As BN's resident optimism it is a bit tough to write this post. I guess the best way to sum up where we are halfway through the Pac-10 basketball season is we are the edge and could easily go either way. CBH must lead UCLA to the NCAA Tournament this year. Right now the Bruins likely make the tournament. That is a scary proposition. But so is the end of every of almost every game for this team.
So, at this midpoint, I thought I would point out three ways this team has exceeded expectations and three ways it is failing those expectations. There are many more but these are things I would not have expected this year from this team, both good and bad.
1. Exceeding Expectations: Lazeric "Zeek" Jones.
Zeek (it is spelled Zeek not Zeke) has exceed expectations. So much so if it were not for the injury to Washington's Abdul Gaddy moving Isaiah Thomas to PG from shooting guard, Zeek would arguably be the best PG in the Pac-10. Hyperbole? Zeke ranks 3rd in PPG, 4th in FG%, 1st in FT%, and 3rd 3P% among PGs. He has become the Bruins leader and the guy most likely to take and make the big shot. Of course he does rank 6th in Assists. But his only competition for the second spot and who probably would get the nod over him on most lists, Jared Cunningham, ranks last in assists for PGs and it is debatable whether he is a true point. So yeah, he may not be second best but he is a good Pac-10 PG and has been clutch for the Bruins, so much so that this from a Washington Huskies blog may not be hyperbole:
Newcomer of the Year: Lazeric Jones, UCLA. The junior-college transfer from Logan (Ill.) played his basketball during the Bruins’ recent season-turning four-game winning streak, which shows how valuable he is to Ben Howland‘s team. Jones has helped rectify UCLA’s suspect point-guard play after a void left by Darren Collison‘s departure after the 2008-09 season.
CBH deserves credit for finding another overlooked player. Sure he may not be another LRMAM but he is a good pickup, better than anyone thought.
More after the jump.
2. Failure to Meet Expectations: Tyler Honeycutt.
Tyler has led UCLA in scoring this season one time. And that is sort of symbolic of his season. He had a great game on the road against Kansas but really that's it. And it is not just about points. Tyler was nicknamed the "toolbox" for his ability to do it all.
Tyler leads UCLA in minutes played, blocked shots, FGA, 3PA, 3PM, and, of course turnovers. Guess which one he has a big lead in? If you hesitated you have not been watching much UCLA basketball as he is the undisputed UCLA leader in turnovers.
Before the season, many were thinking that Tyler may be candidate for Pac-10 player of the year. Now, the biggest question is potential really enough for the NBA?
In Tyler's defense he has been hurting and played a lot of minutes despite the nagging injuries, has rebounded well, and is not a "bust" and a good player. But still, Tyler is not looking like one of the Pac-10 elite players as we thought before the year started.
3. Pleasant Surprise: Jerime Anderson.
Jerime has really blossomed this year. What I think is often overlooked is his commitment to defense this year. Jerime has been subbed in this year at times for defensive purposes. While, I thought he had potential as a 2 guard, I am pleased and pleasantly surprised to see him work so hard on the defensive end.
Jerime may be an example of how much a player can learn by sticking around a few years. Jerime has truly become UCLA's sixth man.
4. Depressing Reality: The Rest of the UCLA Bench
Considering Joshua Smith as a starter for this purpose, the rest of the UCLA bench outside Anderson has been terrible. The best shooter in Pac-10 play is Anthony Stover at a whopping 33%, really on the basis of one game where he made all his baskets. And Stover is the ninth man and more about the future. Tyler Lamb, who has played well on defense, is shooting 15%, yes 15 percent, in the Pac-10.
Brendan Lane has yet to draw a charge this season or block a shot in the Pac-10 after being one of the top shot blockers in the country early on in the season. Worse yet, Lane is only averaging a rebound every eight minutes in Pac-10 play. These are just a few statistical examples of his problems on defense.
This has led CBH to arguably play his regulars too many minutes and is an overlooked part of UCLA problems with playing 40 minutes. When the bench is in outside of Anderson, it can really hurt the team. The bench needs to step up.
5. Kind of Good, Kind of Bad: House Cats/Clutch Players
I don't think we can argue anymore. This is a "house cat" team. I have not seen a possible tourney team almost blow so many games or play so soft at times. No lead is safe or too big not to make the game close. It does not matter if it is a last place team or has a 14 point lead at home with less than 4 minutes left, we can/will all too often let the other team make the game close. Heck, sometimes we don't bother to show up for the first half or sleepwalk through it with lousy excuses like the early start time against Stanford.
The positive side of this is this team shockingly never folded and won those games. For the most part, the Bruins have won the games they are supposed to win. And it is not like DC or AA are on the court at end of games, this team is arguably led by a kid from John Logan JC. Most teams when they come apart like UCLA has, lose the game, especially on the road. But since losing to VCU and Kansas in close games on November 26 and December 2, UCLA is 4-0 in close games (5 points or under). Moreover, in those games all the starters have stepped up and hit clutch shots. Against OSU, Zeek hit the big shot and Josh hit the big free throws. Against Cal, Nelson tipped in the winning shot with two seconds left. In overtime against Arizona State, Zeek, Malcolm Lee, and Anderson all hit threes.
I guess the best symbol is Tyler Honeycutt in the Arizona State game. He scored UCLA's last two points in regulation on clutch free throws in front of 7,086 screaming Arizona State fans. Of course, he also blew the easy layup before the FTs and gave up the drive by Trent Lockett for the easy layup that tied the game, but hey why do things the easy way?
This post could go on all day and night. The bottom line is at the halfway point of the Pac-10, the UCLA team is gambling hard by doing the bare minimum to make the Big Dance just as they are in many games which they have won. This is a team on the edge that has put CBH on the cliff. Come on guys, let's grow up a bit and get to the tournament, starting with two big wins this week.