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Shaking Up The Core: Thoughts On Changing Up UCLA Basketball's Starting Lineup/Rotation

So here I go.

I have seen 4 regular season games this year. 5 if I count the second exhibition game against Humboldt State, which I saw via the pathetic online feed from the official site. Based on what I have seen so far here is the starting lineup that seems to make sense:


I think for the short term Howland needs to make two critical moves:

  1. Bench Dragovic for rest of the year (duh) limiting him not much more than 10-12 mins per game
  2. Bench Anderson and limit his mins to not more than 15 mins per game.

More on these two points and other thoughts on how Howland needs to shake up the current core of starting rotation after the jump.

Let's start with the obvious problem, which is the crazy amount of minutes Howland keeps wasting on Dragovic. Nikola Dragovic might be the most startling enigma during Coach Ben Howland's 7 years in Westwood. It simply doesn't make any sense how Howland continues to give this kid special treatment despite his total failure (and no I couldn't care less about his meaningless rebounding statistics) on the court. Time after time we have seen Howland using a quick hook whenever dealing with an underclassmen. We have seen him inserting and then pulling a freshmen or sophomore for making simple defensive mistakes or turning the ball over on the offensive side. Yet, with Dragovic (and in some cases with Josh Shipp from last season), we have seen Howland giving special treatment to an upperclassmen, who clearly doesn't play up to the standards of a Ben Ball warrior on the court (I will not even touch Dragovic's off court issues).

The only explanation I can think behind Howland giving Dragovic mins is that he is hoping that he somehow regains his shooting touch like he did to a certain extent against Pac-10 teams last year. However, numbers don't lie. He is shooting less than 20 percent from the 3 point line this season. Last year, after he got hot during the Pac-10 games, he still shot less than 39 percent from the 3 point line. He is an atrocious defender and he has never shown anything that indicates that he has a natural feel for the game. Yet, he continues to get the mins.

At this point, after what he did against Mississippi State, Howland will send wrong message if he starts Dragovic tomorrow. To me it's a no brainer that Howland takes Dragovic out of the lineup. Now the guy I would start would be James Keefe and here is my explanation for it. I think Brandon Lane has more upside than Keefe. However, I would at least give Keefe the start, because Keefe despite being tentative has a better feel for the game than Dragovic. I think it might make sense to start him and then bring in Lane off the bench. Keefe is better than Dragovic when it comes to shot selection (he has better FG%) and he understands Howland's offense and defense much better than Dragovic. Keefe's problem has been on the FT line and just being too tentetive (which goes back to Howland having a quick hook for all the other players except for some one like Dragovic).

At least with Shipp, I understood a little why Howland let him get away with defensive relapses. Josh Shipp had courage and also a knack for making big shots when it mattered. He was fearless and I thought was a game. Dragovic? Well, I think Bellerophon was off the mark, when he called Dragovic a "scrub" for his effort (or lack there of) on the court. He has shown as much as guys like Ryan Walcott and Travis Reed, to merit starting mins on the court, which is nothing.

Moving on to the point guard situation. This one is obvious. Here is bruinponcho:

The biggest problem is that his lineup and rotations make no sense. As soon as I saw JA in the starting lineup with MR at small forward, I knew this was a loss. JA is not a starting point guard, period. MR is not a small forward. We have lots of big guys and only three guards, go with a bigger lineup.

ML and MR should each be playing 30 minutes a game with JA playing 10 minutes backing up ML and MM playing 10 minutes backing up MR. JA and ML should never be on the floor at the same time. Ever. Their games are too similar in that there only offense is driving and neither can shoot. Used appropriately and in conjunction with a shooter like MR, this can be effective. But you cant have both JA and ML out there together when JA’s game is just an inferior version of ML.

And Meriones called for this, well back in April:

Backcourt size — Can anyone remember when we started a both-6-5 backcourt?  Didn’t think so.  Malcolm’s hustle and length and Roll’s experience in CBH’s schemes should do wonders to negate any possible lack of waterbug quickness.   Worse comes to worst, we bring in JA to check smaller guards and fight pace with pace, but at least we START with the size advantage, for a change.

Note Meriones did have Dragovic in the starting lineup but being the wiseman that he added this:

Caveat:  this would hinge ENTIRELY on whether Drago can put in a full summer of workouts and improve his defensive rotations.

Uh, I think from what we have seen this year we don't have to discuss Drago's defensive rotations any further.

I have to say I was dumbfounded that Howland even started Anderson last game after seeing how much more effective and energetic we were against Kansas, when Lee got the start. It doesn't make any sense how this kid continues to get more than 20 mins per game, given he cannot shot, cannot drive, cannot make FTs (!!!), and most importantly cannot defend. Jerime might be working hard. However, given what we have seen from the court, we are not seeing the results. I think it is time for Howland to dramatically reduce his mins, so that Anderson can reflect on how he can be more efficient, smart in practice and focus on how he can improve game by game.

Going back to our rotation, Honeycutt needs to start next game. After watching two games, it seems like he probably has the most upside as the natural scorer in this team. He is also a rebounder (8 in last game, 6 against Kansas). I think it is time for Howland to ride Honeycutt and Nelson, just like he rode on the freshmen talents of JF and AA in their first two years of Westwood.

I get that Howland is trying to win every game. However, from what we have seen its clear that the current core which includes major mins for Dragovic and Anderson, is not the winning formula. It is time for Howland to shake up his current core. He needs to do that by starting Lee at the 1, user Moser's athleticism to back up the 2-3 spot behind Roll and Honeycutt, take out Dragovic from the lineup at the expense of increased mins for Lane and some Keefe. I have to say I have also been impressed with the effort Morgan has given in recent weeks. I think he has clearly earned some backup mins at the 5. I am hoping he can turn up the intensity even few more notches and he might be able to salvage his career in Westwood, just like Ryan Hollins did before he was done in Westwood.

Lastly, people who are feeling uncomfortable with the criticism of Coach Ben Howland on BN needs to chill out. None of us are even going anywhere close to calling for Howland to step aside. There is no discussion of "coaching candidates" that are actually happening on other UCLA online communities. All we are doing is offering our frank thoughts and analysis on what we see wrong with our program. We have been in Howland's corner all this time. We will give him all the benefits of doubt. However, don't expect us to stay quiet and be blind homers when we see something is wrong.

All we are doing is offering our analysis and thoughts. So with that said the thoughts above are my impressions on what Coach Howland needs to do address the current concerns with our hoops program. While the measures suggested are steps to address the short term concerns, I believe they can also help to steady the program, paying dividends for the long term, bringing back where Howland took us in recent history. We can get there again and it will require Coach Howland to adjust, adapt, recalibrate, just like Coach John Wooden did during his time in Westwood.