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Buckle Up

Let me make something clear right off the bat re. this place for those want to do drive by trolling after tough losses (in either hoops or football).

BN is not talk radio.

BN is not a message board.

This is not a place where you get to just pop in after a Bruin loss and get your frustrations out of your system. If you are going to take knee-jerk, drive by shots against our coaches or our players, showing up randomly in a community you don’t normally participate in, then we suggest you pick up the phone or call in those dumbed down talk radio shows or find a message board that works for you. We don’t care  if that impacts our site traffic

We are not going to let BN turn into a place where you can come by and confirm Steve Lavin and rest of traditional media blowhard’s talking points about “spoiled and unreasonable” UCLA basketball fans. Moving on to last night’s game. 

Last night’s loss against a very well coached Michigan team is not a surprise. Those of us who follow our program on a day to day basis here on BN, knew the kind of challenge our guys were going to face against Beilein squad. I think Jaffa’s data points in the comment threads provided some key information putting this in perspective by going over Beiein/Howland matchup dating back to their Big East days:

Howland at Pitt, Beilein at West Virginia: 2-0 Howland (82-46 at Pitt and 80-61 at WVU). They were only at these places at the same time for one season (2002-2003) – Howland’s last at Pitt, with a top 10 team, and Beilein’s first at WVU. Not surprising he was able to get both wins, and both blowouts at that.

Howland at UCLA, Beilein at West Virginia: 2-0 Beilein (60-56 at Pauley in ‘05-’06 and 70-65 at WVU in ‘06-’07). The first featured a still-young UCLA, against an experienced WVU in Beilein’s 4th season. In the second we missed Collison as Westbrook struggled in his first start (4 pts on 1-11, 4 assts, 3 TO in 32 mins), in Beilein’s 5th year at WVU.

Howland at UCLA, Beilein at Michigan: 1-1 (69-54 UCLA at Mich, and this game). Last year’s game was our 12th of the season and Beilein’s 12th at Michigan. Tonight’s game was the third in their career for much of our team, playing for the first time against a very uncommon attack.

What I take from this: Howland’s wins come against teams very inexperienced in Beilein’s unorthodox system, not built to play his way. Beilein’s team wins when they’re the more experienced. I would say tonight’s game fits this pattern. It may only be his second year at Michigan, but his team is much less reliant on freshmen (4 combined for 48 mins for us, 2 combined for 30 for them) adjusting to the college game. Our seniors didn’t play well either, true, but as mentioned above, the mixing and molding of the entire team around those new players hasn’t happened quite yet, and needs to happen.

Let’s expand on the point re. mixing and molding of the entire ream, something rye also brought attention to in his must read post below.

I will go back to this post in which I laid out two of the top factors which I think are key to this edition of Bruins have a successful season this year. First, this is what I wrote re. DC’s “decision making”

Yet notwithstanding DC's greatness, I think there is some room for improvement for this great Bruin guard. I think if DC has an Achilles heel it is his decisiveness as the floor general while we are on offense. Let me see if I can explain this. From what I have seen from DC in last three years, it seems at times he needs to be a little more authorative around his decisions on whether to take the shot or pass it off to his team-mates. In his defense in his first three years at UCLA, in terms of scoring he had more prolific scorers in AA, JF and then KL (a once a generation freshman) to which he often gave up the ball to. However, at times it seemed like UCLA offense lagged a bit as DC was waiting around to make his final decisions. So, I think this year we might see a little less of that as DC will be one of the primary scorers in our offense. In that case, I think DC needs to be a just tick faster in making his decisions on whether to launch or drive for his shot rather than passing off to another team-mate. We need DC to be more aggressive in decision making and hopefully his unquestioned stature as the senior leader will make the process a little easier.

Well, sadly last night DC made my point. I think the key here is what jaffa and rye already alluded to above. This is a matter of our guys figuring out and getting comfortable in their roles and syncing up with each other. It’s also a matter of DC taking charge of this team by trusting his own strengths and instincts. We saw how last night at times he was trying to be too unselfish (botching scoring chances on fast break or passing up wide open shots). He needs to get into the mindset that he is the unquestioned floor general during crunch time and then take over accordingly.

If DC is having issues taking over, I don’t think it might be a bad idea for Howland to have JH run the point and move DC at 2 setting him up for wide open jumpers. It worked number of times last year when Howland had RW running the point, who was instinctively more aggressive and sure footed in making his decisions on whether or not to attack the rim himself or passing it off to the best available option.

Also, in the same post I wrote about DC’s decision making, I also noted the need for “consistency” from JS:

Now that JS is fully healthy there is a chance we can see JS from his freshman season, who foreshadowed the kind of Ben Ball we have been accustomed to courtesy of warriors such as LRMAM and RW last three seasons Interestingly CBH has dropped hint that we may see JS spend some time at the 4 (which caught JS by surprise). That might not be a bad deal because it could be a move to field a guard heavy lineup exerting even more tenacious defensive pressure. Remember Howland did the same thing in his second year playing DT at the 4.

