As we have finished non-conference play and enter the Pac-10 on Wednesday, over then next two days I will try to tee up for a discussion reviews of all the players so far this year and more importantly, the 2010-'11 UCLA Bruins. The important thing is CBH needs to get this Bruins team to the tournament.
On the surface, the easiest things to be said about the Bruins, may have been summed up in this Pac-10 preview picking UCLA fifth:
UCLA – The Bruins continue to be the toughest team to read in the Pac-10. Five days after a potentially season-turning victor over No. 16 BYU, Ben Howland’s squad barely escaped UC-Irvine 74-73 victory at Pauley Pavilion. The Bruins have proven they can compete with just about any team in the country – but they’re capable of losing to just about anyone, too.
But there is more to it than that, and even after we barely won beat UCI a key point is we did win. This is not going to be a pretty team but the more important question is it a learning and improving team?
This UCLA team is 8-4, 0-1 on the road, 1-2 in neutral court games. How does this compare to three other CBH teams at the same point in the season?
- Last season (5-7, going into the Pac-0, 5-2 at home). Like this year, the '09-'10 team went through a losing streak losing 5 in a row versus this year's 4 in row. But to me that is were the similarities stop. This team has beat a top opponent, won on a neutral site and not been blown out. This is a better team. As CBH said:
"We're much better than a year ago," Howland said of the Bruins, who went 8-10 in the Pac-10 and failed to reach the postseason. "It was hard to watch last year's team while getting ready to play Pepperdine again. We're more athletic and have a better point guard."
- 2008-'09, (10-2, 8-0 home). That team had a senior leader in PG in DC. 0-1 on the road and 2-1 at the neutral site games. Only the Miami, Ohio game was close at home, which (no surprise for CBH watchers) was the second of a back to back games. Then #4 ranked UCLA played in the preseason NIT qualifying for NY then being upset in the semi-final and winning the consolation game. UCLA went 0-1 against ranked teams, losing to #8 Texas in their only true road game. With the major exception of the Montana game this team has done comparable and has done even better in beating a ranked team in a neutral site game. Of course, this team has made it look much harder as '08-'09 team did have close games against lesser opponents.
- 2004-'05 (6-2, 6-0 at home). Compared to the last time CBH came off a losing season, this team is also doing okay . That team had freshman in key spots (JF and AA) BUT it also had a senior leader in Dijon Thompson. That team did not play in any preseason tourneys and lost its only OC road game by 9 to MSU and the Wooden classic by 10 to BC. In the last three games before the Pac-0 started they beat a below average Pepperdine team by 2, beat a Michigan team on its way to a losing season by 2 and got beat in their only road game by a final four bound MSU. Compare that to this team, sacrilege I know. But this team has lost two games in a preseason tourney, one inexcusable loss at home and lost a tough out of conference road game. Note: they have not been blown out. Take out the preseason tourney and this team beat a better team in the Wooden classic and choked a game at home for the same out of cConference record (6-2). Yes they struggled with UCI, but the '04-'05 team did with Pepperdine and a crappy Michigan team, right before the Pac-10 as well.
I draw two conclusions.
1. Obviously, we are better than last year.
2. With the major exception of the home loss to Montana, we are obtaining similar results to the last two NCAA tournament but non-Final Four teams.
CBH must get UCLA to the tournament this year and judging by past history he is on the right track.
I also think they are unlearning the bad crap of last year and are learning how to win. Not a linear track but Bruins fans have reason to be encouraged.
By the numbers, UCLA has the 43rd most efficent offense by the Pomery numbers . There other offense numbers are similar: ranking 53rd in FG position and 45th in assists. The strange thing is CBH had made this happen with a different offense not as keyed on a PG. In fact in two of the best games this year for the offense, Kansas and BYU, the starting PG did not have an assist! So far this year the following 6 players have led or shared the lead for assits for the Bruins in a game Lazeric Jones (5 times), Malcolm Lee (3), Tyler Lamb (4),Tyler Honeycutt (2), Reeves Nelson (2), Jerime Anderson (3) covering all the positions except center. This is an offense that does push it more than the past with Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson leading the break. Arguably the worst at leading the break is Jerime Anderson, the backup PG, and second on the team in assists. This is not your normal team, for UCLA or CBH. Which, in turn leads to the point guard question.
The Good. Lazeric is a good and realiable three point shooter. Opponents cannot play off Lazeric. He has shown the ability to hit a 3 when time is running out. He is the team's best free throw shooter at 81% and despite missing one FT against UCI late seems to be a reasonable clutch player.
The Bad. Lazeric is not a great defender. He tries and is improving but has problems with quick guards and staying in front of people. He fouls too much, fouling out once and having four fouls three times. He is also not the best at distributing off the drive. UCLA broadcaster Don MacLean says he is "more of a 2 guard."
The intangibles. Zeke is a good interview who says the right things. He seems to work hard and have a good attitiude. I think he will hit the clutch free throws during the season. He is not a traditional ben ball warrior and not an elite PG but he is a good player who knows his role.
The Good. Anderson makes an effort on defense this year. He is leading the team in steals. On offense, he has hit some nice threes to help stop the other team's momentum. He has shown more confidence passing and shooting, especially from the wing. Anderson attitude and effort seem to be night and day from last year.
The Bad. He cannot lead a break as a PG. His best offensive moments often seem to come when he is paired with Zeke. He is less a liability on defense but still a bit of liability.
The intangibles. Anderson still has confidence issues. Anderson can't hit a free throw under pressure and at key times still looks like the guy passing to the ref that he was last year. Although he is better at 2, I am concerned that he is taking minutes from a better player in Tyler Lamb. Anderson has seemingly accepted his role and is better than last year but still should have his minutes limited.
Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the defense, our wing players and the big men down low.