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What Will It Take?

So the Bruins have 6 games left in this regular season. Remember few weeks ago we ran a poll on Bruins Nation, asking everyone to predict what will be the Bruins final record in this Pac-10 season. I was one of the folks in the minority who voted for the option of 14-4. I really hope I am wrong. But I think the chances are very good that the Bruins will finish with a record of 14-4 this regular season, suffering at least 2 more losses in the remaining 6 games.

Well that’s the bad news. The good news is that I think the Bruins will probably end up getting at least a tie for the conference championship if they finish with a record of 14-4 and then if they can make a run in the conference tournament, getting at least 2 wins, based on their RPI, I think they will have a good shot at getting a number 1 or 2 seed in the Big Dance.

But that’s down the line. The reality is I think the Bruins need to hold serve at Pauley in their remaining home stands against the Bay area schools, and at least get a split in the road trips to Arizona and to Washington. This will not be easy. ASU is going to look to give us a dog fight. Arizona will be itching for some measure of revenge (and have the motivation to save some face) for what we have done to them in last four games. The game against Washington State will be the toughest challenge to date, and Washington may be playing us with a tourney spot on the line.

So how will the Bruins react? If you have the crystal ball, you can always try out your luck at, where the Bruins are still ranked as one of the top-5 teams in the country. I am not really much into prediction business. But I can tell you that at this point the Bruins are ahead of where I expected them to be before this season started.

Still though I am concerned about two things.

First, I have to admit I am little worried about lack of senior leadership in this team. As great as Jordan was, I think these are the two kids, this team has missed at times during crucial moments of this season:

AP Photo

There is something to say about senior leadership. Ced and Ryan’s leadership was a calming factor time after time during the difficult stretch run of last season. Same way Ed, Tyus, and George’s senior savvy was a huge boost for the Bruin squad that went all the way in 1995. Do we have that kind of leadership in this year’s team? Well AA is definitely doing all he can. He is leading by example. But he is kind of alone. Josh for some reason has disappeared during certain stretches this season. Mata is simply not polished enough to emerge as that leader (perhaps next year when he become a savvy senior). DC is a terrific point guard, however we still have to remember this kid is only a sophomore, and only in his first full year as a starting UCLA pg. So AA alone is carrying the leadership burden of this team. Is that enough? I am not sure. I am hoping and praying Shipp will step up in the coming weeks. He needs to "bring it" for the entire 40 minutes. As BBR noted earlier last week he is the key for rest of this season. If he plays like he is capable of, which is to play a complete game on both offense and defense, and not force issues too much, Bruins will have a chance.

Second, I wanted to bring up something I mentioned in the comment thread here earlier this week. Take a look at our 3 losses this season. Sure 2 of those losses (Oregon and West Virginia) happened because how he came out of a little slow and sloppy in first half. But then look again. Against Oregon we came out slow in the first half, but then fought back, but only to unravel in the last 3-4 mins before the first half turning the ball over multiple times, making unintelligent choices on the offensive side of the ball, which led to a 10 point Oregon lead. Similarly against West Virginia we were tied at 22 points in first half, before the Mountaineers closed out on a 10-0 run to go up 32-22 at half time. And guess what … kind of the same thing happened in the Stanford game. Remember in that game we were up by 17 points in the first half, before the Cardinals went on a mini 5-0 run to close out the half, and cut the lead to 12 points. They took that momentum into the locker room, and you know how rest of the nightmare unfolded up in Palo Alto. Now what happened during those stretches is still bugging me. We let the other team go on long runs, while failing to lock up our defense. We saw lot of lay-ups and easy buckets around the paint, which we didn’t see last year.

Not sure why it’s happening this year. Is it because we miss the leadership of Ced who cared first and foremost about his defense? Is it because we miss the presence of Ryan (who matured and grew into a legit prospect during the last 10 something games) who was providing a steady presence around the rim?

I think it will be telling how we respond in the next 4 road games. We have already suffered 3 losses this season. We went 7-2 last year. If this year’s team want to replicate the incredible overachievements of last year’s team, they are going to have to play with the senior poise and maturity, last year’s team showed during the final stretches to close out the season. That means it will be up to Luc, Shipp, DC, AA2 and Mata to match the patience and maturity of Ced and Ryan, and help out AA.

It will be interesting to see how those kids respond. It all starts Thursday night. I am looking forward to it.