Tuesday, March 5, 2013

UCLA Basketball: 3 Brief Thoughts

Shabazz Muhammad

Was this really breaking news?

Shabazz is going pro. You know it, I know it, we all know it. And had Howland answered the question regarding Shabazz differently, and had he just said something along the lines of "we will see at the end of the season," then the spin is different. Then, Howland is still holding on to hope that Muhammad will come back, and he hasn't learned from the Kevin Love and Jrue Holiday departures. So this was a no win situation for Howland, and he might as well have told the truth. More than anything else, I really believes this helps UCLA if Howland is the coach long term.

The stigma out there right now is after the Kevin Love debacle, Howland purposely help Holiday back to lower his stock, and it worked. Holiday went from top 5 to out of the lottery. But he left anyways. And while such a narrative is ridiculous, as I really don't think any coach would hold a player back purposely, its out there. So if Howland does remain at UCLA, then this probably helps him.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

UCLA vs Arizona Post Game Thoughts

-It's funny, the season isn't over by any stretch of imagination. But today was a very sentimental game in many respects. For me, it was my final home game as a student at UCLA, as it was for several students who camped out from 12 PM Friday to 10 AM Saturday. It was Larry Drew II's final home game, who though he was only here for one year, gave everything he had for this school. And it was almost surely Shabazz Muhammad's final game, and possibly Kyle Anderson as well.

-If it was indeed Shabazz's final game, and it was, I certainly hope he does very well at the next level. He was courted by several big name programs, and could have gone just about anywhere he wanted. But he came here, and he's put UCLA Basketball, if nothing else, in the national discussion once again. His drive and desire are unparalleled, doing his best Kobe impersonations toughing through multiple injuries and setbacks. The investigations early on, the Gucci backpack, the flu game against USC, the pink eye against USC and ASU, and the sprained ankle today, its an exhaustive list. And many critics still point out several flaws in his game that will hurt him as a pro, I am among them. But we cannot deny one thing, and that is that Shabazz Muhammad will do everything in his power to improve as a player and help his team win. And thats not something you say nearly often enough about highly touted players.

-As for Kyle Anderson, I hope he comes back. His future is handling the ball, just like he wants. I think this year was how Howland wanted his development: learn defense, learn rebounding, while continuing some point play. And next year, play on ball. He's just a special, special talent. And if he comes back, the sky is the limit for UCLA next year. He's that good.

-The conference title is now there for the taking, something we'd have thought crazy in November. It's crazy, but if the Bruins win out this week, something that will be very, very hard given that UCLA has never won at Washington under Howland, and win the conference tourney, again, very difficult considering a 7.5 man rotation has to win 3 games in 3 nights, the Bruins could still be placed in the West regional as a 3-4 seed.

-With all that said, all those goals are very, very hard. UCLA has had a habit of laying eggs after impressive victories this season.

-More to come... I haven't slept since Thursday night. 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

UCLA ASU Postgame Thoughts

-Where do I begin? I guess I'll start with... congrats Ben. You live to fight another game.

-Highlight of the night besides the win: the Pau Gasol sighting. I've always had a man crush on Pau, even with all his struggles the past few years.

-The stat sheet might only say -3 on the boards, but to the naked eye, the Bruins are still having to fight way too hard for their rebounds. Players are watching the ball too much rather than boxing out.

-And for those who say its because we don't have a true big man, half the teams in the NBA today don't have true big men. You don't need to be 7'2 to get a rebound.

-Tony Parker for the first time in his UCLA career was banging bodies. He was getting flat out physical and dirty with Budchinzky (I'm not checking if I spelled that right). Offensively, he's going to have to get more polished, but the skill set is there. If he sticks with it, he's going to be a very good player.

-What more can you say about the freshman? Muhammad was expected to be a force, but Anderson and Adams have proved more than capable of scoring well on their own. Adams and Anderson really took it to the Sun Devils down the stretch.

-As for Muhammad, 21 points is nice and all, but if your going to be a top 5 selection in the NBA draft as a guard, you have to knock down your free throws. If Muhammad makes his free throws down the stretch in regulation, the game never gets to OT. He was virtually absent in OT, something very uncommon for him this season.

-David Wear nearly cost the Bruins the game. He had absolutely no presence inside, and isn't nearly consistent enough with his jumpers to be taken seriously. Either he or Parker need to get much better, and quickly.

-Hopefully Parker becomes a larger part of the rotation now. He seems to be playing with a lot more confidence, and David Wear seems to slowly be developing one weakness: playing basketball. If I had to pick, I'd give them 10 minutes or so each.

-Trust me when I say it took a bit for me to say that. I've really hated how people thought Parker should get minutes for doing absolutely positively nothing. But things are a bit different now.