Ultimately, I think if JS were to have a memorable last season at UCLA, it will have to be centered around his total commitment to all out defense, sheer tenacity and hustle, that will allow him to emerge as the replacement of LRMAM in this year's squad. If he brings that defensive tenacity and then let his offensive instincts take over within the scheme of Howland's offense, JS might break out with one of the more memorable final year, a Bruin senior has put together in some time. Given what the kid has been through you can bet we all are going to be rooting for him.

JS had an awful night. He didn’t play great defense and he was totally unfocused on offense. Except for his first strong drive to the hoop, frankly he looked like a missile without a guidance system rest of the game. It was a disappointing night for the senior who turned the ball over team-leading 6 times (DC was second with 4).

Again JS’s contribution to this team will have to start with defense and playing within the scheme of this offense. I also think, it makes sense for Howland to given ML more mins early in the season so that we have a credible option at 3 when we head into the Pac-10 season. One concern I have had with CBH (and ironically it’s the same one I have with Neuheisel and Chow who been stubborn in their commitment to giving Bell more time at TB over Coleman and other young backs) is that he is often too ferociously loyal to his upperclassmen. I thought RW deserved more than 9 mins per game in his first season. But hey … I don’t care if I don’t win this argument given what Howland has done in Westwood. Still, for the sake of discussion, I think Bruins will be better off this year if Howland loosens up the shackle on his talented freshmen.

I would love to see ML getting more time at the 3 and also DG and JM getting their mins early in the season. I haven’t seen anything in the papers this am, but I am assuming JM didn’t get any mins because he might still be working into game shape, and Howland might have thought he wasn’t ready for the 1-3-1 zone. Howland confirmed that assumption on Dohn's blog:

"It's a hard game for both of those freshman big guys (Drew Gordon being the other) to match up against them defensively because they're so out on the perimeter,'' Howland said. "(Morgan) is a center used to playing around the basket, so I think it would be very difficult for J'mison.''

Here are some other tidbits from last night’s game that stood out to me:

  • We only made 5 out 11 FTs. That will not get it done and will burn us again if we keep shooting that way. What stood out to me were the clunkers from JK, MR and JS. I understand if AA2 clunks from the charity stripes, but we can’t have guys like MR and JS looking out of sync from the FT line. It cost us the game last night.
  • ND looks much improved on defense.  He is not looking lost out there anymore. However, he is still forcing the action a little bit by jacking up shots. He was forcing it and not taking them within the flow of the game. Again the improvement is encouraging, but he still needs to settle down on offense.
  • JK had a great start last night (like rest of the team). He was active around the boards accounting for 6 offensive rebounds (team leading 8 total rebounds). However, like rest of the team he didn’t have a strong finish and got somewhat lost during second half.
  • JH … wanted to save the best for last. I had to chuckle when Dukee V mentioned that he wasn’t a “one and done” type. He showed last night that right now he is the best athlete in our team. He was smooth. Forget the pretty jumpshots or the effortless gliding to the rack, my jaw was dropping the effort he was showing on the defensive side with couple of spectacular block shots. I will reiterate what I mentioned above … I’d love to see CBH let JH run the point and shift DC over to 2. I think we might see some of the spectacular results we saw when he was doing the same with RW.

Anyway, in closing I am not all that shook up over this loss unlike some of the irregulars who came by to post their knee jerk reactions giving the impression that sky is falling. Again, our request for those guys are simple. Dial up the talk shows.

As for Howland, here was his response to last night’s setback:

Standing in a crowded hallway, somewhere deep inside Madison Square Garden, Ben Howland hurried his players outside and back toward their hotel.

It was past midnight, the UCLA coach in no mood to wait around.

"Early practice," he said.

Don't be surprised if the fourth-ranked Bruins get some extra work this morning, maybe some quick tutoring, after their 55-52 upset loss to Michigan on Thursday night.

Bruins get back in action tonight against Southern Illinois, who got run out of the gym by bunch of Dukees, who always peak during football season (sending Vitale into a tizzy). I haven’t seen the Salukis much except for the few mins against Duke from last night. What stood out to me was that they seemed to have a pretty good inside game. They were hanging in there (down by 6 at the half time) until they imploded in the second. They will present a challenge for our front court through Carlton Fay, the sophomore forward who is leading the team in scoring (16.5) and rebounding (7.5). I will post some links to Saluki info during our game thread which will go up right before tipoff (2 pm PST).

So, in closing I am as worried about our team as I was following our thumping against Memphis in our last appearance at MSG. Our team has a long way to go. We are not a top-10 team right now. We are probably a top-15 team at best. If there is a silver lining, hopefully last night’s loss bring a heavy dose of perspective among those who have suddenly started paying attention to our basketball program following the Gonzaga magic. Right now based on our issues, I don’t see our team making the Final-4 or the Elite-8. I am fine with that. However, what I am excited about this season, is to watch this team grow and develop in what I am expecting to be the same roller coaster season we experienced in 2005-06. My suggestion for those who are in it for the long haul: show some patience and buckle up. For the rest who are panicking and reaching premature conclusions, don’t try to jump back on the bandwagon, when our warriors get it going.