So, we are one game away from exactly the halfway point of the Pac-10 season and at this point it's unclear whether we will even finish with a .500 record within the conference. Looking at last night's game, it was in some way a replay of the terrible season tone setting loss against Cal State Fullerton. Do you guys remember that debacle? With a short 8 man rotation, we took 29 3 point shots, stunk it up from the FT line and missed clutch FTs with game on the line to choke the game away. Here was that boxscore. Well, last night's game perhaps wasn't the total humiliation (like earlier stinkers v. Southern Cal, Stanford, Arizona, Portland, Long Beach State and Fullerton), but it was essentially more of the same. We are basically where we started in this pointless season.
The easy way out right now of course is to aim fire at the Rainbow Warrior from Belgrade, who after all the "talk" (from Ben Howland) about "creating" his own shots, went back to his old form putting up 13 shots from the 3 point line. In all honesty, I couldn't get upset at his attempt to drive to the rim with 10 seconds left in the game (we still had 10 seconds left and if he had connected on those attempts, it'd be a 1 point game with enough time left on the clock). I wasn't upset at the misses which were essentially wide open shots. I guess what really upsets me about the Ragovic phenomenon, is that his style of basketball is repulsive to anyone who have come to appreciate the fundamental tenets of Ben Ball over the years: smarts, rebounding (not letting opponents dominate under the rim), hustle, and of course defense. It is stunning to me how someone like Rago just keeps getting mins without ever having to be accountable for not making much of an effort on defense.
However, the problem with all those 3 point shot attempts was not due to Rago's "natural" instincts. The problem with this team is much more severe. It goes to the very top. It is really all on Ben Howland, who has not done a very good job of roster management over the years, saddling us with a basketball team without any credible point guard. We have a team which doesn't have a confident playmaker in the backcourt, and is taking its cue from the head-coach, who apparently has no problem sacrificing his principles of good defense and fundamentals in favor of possibility of getting on a roll from the 3 point line.
The basic problem with this team is that Malcolm Lee is a mediocre 2 guard (with a low basketball IQ), Jerime Anderson looks like a pg who should be at a mid-major (guess we can't really use that term this year since we are in the Pac-10 after all), and Mustafa Abdul-Hamid is a walkon. That's it. That's all we have. What we saw yesterday from Malcolm, a "point-guard" who is unsure, tentative at the top of the key, is not any different from what we have seen from Jerime most of the season.
Time after time our team on the offense looked like they were playing 4 on 5 (actually 3 on 5 when Keefe was in the mix). Lee can't shoot, he doesn't when to drive, and it doesn't look like as if his coaches have any idea of how to get him to jump start the offense. So we basically pass around the ball aimless without any purpose and then jack up the 3s. Hey, we did get a decent effort from Mustafa last night and in fact he probably made the most inspired play in the second half to jump start the team in that classic "Ben Ball" fashion: diving on the floor to get the ball and initiate a break. What was his reward? Sitting on the bench for rest of the game of course. I am sure Howland will do his mea culpa sometime this weekend over it. I mean if Mustafa is going to sit on the bench after plays like that, what's the "point" of hustling for Ben Howland?
I guess passing around aimless at the perimeter shouldn't be a big revelation for us at this point. Over the years we have seen that from DC and JF, except they were natural leaders/point guards who had the confidence to either drive inside or bail us out with their shooting touch time after time. We just don't have the luxury right now and we better hope Zeke Jones next year will provide a modicum of relief, because again not feeling so hot about Howland and his current staff to land an elite pg this spring, given the results from this current season.
Going back to Ragovic's miss FTs, I find kind of sad and telling that in over time, it was our seniors who missed the front end of clutch FTs, while it was their underclassmen - freshman and sophomore - carrying them with big buckets. Guess, can't really get upset with Roll. He is what he is. He gave us that clutch game tying shot at the end of the regulation. Yet towards the end of the first half with Bruins up by 12 (28-16), Roll and Drago kept putting up bricks, and committed costly TO to essentially let the game slip out of Bruin's control.
It's a good thing that Howland gave some valuable mins when the Bruins built that lead in first half to freshmen such as Lane and Moser to keep his starters fresh. Hey, oh wait. Sorry. They can't get the minutes because they are incapable of matching the brilliance of our upperclassmen superstars. Ya know. They'd find a way to eff it up. Can't count on them to run our breathtaking Drag and Roll (rainbow) offense.
As we have said number of times, we just don't have any credible senior leadership. The natural ones on this team - Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson - are not mature enough yet both physically and emotionally to take over completely (makes us appreciate the leadership of AA from his very first year even more).
I wonder if there are people delusional enough to think we will still go to the NCAA (I am guessing there were few after last week). As I suspected all along last week's win over two bad Washington teams didn't tell us much. Without a point guard for every two steps we take forward we will take move back. Also, given that Howland looks to be completely ignoring his bench at this point (not even bothering with mins from Brendan Lane and Mike Moser), this team is going to get worn out fast. Wait, they looked all worn out last night.
The problem right now is that not only has this season has the potential to become a waste (without using it to develop other younger talents in this team), the program might just be stuck in neutral if there is no upgrade at the point guard position next year. It will be pointless exercise all over again and the responsibility will fall on Ben Howland.
It's cool though. We probably will lose on Saturday and then come back to pull off an "upset" win next week at home and then together we can all rush the court.