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UCLA Basketball, What's Up With The Frontline?

With Sunday's shocking loss to Montana, UCLA now has a losing record this season and Ben Howland is now 17-22 in his last two seasons.  Excuses have been made for the Montana loss ranging from staying up too late, depression over SUC, finals, let down from Kansas, etc.  The best summation may be simply what CBH said:

"It's early but it's a bad loss, there's no question," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "The effort was just very, very weak. We have to regroup."

But more important than the Montana game were some of the larger trends.  This is the comment that worries me the most.

It could be argued that at least for one night, Montana had better players at the center, power forward and point guard spots after Brian Qvale, Derek Selvig and Will Cherry pretty much had their way with Bruins counterparts Brendan Lane, Reeves Nelson and Lazeric Jones.

"Those three [Montana] guys definitely outplayed ours at those three positions," Howland said.

Let's take them one at a time

1.  Center.  Brendan Lane is not a Center.  He is doing his best to play out of position .  He is actually a good help defender as shown by the fact he is leading UCLA in block shots.  However, one on one he may not still be strong enough on a big center.

The stranger case is Joshua Smith.  He has his best games against Villanova, Pepperdine and Kansas.  He has his worst against Pacific and Montana.  It is more than he plays better against the best teams.  It may also be Pacific and Montana had big players and played a zone.  He can beat athletic big guys as he showed against the Kansas twins but against a double team of tall players, he is having problems.  This will be interesting to see how this develops but Smith is young and had his minutes limited. 

2.  Point Guard.  Jones and Anderson have been beaten by about everyone at this point.  Anderson is better this year on defense because he tries (unlike last year) but he is not good.  This is not new.  Westmont, in the Exhibition game, was beating our PGs off the dribble.  There may be a solution of sorts here. 

Howland said he regretted not having junior guard Malcolm Lee defend the super-quick Cherry, who repeatedly burned the Bruins off the dribble on the way to a game-high 18 points.

There is the larger issue that CBH needs to recruit a PG but for now this may be the solution on Defense.  Lee played PG M2M some last year with success. 

3.  Power Forward.  This is the biggest concern.  What the heck has happen to Reeves Nelson?  Since the first half of the Pacific game he has not been able to make a layup consistently.  In that Pacific game it was Reeves Nelson single handly who beat Pacific's zone  scoring 8 of the first 12 points.  These were all inside shots where he started close to the basket.  This was also the last game where we got off to a great start. 

Thus, CBH had the solution to Montana's zone: to start the second half against Montana, UCLA pounded the ball into Reeves and he missed.  I guess it should not be a surprise as his first shot in the game was blocked.  But in the larger sense what is going on with Reeves?  He dominated Pacific and earlier games and now someone is writing on the threads he looks like he has mono. 

In the last four games --all losses-- Reeves has shot 50% or less each game.  Last season Reeves shot 50% or less 6 times total!   Part of this may be explained by Reeves playing a different position (Reeves was the designated press breaker against Villanova and against Kansas he was up top a lot making entry passes.)  But against VCU and Montana he was down low in the block where he was the second best % shooter in the PAC 10 last year as an undersized Center.   (And no offense to VCU and Montana but the PAC 10 does have some decent Centers probably better than VCU or Montana.) 

Many have been critical of Reeves defensive effort.  But until recently, the only question on offense was his passing.  He has exceed there leading UCLA in assists in multiple games.  But he is missing close range layups.  Yes, they are contested but these are shots Reeves makes.  Reeves needs to be able to make things happen in the zone and to get transition layups.  

UCLA is going to get outplayed at PG, thus our bigs have to outplay the other teams bigs to have a chance.  Smith is improving but Reeves is a matter for major concern right now.