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UCLA Basketball: Hope is Nice, But Let's Be Realistic on our Bench

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My last front page analysis post was an optimistic post and there have been a lot of you writing optimistic things about UCLA basketball.  And from what I have seen our big 4 (Lee, Honeycutt, Nelson, and newcomer Smith) are looking better than last year or in the case of Smith, worthy of the hype.  The PG position remains a big worry.  But putting that aside, there is a second very good reason why the PAC 10 writers and others are a bit dubious of predicting UCLA higher than third or fourth in the conference, that is our bench. 

First the obvious, we only have 10 available scholarship players.  We also cannot afford to have any of the big 4 players hurt (remember last year  we started 5 different people at Center alone).  It is fair to say CBH was alluding to both when he said:

With only 10 eligible scholarship players, the Bruins cannot endure a similar spate of injuries if they hope to rebound from a 14-18 season in which numerous key players missed considerable stretches.

"We can't afford any major problems in terms of any significant injuries," Howland said. "That would be the one thing I would be most worried about that we have no control over."

There is a debate here on how many players CBH should play in a regular rotation and there will be again this year.  

But, of course, CBH has the last word on the rotation and for now he has stated  that:

[Last Season] Howland essentially used a seven-man rotation last season, with three players averaging at least 32 minutes a game.

The coach said he plans to go at least nine deep this season, sparing some of the wear and tear on his players. The Bruins also have put a renewed focus on conditioning, with Nelson lowering his body fat from 9% to a team-best 5%.

The latter seems a bit contradictory.  If you are in better shape can't you play fewer players?  In any case for purposes of this post, I will assume a 9 man rotation of the scholarship players.  (Dr. Mexican's point aside.)  . 

10.  The Sharpshooter:  Matt Carlino.  

Despite  early signs that Carlino was going to compete for PG minutes, it seems like he may be the odd man out in a 9 man rotation.  All though it is very early, some like Nestor, are comparing him to Brandon Lloyd.  This is because he looks like a great shooting, skinny, relatively short shooting guard.  It seems like Carlino is the best outside shooter on the team, but the question remains what else can he do?  Isn't he small to be a backup swing?  As one guy put it, he was only listed as a PG because he is six foot one.  With only 10 players it seems like everyone needs to be able to help right now and Carlino looks really young.

I am hoping for the kid, but I am scared that after the year, we may be asking what was CBH hoping for when he recruited him?

9.   The project: Anthony Stover.  

The first question that comes to mind on Stover is when we had so many problems last year at Center, did anyone ever consider "un-redshirting" Stover?  The answer may come from this 2009 twwl post:

Stover, who definitely falls under the "project" label, has a long ways to go on offense, but defensively he's tough to score against. He has a slight frame with very long arms, but UCLA is known for putting weight on their bigs. His timing is impeccable in the paint area and he controls the interior with his reach. Despite his size he gets off the floor fairly quick and has become a much more resilient rebounder in the past year. His offensive game is still in its infantile stage, but his footwork has improved and fundamentals are getting better. He still has a tendency to bring the ball down and his post skills are limited, but he has the potential to develop an unblockable jump hook. Stover is probably headed for a redshirt year when he arrives in Westwood, but he does possess a high ceiling.

Stover still looks very skinny.  But it is reported he runs well and could be a good defender.  On the flip-side, his time in the "Say No" league was similar to the scouting reports.  He blocked shots but his offense was lacking, as far as I can tell his Say No League stats where 3-10 FG, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks in 49 minutes of play.  

Early reports from practice is Smith is out muscling Stover.   Stover seems like a big who would benefit from running but is not ready to post up or play M2M defense against some of the stronger centers.  I am hoping he is ready now but I agree with British Bruin who says "Centers often take longer to develop" and Stover may be a year or two away from being a regular PAC 10 Player.  For now though, he looks like Smith's backup. 

8.  The fan favorite: Branden Lane. 

First,  Branden Lane in my mind earned his initials last year.  No player played as hard as BL last year every time he came on the floor.  And, as we found out after the season, BL was playing on a bum ankle.  To give so much, especially on a team that is in the middle of such a bad year, is very impressive. 

