sophomore already firmly established as the top triple-double threat in the Pac-12 — if not the country. Officially debuting in Madison Square Garden for the first time should give the New Jersey native a bit of extra motivation.

Here he is talking about the last time he played there:

  • Mark

    Assume Duke wins by 10 but Blue Devils are vulnerable

    • Joe Blow

      Hope you’re not calling your bookie.