Halfway through coach Mick Cronin’s first season with UCLA men’s basketball (8-8, 1-2 Pac-12), the team is sitting at .500 and has lost home games to Hofstra, Cal State Fullerton and USC. The Bruins opened the season 4-0 but have gone 4-8 since, so Daily Bruin Sports broke down each position group and graded its players on how well they’ve played as a unit so far this season.
Point guards: C
The Bruins only have one true point guard on the roster this year, and he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations.
Redshirt freshman Tyger Campbell has started all 16 games for UCLA this season, averaging team highs of 28.9 minutes and 4.3 assists per game in the process. Campbell put up a 14-point, 11-assist double-double in the Bruins’ preseason exhibition victory over Stanislaus State on Oct. 30, but he has yet to consistently recreate his performance from that night.
Campbell averaged 10.7 points and 5.0 assists per game through the Bruins’ first three games, but he has averaged just 6.8 points and 4.1 assists in the 13 games since. His best performances in that stretch – an 18-point, nine-assist game against Cal State Fullerton, an 11-point performance against BYU and a 10-point, five-assist night against North Carolina – all came in UCLA losses.
The last time the Bruins’ team leader in assists per game averaged less than 4.3 was the 2011-2012 season, when they finished the year 19-14 and failed to make it past the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals. UCLA ranks 209th in the nation in assists, and while that doesn’t entirely fall on Campbell, it is a pass-first point guard’s responsibility to facilitate the ball and get his teammates involved regularly.
Campbell is still the Bruins’ best passer, and he is only averaging 2.0 turnovers per game with starter’s minutes in his first collegiate campaign. But Campbell has routinely played it too safe this season, hesitating to pull the trigger on catch-and-shoot 3s or entry passes into the paint.
In the roughly 10 minutes per game that Campbell isn’t running the point, sophomore guards David Singleton and Jules Bernard have split time with redshirt senior guard Prince Ali. All three are shooting guards by trade, and they average a combined 2.9 assists per game.
Ali, Singleton and Bernard’s assist percentages aren’t even half as high as Campbell’s 27.1% mark, so it’s clear that the offense still runs through the 5-foot-11 point guard.
But whether or not he has been on the floor, the Bruins have failed to move the ball effectively, and their offense is suffering as a result.
Outside of junior guard Chris Smith and a couple of fresh faces, the Bruins’ perimeter players have left much to be desired.
Smith leads the team with 12.4 points per game this season after posting a team-high 18.3 points per game during conference play. He may be shooting just 33.3% from long range, but he has limited his attempts and shot a team-best 84.5% from the free-throw line.
Freshman guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. burst onto the scene at the Maui Jim Maui Invitational after averaging just 1.7 points and 1.3 rebounds in 11 minutes per game across the Bruins’ first six outings. Starting with a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double against Chaminade, Jaquez averaged 13.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in UCLA’s final seven nonconference games.
And while Jaquez is only averaging 6.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game three games into Pac-12 play, his fellow freshman guard/forward Jake Kyman has made a name for himself in that time instead.
Kyman drilled seven 3-pointers en route to 21 points and a game-winner against Washington on Jan. 2. He scored just 10 total points in his next two games, but he is at least becoming a more regular part of the rotation.
Singleton and Bernard have struggled to carve out roles for themselves on the wing, partially because of a crowded roster and partially because they have been forced to spend some of their playing time at the point. The duo combined for 15.4 points on 49.5% shooting in 36.5 minutes per game during conference play a year ago, but those figures have dropped to 5.0 points on 28.6% shooting in 28.3 minutes per game in Pac-12 play this season.
Ali’s numbers haven’t regressed like Singleton and Bernard’s have, but he continues to be one of the most consistently inefficient and stagnant players in Westwood.
Over the past three years, Ali’s points, rebounds and assists per 40 minutes have remained virtually identical from season to season. However, Ali’s 38.5% shooting percentage this season is a new career-low, and his 21.3% 3-point shooting percentage, 47.4% true shooting percentage and 42.2% effective field goal percentage all rank toward the bottom of UCLA’s rotation.
Between Ali’s inefficiency, Singleton and Bernard’s regression and Jaquez and Kyman’s streakiness, UCLA has not been able to get reliable production from its wings so far this season.
Big men: B-
If there’s one thing the Bruins have done well this year, it’s rebound the ball, and their big men have obviously been the ones carrying that load so far this season.
Smith and Jaquez have averaged a combined 10.0 rebounds per game, largely because they have both spent time at the four in small lineups. Redshirt freshman forward Shareef O’Neal has also shown flashes of potential as a rebounder because of his high basketball IQ and even higher vertical.
But the two true bigs – redshirt sophomore forward/centers Jalen Hill and Cody Riley – have done the bulk of the work on the boards.
Hill is averaging 7.1 rebounds per game – good for eighth in the Pac-12 – while Riley is hauling in 5.2 per game of his own. The duo averaged 21.4 rebounds per 40 minutes last season, but that mark has improved to 21.6 in their second season sharing the frontcourt.
UCLA ranks 30th in the nation in offensive rebounds, and it has been the top Pac-12 team in terms of keeping opponents off the boards.
Hill and Riley are also both averaging over 9.2 points per game, despite the fact that they both average less than 25 minutes per game. Riley has continued to be a physical presence in the paint, while Hill has added a pretty skyhook and a smooth up-and-under to his offensive repertoire.
But while the pair has improved this season, the Bruins have still suffered from a lack of depth.
Redshirt senior forward Alex Olesinski is playing just 10.3 minutes per game while averaging 1.6 points per contest, and Jaquez and O’Neal are both more tweeners than they are true big men. The thin depth chart behind Riley and Hill has been an issue, especially considering the former is constantly in foul trouble with 6.1 fouls per 40 minutes.
The Bruins on the blocks have been the team’s most successful position group because of consistent rebounding and solid player development, but UCLA remains top-heavy down low.