Both were talented and respected players during their collegiate years, with that success translating well to their basketball coaching careers. But for one, the transition to his new job this season has gone much smoother than the other.
ESPN2 will televise the matchup from Orleans Arena, and an injury to one of Northwestern's key players is partly to blame for this clash not yet showing up on SBR's live college basketball odds. More on that in a minute.
Alford had more than 700 games as a college head coach before accepting the job at UCLA this past March, inheriting a Bruins team that won the Pac-12 regular season title in the final season under Ben Howland. The former Indiana Mr. Basketball has the Blue & Gold off to its first 6-0 start to a season since the 2007-08 squad that began 7-0 on its way to the Final Four.
Collins, an Illinois Mr. Basketball award winner, is in his first season as a head coach after 17 years as an assistant, the past 14 under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke where he also starred as a player. He has the Wildcats sitting 4-3 so far, though a winning record and eventual invite to a postseason tourney might be tough to come by in the Big Ten.
Both Teams Playing 1st Back-To-Backs
Both teams have been busy the past week with Friday marking the fourth game in seven days for the Wildcats and Bruins. It will also be their first back-to-back tests of the 2013-14 college hoops schedule after Thanksgiving matchups to begin this tournament.
The Bruins got things started with an easy 105-84 cover vs. Nevada, thanks to a strong first half that saw UCLA sink 16-of-25 field goal attempts and convert 17-of-18 free throws. Five different Bruins scored at least 10 points, paced by 21 each from Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine. UCLA closed as a 13-point favorite, beating that number to move to 4-2 against the spread in a contest that easily skipped past the 151 point total.
Northwestern appeared to be on the verge of an upset victory in Thursday's nightcap against Missouri, taking a 39-34 lead into halftime as 7 point underdogs. But the Tigers came out of the locker room with a 14-0 run in the first 4½ minutes of the second stanza to eventually post a 78-67 triumph.
Adding injury to insult for the 'Cats, Drew Crawford only spent 13 minutes on the floor after reinjuring is right shoulder in the first half, the same shoulder that required season-ending surgery just 10 games into the 2012-13 campaign. The senior guard was granted a fifth year of eligibility and currently leads Northwestern in scoring (14.3 ppg). He is listed as questionable for tonight's tilt.
Bruins Depth Will Prove Too Much For Wildcats
Thursday was UCLA's first game away from Pauley Pavilion, and the Bruins sure didn't show any signs of trouble on a strange court. Now that Travis Wear is back after the senior missed the first few games due to appendicitis, Alford has more depth in the frontcourt to match the talent he has in the backcourt and make for a very strong 8-man rotation.
The guard trio of sophomore Adams, freshman LaVine and junior Norman Powell rank 1-2-3 in scoring, and is further augmented by Steve Alford's talented freshman son Bryce. Travis Wear is joined by his twin brother Davis plus Tony Parker to form a nice forward threesome.
But it's the all-around play of Kyle Anderson that really makes the Bruins go. The 6-9 soph can play just about anywhere on the court, and that shows in the stats where he ranks fourth on the team in scoring (12.5 ppg) plus first in rebounding (9.8 rpg) and assists (7.3 apg), that last number good enough for 6th-best in the nation.
Northwestern was outscored 40-14 in the pain by Missouri, and that should also be where UCLA outshines the Wildcats in this one. Stay tuned to SBRforum.com for the odds as soon as they're released; I like the Bruins by 12+ for my free college basketball pick.
My pick: No line yet, Lean Bruins Minus Points