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UCLA Basketball Roundup: Do We Have Better Bigs than MTSU's?

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It is still hard to get past the LMU game.  It is still hard to write  about basketball.  So let me turn to the words of others, first Diamond Leung of ESPN:

And given the opportunity to address the conditioning level of former McDonald's All-American Joshua Smith, Howland has consistently said the 305-pounder needs to improve in that area. The sophomore is a potential star and is a force on the block, but hasn't managed to stay in the starting lineup because of his inability to avoid foul trouble. Even while coming off the bench against Loyola Marymount, he managed to two fouls in six first-half minutes. He finished with five points, four rebounds and three blocks in 16 minutes.

Smith compounded that uninspired effort with a tweet after the game reading, "Just lost to some straight bums lol..." He later deleted the entry and apologized, but not before coming off as immature at a time when the team is seeking a new identity.

Do Arizona, Cal, Oregon and Washington have their flaws? Certainly. But UCLA is far from being a clear favorite in the Pac-12 despite its expectations of a trip back to the NCAA tournament.

Yes, it's only one game, and there's plenty of time to grow as a team, but Howland acknowledged it a "bad loss" for a team that has suffered quite a few of them since the days of three straight Final Fours.            

There are two things wrong with what Diamond wrote here but both are not good for UCLA.  Josh is not 305 pounds.  Josh is closer to 400 according to other reports, 375 or 380.  His real weight is a UCLA secret.  Second, his conditioning as well as his foul trouble will hurt him.  He has trouble dunking in part because of his weight as well. 

But this is not the fault of Smith.  Smith could be better, sure, but he is still very good.  

The problems are deeper or are they just early season issues?  As UCLA great Marques Johnson said in an interview:

The weight, I was hoping, as we all were, that he [Josh Smith] would come back in better physical condition. It is what it is. He's probably not going to be in shape to run up and down the floor to be an effective player within a month or so, but he's still a force. I'm watching him just beat up those interior guys last night establishing position and catching it. I mean, he's going to pound anybody he plays against, but he needs to get in better condition and once he does that, he's obviously going to play a lot better.

. . . You have to keep everybody together and everybody thinking about the same goal, playing together as a team. And Coach Howland is one of the best at starting off at this level and building and getting his team to improve. You don't want to have a loss tacked on you this early to a mid-major like LMU coming in, but at the same time it's a teaching tool and I think what they've got to do is get these guards more focused in on stopping dribble penetration.

When the media predicted this team to win the Pac-12, I thought that was a reach and I thought everybody got enamored by their size. I like Oregon and I like Cal and Arizona even. Washington, because of their quickness, is another team that's going to present some problems. I thought UCLA is a top-25 team, but it's a work in progress. You can't just say, ‘Play these big guys and that's going to be our approach to the game of basketball' and come out in the first game and expect them to gel. It's going to take some time for them to learn how to play with these different lineups.

. . .

But I like Coach Howland and this was an attention-grabber for these guys, especially heading into Maui in the next couple of weeks. ... Now it's time to get to work, so from that standpoint it's not a horrible loss at this stage of the season.

I think it is a horrible loss but I take Marques point it is better now than the end of the season.   These guys have a lot to learn: will they listen, work and get better?   Last year, CBH was able to fix the dribble penetration problem after the same problem at the beginning of the year.  But on the flipside, did Jones forget everything he learned?  Also, why was Josh hedging instead of plugging?  Did last year happen or am I imagining it? 

But the bigger concern may be what the Daily Bruin wrote (emphasis mine):

Senior point guard Lazeric Jones was 0-7 in the first half and finished the game 1-11. It fell to the Wear twins to pick up the slack offensively, which they were able to do in the first half more successfully than the second.

"Lazeric was pressing a lot tonight. He was trying too hard, trying to do too much. He missed a couple good shots but he took a couple bad shots as well," Howland said. The Bruins were down 34-33 at the half.

. . .

The team looked unsure of themselves on offense, as junior forward Nelson and Smith appeared visibly frustrated by LMU's interior defense.

"We just need to play smarter and be more patient, just work the ball around a little bit. We could set screens better, that opens up the entry pass a little more. We'll be working on that," David Wear said.

Smith and Nelson better get used to that defense.  Teams are going to dare UCLA to beat them outside.  David had it right except for the "just" word.  There is a lot of things the Bruins need to do better. 

LMU lost to UCLA next opponent, Middle Tennessee State University last night.  The LMU story on the game is frightening because what MTS did to LMU is exactly what UCLA was supposed to do:

Before the season began, LMU men's basketball Head Coach Max Good said that his team would be streaky shooting the ball.   In the Lions' first two games, they demonstrated both extremes of their potential.  The Lions were hot in a 69-58 upset win over No. 20 UCLA Friday night, but ice cold on Sunday as they shot 33.3 percent en route to a 58-51 loss to the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) Blue Raiders.

Trying to build off its victory over UCLA, LMU opened the home portion of its schedule on Sunday, but the Lions looked very different from the squad that had notched a double-digit victory over a ranked team just two days prior. . . .

MTSU dominated LMU on the boards, pulling down 14 more than the home team, including 15 on the offensive glass.  The Blue Raiders scored 24 points in the paint, as well as 14 second-chance points.

"This is one of the toughest teams we will play this year in terms of just being a flat-out tough mental team and a tough team physically," Good said. "It's very frustrating. ... The rebounding is inexcusable. ... We wasted a great defensive performance."

So let me get this straight, the bigs of MTSU were able to dominate LMU and UCLA's bigs were not?  Something is seriously wrong with that picture.  CBH needs to have that story written about the Bruins not MTSU.    

Go Bruins.