-Yes, it is just now. Last time, he was dismembered when he had a larger role at ASU.

-Saturday could prove really big for the Bruins, as a win could pull them up to a 5-6 seed. Yes, big things are still possible out of this UCLA team. In a tie for first place now in the conference, the outright regular season title will be tough, with Saturday's game against Arizona and a date at Washington still looming. Oregon has just one more tough date at Colorado. Still however, a strong finish could position the Bruins in the 5 seed range and could put them in position for a decent run.

-Arizona could prove to be an even tougher game now with their loss to SC, but ASU was probably the tougher matchup of the two. With their size and ability to stretch the floor with a couple shooters, ASU had all the makeup to come into Pauley and beat the Travis Wear-less Bruins. It all sets up a monster showdown on Saturday, one that could define the season to this date. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Random Musings

UCLA Basketball

Everybody wants to talk about Ben Howland and his job security, but there really is no point until the end of the season. Ben isn't getting a meeting with Dan Guerrero until after the tourney. As for this team, there are many issues.

Rebounding doesn't seem to be an issue that is getting corrected any time soon. And while the attention this week is on Arizona featured by game day, ASU could prove to be the tougher of the two games. The height of the Sun Devils was just too much last time around, and this meeting should prove to be no exception. UCLA is still very poor in simple fundementals such as box-outs, crashing the boards, etc. It's just sad because its the one thing holding this group back. When UCLA gets the rebounds and are off in transition, few teams are capable of stopping them. Of course, last time against ASU would have been dismissed as a loss based on fatigue, but the Bruins followed it up with a stinker against USC. So basically, this looks to be a very Steve Lavin type team: high on talent, high on potential, iffy on execution, and spotty as to which team is going to show up.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

UCLA vs. USC: Pre-Game Thoughts

-Well that's that. Any good feelings after the Zona win are just about gone, and there are probably more bad feelings than good.

-I have to say, the most concerning thing about Howland's teams over the last 5 years is how much they've played according to the stakes/played down to the opponents level. It's been, well, very Lavinesque.

-Every time there's a big game, UCLA seems to show up and at least lose close. When the game isn't all that meaningful, then we get games like Saturday.

-Its really just a culture of winning, and expecting to win, that you build in your program. The Final Four teams had it. Even the 2008 team had it, to an unhealthy degree. And it just disappeared overnight.

-Shabazz Muhammad is sick, Travis Wear is hurt, this really could be the beginning of the end. A loss to SC would be the absolute final straw.

-Or it could still be the beginning of a spark. There is no game from now to the Arizona game that this UCLA team, if healthy, shouldn't be able to win.

-I've seriously never felt so wishy-washy about a team since, well, ever.

Friday, January 25, 2013

UCLA at Arizona: Post Game Thoughts

-Once again Bruin fans, remember, he's Bill Walton. He's a big name, so he can say whatever he wants. It's just how life works.

-My guess as to why Shabazz Muhammad was taken out: save him for the second half. There are two sides to this. On one end, UCLA could have maybe stretched its lead by a big margin early. On the other, the Bruins needed him to close the game out in the second half with just about no rest. And when you look at all the injuries that occurred during the game, it probably worked out for them.

-With that said, Howland is very, very lucky UCLA pulled this one out relatively easily. If UCLA had lost, Howland's rotations would have drawn harsh criticism.

-Want to know the funny thing about Muhammad's night? It should have been even better. After going 5-7 in the first half, the freshman stud missed his first four attempts of the second half, all of which were looks that were falling in the first half.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

UCLA vs. Arizona: Random Thoughts

-Is tonight a must win game? Well if your going into the #6 team in the country's home court and its a must win game, your not in very good shape.

-I just hate the idea of the must win game. It basically means everything is staked on one game. Your entire season, all your goals, your coaches job, everything on one game. And if all of that is flaky enough to come down to one regular season game, you obviously aren't going in the right direction.

-Don't get me wrong, its not that I don't believe the Bruins can't win tonight, because they can. But the goal for the season goes beyond that. Even if the Bruins lose tonight, the season ends in March, not tonight. The objective is to get better and better, and eventually, fix all the wrinkles and position yourself for a big run in the tournament.

-But UCLA absolutely can win tonight. Though there are only 8 scholarship players left on the roster, all 8 would make good contributions at any school, and I'd wager that 2-3 would start for any team in the country.

-It's really just the small things that are missing from this Bruin squad. The stupid turnovers, rebounding, easy missed shots, that's really it. Everything else has fallen into place. Unfortunately, that's the difference between an elite team and a good one. And it's usually the hardest to fix.