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UCLA Basketball Maui Invitational Preview

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 15:  Joshua Smith #34 of the UCLA Bruins sits on the bench.  As UCLA beat writer Jon Gold says "Not starting Josh is a losing mentality."(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 15: Joshua Smith #34 of the UCLA Bruins sits on the bench. As UCLA beat writer Jon Gold says "Not starting Josh is a losing mentality."(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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UCLA will play three games in three days in the Maui Tournament  starting tomorrow.  We play in the "weaker" bracket against host Division II Chaminade and then face either Kansas or Georgetown. We are guaranteed that regardless of the outcome of the first game.  We could technically finish fourth place out of eight teams and not beat a Division I opponent.  Of course, I am not sure how we got to the tournament after losing to MTSU in the "opening" round (but we won't spoil the fun for the sponsors who want the "name" school in Maui).

Georgetown has destroyed their two opponents so far this year but they continue the tradition of the first coach John Thompson of playing easy warm-up games.  Then again, we lost our easy warm-up game to LMU. They lost three valuable seniors and had a brawl in China. 

Of course Georgetown will be the underdog to Kansas.  Kansas has two quick guards and would be a match-up nightmare for UCLA's vulnerable back-court.  Going into the season, this looked like a potential fun game for UCLA to get vengeance for the robbery last year at Lawrence

Regardless of who we play, there are some serious questions to answer.  In no particular order.  Let's discuss those after the jump.

Will we play zone? 

It really looks like this team needs to play zone.  We are big, yes, but we are slow.  This cries out for zone and CBH seemed open to the idea after we got  demolished in the MTSU game. 

Will Josh Smith start?

People forget how intimidating Josh is and he can dominate. He can scare people. LMU started tight against UCLA and as Ryan says if we started well we could have really hurt them mentally.  Jon Gold puts it stronger in a recent podcast

Not starting Josh is a losing mentality. 

Josh has fouled out exactly once in his last 20 games.  I am not saying fouls don't sometimes limit Josh but the larger issue for Josh is conditioning.  Josh is in more danger of passing out than fouling out right now.  Let him start the game and set the tone.  He really does change the game when he is in. 

How will Reeves play back from suspension?

There is one thing everyone seemingly agrees on, CBH did the right thing suspending Reeves.  Bill Dwrye did something unusual for the fishwrap and praised UCLA:

Still, Nelson was the star, and we have seen this movie before many times in big-time college sports. The quarterback gets in the bar fight and is punished by sitting out the first series of the next game. The high-scoring forward gets caught with cocaine and plays as the school "investigates."

These are educational moments, both for the player involved and for the other players watching. Sometimes, merely doing the right thing is the best lesson.  Howland suspended his star player. He did the right thing. . . .

Howland took Nelson back because he thinks Nelson can become a better man, not because he needs a better basketball player. The sarcastic will doubt that. The optimistic, blindsided recently by the likes of Penn State, will embrace it. . . .

The record won't show it, the fans won't appreciate it, the commentators will dismiss it. But no matter what happens with the rest of the Bruins basketball season, UCLA's players will have been part of a teachable moment by Howland.

While this is nice it scares me that they are seemly already writing off the season.  I do know one cure for Reeves, winning.  If we continue losing, look for Reeves to continue to lose his cool. 

Will Norman Powell start?

There has been one player who has put together two good games, that is Norman Powell.  Norman was solid on defense (his man against LMU was the only one to underachieve when he covered him for most of the first half).  On offense, yes it is very early, but Norman is the only back-court player for the Bruins shooting over 33%, hitting at a 50% clip.  More importantly, he has the potential to be a force on offense and defense.  He needs to play more now and probably start. 

Who will lead the team?

The Daily Bruin poses an interesting question:

One of the primary conundrums for this team is that its most talented players (namely, Smith, Nelson and the Wears) aren't well-suited to be its leaders. Jones and Anderson need to be rocks, and I think the latter in particular.

Putting aside the, questionable (and that's being generous) statement of the Wears as the "most talented" players for a second, who is the leader?  Again in his podcast, Jon Gold is damming saying how UCLA is filled with a team of bad attitudes saying:

This team is chuck full of them and that is not a good recipe under Ben Howland. 

The Daily Bruin answers the question with Jerime Anderson.  I understand that Anderson is older and a PG to boot.  But on the other hand, Anderson is also a guy in his sophomore year who had the starting PG position taken away from him when we did not have a backup  and was suspended for missing rehab.  Many , including those of us at BN, thought he had grown up after this junior season but then he was suspended for stealing a laptop in the off season. 

Jones is the only captain but he is, to put it mildly, not playing very well.  Right now, there is no clear leader on this squad and that's a significant problem.  Remember the days when we were overflowing with guys who could lead (AA, JF, DC, RW, LRMAM).  Sigh.

I do agree with what Joshua Smith says about our two losses though:

"It's not really them," Smith said about the competition. "It's us we got to figure out."

Here is to hoping they do it sooner rather than later.  Three games in three days may not help for the win-loss record but hopefully it will be a chance for this team to figure itself out.  

Go Bruins