(was gonna post this as a comment to our Hoops Roundup, but it got quite long)
It's become so much more difficult to really assess our outlook for our Bruins Basketball. This team is so damned young and there are so many things we'll really only know once the year starts...
Will J. Smith be in shape and effective Defensively? Will Honeycutt emerge from an ultra-athletic heart guy to a consistent player on Offense? Will Lee find his role on this team? Will we find a PG to continue the tradition of Point Guard U at UCLA? Can we establish any semblance of a Defensive and Offensive identity?
This may be the nature of College Basketball today, where turnover is so high, Freshman and Sophmores dominate the talent landscape and are expected to do so much, and the word Potential hangs over every team.
Still, this makes for an always exciting build up to the season. UCLA Basketball is my first love, and I'm really looking forward to big steps this season. Key points after the jump...
With a starting lineup of:
C - J. Smith
PF - R. Nelson
SF - T. Honeycutt
SG (more of a "Combo Guard") - M. Lee
PG - TBD [JA/TL/LJ will fight it out],
We're looking at 1 True Frosh, 2 Sophs, a sometimes headcase junior who had very little playing time his first year, and a TBD PG. I'd much rather have talented and hard working young kids rather than the senior trash we had masquerading as one of our Starting Forwards last year (and no I'm not talking about Mr. Roll)... but this will be the first year that CBH doesn't have a true and tested Ben Ball Warrior in the starting lineup since his first couple years as coaching (yes I count Roll as a warrior).
As with football, I see this as a building year and thus I'll look more at how we play the game rather than being fixated on wins and losses. The key things I'm going to look for are:
1. Do we have a game plan on offense?
Last year, our offensive gameplan was the dreaded H-P offense: A hope and a prayer. Hope that either Roll or Dragovic got hot behind the arc, and if not then pray that Honeycutt and Nelson could generate enough hustle points to keep us in the game. Malcolm Lee looked lost and frustrated last year as he struggled to find his spots and work with his teammates.
I think with Smith and a more developed Honeycutt/Nelson/Lee/Lane, we have some better options on the offensive end. I'd like to see us obviously run more inside out game with Smith and Nelson, but also more motion for Honeycutt and Lee to work off of. Let's get Honeycutt and Lee to catch the ball from 15 feet out with room to work, rather than needing to operate from the 3 point line.
Shooting has also been mentioned as a major question mark. Truthfully, I think this will be our major major weakness this year, and we'll see a ton of zone as a result. It will put a ceiling on our offensive effectiveness, and there's nothing you can really do about it besides continue to put in the practice and teach ways to bust a zone besides just shooting over the top (can we please get some penetration from the top to collapse these zones!!). There's a reason you hear CBH mention the player's improved shooting over the summer, he knows that this will be a challenge this year.
2. Can we prevent penetration from the wings?
Our D on the wings was a bit of a mess last year. JA was a sieve on defense, Lee was prone to frustration and reaching, Roll worked hard but didn't have the footspeed, and Dragovic often failed to grasp the concept that you need to stay between your man and the basket. The breakdown on the wings was often coupled with poor rotation on help Defense, which just broke the whole system down.
I hope a healthy and humbled JA will work harder on D, and that Lee/Lamb/Jones all live up to their "reps" as strong defensive players. I trust in CBH's ability to teach defensive fundamentals, but it's also on the players to implement those lessons and trust each other to stay disciplined.
3. Can we maintain consistency in our lineups?
Our starting lineup was a sad carousel last year, and our best bench player was often a walk-on. With Gordon's dismissal, injuries to TH, JA, and JK, Coach Howland had to constantly juggle lineups and bench players. Here's hoping that if changes happen in the starting lineup, that it's because Lane or Jones or Lamb played their way in, as opposed to injuries/dismissals/ineffectiveness.
My final [and probably overly optimistic] outlook:
Malcolm Lee and Honeycutt will be up there for leading scorer. Honeycutt will be our leading rebounder. Smith will play well on Offense but will also sometimes look lost and may even be posterized a couple times because of late rotations. I think Smith still needs a year to round into shape and get up to speed with the college game.
Overall wins in the low 20's, conference wins in the low teens. Our fair share of "signature wins" followed by mind-boggling losses. A top 3 finish in a still weak Pac-10, advance to the Sweet Sixteen and lose in a hard fought game against a Top 4 seed.