However, effort is not enough.  Lane, like Stover, is skinny.  We are told Lane added 20 pounds of muscle.  I am not seeing it.  Further, Lane was also the rawest player to start a game last year and it showed.  Lane's best game was against Oregon who had no interior players and as UCLA was playing without RN, Oregon was not playing interior defense, BL took advantage for a big game.  But against a disciplined defensive team like USC, Lane was literally pushed around, looked lost and could do little more than foul.  Lane led the team last year in the dubious category of fouls per minute with a foul every 7.29 minutes which was in part due to his rawness and his lack of weight. 

I am rooting for Lane but I still think we should not hope for too much from him this year against the better teams.  He will be Reeves Nelson's backup. 

7.  Is Hope for Change Wasted?  Jerime Anderson

First, CBH is adamant he has not picked a starting PG. Listing Anderson on the bench could be wrong.  However, for Anderson's sake I am hoping he comes off the bench for a strange reason, less pressure.  JA had times were he was just burned in an ugly matter (the USC ball strip), when he was lazy (missing rehab sessions for his groin injury which caused him to be benched) but his worst moment may have been the Oregon game on Senior Day.  A very shorthanded UCLA was coming down at the end of the game with a chance to win.  Anderson had the ball in his hands about 10 feet above the three point line with no defensive pressure and . . . he threw the ball straight out of bounds.   I gotta believe he just choked.

Anderson has some ability on offense.  He has made some shots and is our best returning three shooter. 

I am concerned about it but also concerned that CBH has not made an alternate plan for Anderson.  I remain unconvinced that JA is a PAC 10 PG but can see him as a 2.  I hope that CBH knows what he is doing with JA but I am not sure what has changed.

6.   A new Mr. Clutch? Tyler Lamb

I ended the "optimistic" post on starters on a note of concern on the PG position.  I will end this concerned post on the bench with a positive note on the bench.  The one sub I am not concerned about but more interested in how good he will be is Tyler Lamb.  Lamb seems like a guy who plays at his best in the big games, see this story on his high school career:

While his teammates made only 9 of 41 shots against Westchester, Lamb was 13 for 22 from the floor. He was 3 for 7 on 3-point shots, while his teammates were 2 for 22. Mater Dei was No. 1 in the state rankings, and Westchester was No. 2.

That was in many ways a typical game for Lamb, as he often was Mater Dei's best player against the Monarchs' better opponents. He scored a team-high 21 points in the Regionals semifinals against Taft of Woodland Hills, which was No. 2 in the state rankings.

Lamb led Mater Dei with 26 points in a triumph over Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas in the Nike Extravaganza, scored 24 and 19 points in the Monarchs' two Trinity League victories over Orange Lutheran, and had team highs of 23 points and 11 rebounds in a nationally televised victory over De Matha of Maryland. 

Not that the scrimmage at  the Bruins only public practice equals the pressure of High School playoffs but notice some of the similarities:

Freshman shooting guard Tyler Lamb has impressed Howland with his defensive tenacity and three-point accuracy, making five of six shots from beyond the arc during a scrimmage Saturday.

. . . The display was especially welcome because Lamb had not shot particularly well during the Bruins' early practices, Howland said. The coach was also encouraged by Lamb's play on defense.

. . ."I have high expectations for Tyler Lamb to play a major role on this year's team," Howland said.

I think Lamb will back up the 2-3 spot not just shooting guard.  If the other subs don't measure up, come PAC10 time look for Lamb to play more minutes and other guys to move over for brief periods.  By that I mean, Lamb could find himself, while only playing 2 and 3, essentially backing up all positions from 2-5 because TH could slide over to 4 and Reeves Nelson 5 again to get Lamb on the floor.  Note I said could.  All I can say for sure is what CBH said:

"He's going to have to play right away," Howland said of Lamb. "He's going to play and he's going to play an important role right away.

"He can get a lot of time. We've got 10 guys on scholarship. He's going to play a major role this year. There's no question. I can't be anymore clear than that.

Compare our bench to say, predicted first place finisher UW and you see a big difference starting at PG where they have two capable backup players.  Of course the bench is not the equal of last final four team bench of LM-R, AA2, James Keefe and Michael Roll but it is also not even the equal of last year's bench at the start of the year of Reeves Nelson, Tyler Honeycutt, and James Keefe. 

That said we need results and improvement and not just blind hope for future change.  We need 20 wins or else CBH is going to face some hard questions on what he was thinking on PG, with the Carlino recruitment, or having only 10 scholarship players available including a couple very raw ones. 

I think our Big 4 can do it, hopefully Lamb and the bench can do their part.

Go Bruins!