Happy New Year Bruin Nation.
We returned to East Coast late last night wishing luck to all the Penn State fans who were streaming out of LAX. I will put up a football open thread later today for folks who might be checking into the actions today.
As the bowl season winds down, the college football world will gradually begin exclusively focusing around hoops. It looks like conference season is heating up around the country already as evident in some of early upsets suffered by UConn, Oklahoma, Louisville, and Purdue in losses just this week. Ben Ball warriors will start the season up in Oregon. There are already lots of anticipation going on around the conference about their downfall this year. From Thomas Preston at DevilsDigest.com (scout.com’ ASU website):
UCLA dominance: This could be the year that it ends, or is at least put on hold. USC has been playing good basketball and seems to be getting better while Stanford and Cal have also been surprising. The Bruins needs some inside help, but the guard play should be steady. UCLA is definitely going to be difficult to beat out for first, but the competition in the conference is closer than it has been in the past couple of years.
Doug Haller from the Arizona Republic also seems to be salivating over UCLA facing "heat" from all directions in the conference:
Still, there's a sense the conference race is as open as it's been in years. Contenders come from all directions, including Wells Fargo Arena. The nation has started to notice Harden - Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine recently visited Tempe - but he's still one of the nation's better-kept secrets. Many believe that if the Sun Devils keep most of their Pac-10 games close, Harden (at 23.8 points per game) will find a way to win more often than not.
Coach Howland to his credit is going to do what he has been doing last few years: take it one game at a time, keeping the focus on the next opponent. Bruins will get to start the conference season by taking on a new look Oregon State team playing under a brand new head coach. From the LA Times:
They have a new coach in Craig Robinson -- President-elect Barack Obama's brother-in-law -- and a new look on the court. Robinson, who played for Pete Carrill at Princeton, has instituted a distinct style.
"We are trying to do a lot of things all at once," Robinson said after the Beavers defeated Seattle on Monday to improve to 5-5.
"We are trying to learn a new system, and we are trying to win."
UCLA Coach Ben Howland said he expected to see a 1-3-1 or 2-3 zone defense the entire game. And a Princeton-style offense.
"They're going to be very, very patient," Howland said. "They may only take 35 or 40 shots, so each possession has a lot more importance placed on it."
Hopefully the experience the Bruins gained early in the season by taking on opponents such as Miami (OH) who tried to slow things down and other teams constantly throwing zone defenses at them will pay off in the early going. There was also the hairy experience against the Wolverines' 1-3-1 zone in MSG. Perhaps our guys will be more prepared this time around.
Of course the big question mark is how Howland will adjust his lineup due to the absence of ML, who will make the trip but will probably not be available for action (from the same report):
Lee will travel with the team to Oregon this week but is not expected to play. His absence leaves the Bruins with a number of potential lineups.
Howland said that Josh Shipp, Jrue Holiday and Michael Roll will share minutes in the wing positions. He left open the possibility that Nikola Dragovic might be shifted to the wing and that Darren Collison and Jerime Anderson could be on the court together.
The key for these guys will be to be patient early on and not force the action against a zone defense. One thing that I really liked from what I saw last weekend was how the guys were looking to make the extra pass. They need to keep doing that and if MR can retain his shooting touch and JS can keep attacking the rim, we will be set up well for this conference season. I love the idea of JA and DC on the court together setting DC up for open looks from the outside.
BTW if folks are wondering how JM is doing given the fact that he hasn’t gotten much PT this year (for good reasons as he is still working away in getting into game shape) no need to worry about his commitment to being a Ben Ball warrior. From Jill Painter in the Daily News:
J'mison "BoBo" Morgan isn't playing much these days (2.9minutes per game), but the freshman center is working hard, according to teammate Drew Gordon.
"Bobo would definitely like to play more and he's having a rough time getting into shape," Gordon said. "But before and after practice, he's doing a little extra stuff like running to show the coaches so he's still in their head. He's saying, `I'm still with you guys.' "
JM is going through what lot of out of state freshmen athletes have gone through in Westwood over the years when they have to go through the adjustment of playing in an environment with a number of other elite athletes. JM just needs to work away. His opportunity will come eventually. For now he needs to keep chipping away and prepare himself for every game like rest of his team-mates. Whatever extra work he is putting in will not only please his coaches, more importantly it will be benefit himself in terms of getting into better shape. Hope he keeps at it.
As for tomorrow’s game, I will post more game notes tomorrow on the 5-5 Beavers team. They do have a key win this season which came against Nebraska at the Gill Coliseum. That was an important win for a young program finding its way under a new head coach. You can bet they will be a little extra fired up tomorrow night against the defending Pac-10 champions (well that will be the case for every Pac-10 opponent this season getting ready for our Ben Ball warriors).