As this the last of the weekly basketball posts as we enter into football season I thought I would try to give a quick but different overview of the season: Ben Howland is a good coach. You don't have so many players in the pros or go to three straight Final Fours if you are not. But, Ben Howland is not a great coach. Great coaches do not miss the NCAA tournament two out of three years nor do they have losing records after coaching somewhere for many seasons.
UCLA deserves a great coach or the coach with the potential to be great. Howland was a good hire because he had the potential to be great. UCLA had good reason to have hope. But UCLA should have fired Ben Howland after the last four years.
But UCLA has given Howland one last chance at greatness because of the potential for greatness for this team. He must deliver or be gone.
The good news for UCLA is Howland has a lot of things going in his favor ("new" Pauley, the #1 recruiting class). A great coach would love this opportunity. The bad news for Howland is there are a number of risky propositions that he must make work to make it to that next level.
Will UCLA's gamble on Howland pay off? Ironically, it depends on a number of bets that Howland has placed. Let's review those choices.
1. A 6'9" Point Guard
It is easy to forget that Kyle Anderson is taller than the backup center (Tony Parker) and heavier than either likely power forward starter (the Wear twins). He is also nicknamed "Slo-Mo." How does he defend a point guard? Can he really run an offense as a point guard? Not exactly the way you draw up a point guard. Scouts were initially leery of his ability to play point guard and to be frank, he sounded like a taller and heavier version of Tyler Honeycutt.
But I think he is going to be something special. Anderson is competitive and a winner. Anderson has been told for years he is too big to be a point but yet in the various high school all-sttar games with a number of good point guards around, the ball was still in Anderson hands.
ODDS OF THIS WORKING: Good, this bet should work as long as Howland plays a defensive point guard (Powell or Drew) to complement Anderson and take the opposing PG on the defensive end.
2. Shabazz Muhammad's Eligibility
The NCAA warned schools of potential issues with Shabazz's eligibility. The NCAA could even chose to make an example of AAU teams and Shabazz and severely punish him. Even if they do not do that, if the suspension is for a lengthy time, what does that do to team chemistry?
Duke was also gambling on Shabazz. I think he is worth the risk whenever he comes back and in the highly unlikely event he does not, it is somewhat like losing a player to injury.
ODDS: Shabazz seems very likely to be a leader of this team during the Pac-12 conference schedule. Before the conference schedule, that's anyone's guess.
3. Josh Smith Weighing Under 300
There is not much to add here. Josh's figure is being watched by UCLA fans closer than Miss America in a swimsuit at a beauty pageant. But the fact remains Josh was too heavy last year. The ceiling on Josh is high but as long as he weighs close to 400 he will remain closer to the floor, figuratively and literally.
The most ridiculous theory on Josh I have heard is that last season Howland let him get fat so he would not go pro until after Shabazz came. Howland wanted to make a run with Josh at center. I don't believe this for a second but the fact remains that Howland needs Josh to make a contribution and has chosen Josh as center.
ODDS: hat Josh gets under 300 pounds this season? Probably as likely as Lane Kiffin acting with honesty and class. That Josh makes a meaningful contribution as a somewhat overweight but not obese athlete? Likely.
4. Howland Becoming a Running and Offense First Coach
We have all heard before that Howland is going to run more, even from Howland himself. But more than that, this is a team built to score. This is not a Ben Ball team by design. Howland has sacrificed defense in order to get a better offense.
Shabazz is made to run. With Anderson at the small forward position on defense, you start your break faster when he gets a rebound. This will matter even for the role players. If Howland is committed to running, will Powell, a player seemingly built to run, play more?
ODDS: This is the hardest one to predict. On the one hand it seems like a leopard losing its spots. Howland is going away from his strength. On the other hand this team has a lot of offensive firepower. I think the odds are not good but if Howland wants to be a great coach he must adapt to his talent, especially since he chose it.
UCLA decided to gamble one more year on Howland to prove he can be a great coach. Howland has the hand but he has to play all his cards right or it will be time for him to fold and get out of town.