I think there is a bit of overreacting to the one close loss to Cal on Sunday. That is not to say there are not problems that were again exposed in the loss in Berkeley, but I do think that too many statements are being made, good and bad, on one loss without looking at the big picture in re: the entire season. Last year, with frustration at an all time high, Malcolm Lee was the subject of angst throughout BN:
If Malcolm Lee wants to go pro this badly, I really hope he gets it over with. Hope he leaves UCLA. NOW. ASAP. Hopefully Bobo can transfer out and we can start fresh pretending the freshman class of 2009 never happened. Anderson can either compete against the less heralded or hyped guards coming in next season (we can forget about getting McCallum or Ziegler) or pout on the bench. Yeah, I know we can undoubtedly use Lee's athleticism next season (just like we could have used Ariza in his second season). But I rather have a Bruin team dominated by someone like AA who believed in the magical four letter words, then by players who only think about three lettered NBA.
Fortunately, Malcolm didn't go pro and has re-committed himself to Howland's defensive style, and so far, as really adopted the kind of attitude expected from a Ben Ball Warrior. In fact, he is now earning the comparisons to AA with his defense, scoring, and in the Calgame he did the one AA-type thing he had not done yet, hit the big shot with the game on the line. Lee is not AA or RW yet, but he is a player in the same vein. A player that right now all Bruins can be proud of.
But after the Cal loss, based on comments in some threads and message boards, you would think it was 2009-10 again. This team, while certainly not there yet, is on its way to the goal of making the tourney. And to those that think this team should be perfect or that this team was going to do ANYTHING smoothly, you are not living in reality.
But let's turn to some of the criticisms from that game after the jump.
Reeves Nelson shoots, spins, steals and barges. He dunks, drives and deliberately forces contact.
Most importantly, Reeves Nelson hustles; and if not for that, the Cal men's basketball team could have stolen a game away from UCLA on Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion.
. . .
But Nelson, who hounded the Bears the entire night, sprinted to tip in a Tyler Honeycutt miss with 2.2 seconds remaining and give UCLA an 86-84 victory.
Nelson, who led the Bruins with 24 points and 10 rebounds, gave Cal a litany of problems the entire night with his physical and active play on both sides of the ball.
Aside from his efficient scoring and brutish rebounding display, Nelson recorded two steals, forced several other turnovers, and even commandeered the fast break on two different occasions.
That's right, I am using a quote from the first Cal game. I am not trying to gloss over the fact that Reeves did not box out on the key rebound (which Harper Kamp grabbed) that helped cost us the second Cal game. But his critics should not gloss over the fact he got the key rebound in the first game that literally won the game. Critics talk about his charges but he beat Cal in the first game playing that way as well.
But that is just it with Reeves. While Reeves has improved and is a better passer and defender than last year, he is not the same player game in and out. While I will argue with anyone here he is more good than bad, there are undoubtedly times where he is bad and should be benched. Sometimes that is mood and sometime that is too many minutes but good Reeves can be very good but pouty, tired Reeves, on the other hand, can suck the wind out of a team.
Second, while it is easy to complain, I would argue that it is not easy to replace Reeves. If you are Tracy from BRO and say that defense is the only thing that matters sure pull him when he is off. But if your are CBH trying to get to the tournament, I think it is a bit tougher.
And again people need to stop focusing on one game. After the first Stanford game people were going crazy for Anthony Stover. Stover made a nice fake followed by a dunk and had his career high of 5 points. However, since then in the next seven games, Stover has still not scored five points total! Similarly Tyler Lamb made two beautiful threes that were key in turning the momentum in the St. John's game but for the rest of the Pac-10 he has made the same number of three pointers: two, but in 17 tries.
After the most recent Cal game people were going crazy saying play Brendan Lane, why did CBH yank Brendan Lane, etc. I acknowledge that Lane did have a great 4 minute stretch in the second half when Cal left him unguarded in their zone. But the +/- for Lane for the game was 0. That's right, Lane was even for his best game and season high. And when was the last time Lane had as good a game in the Pac-10? Last season against Oregon he took advantage of being left alone for 8 points. There is also a good reason why CBH has put Stover ahead of him in the rotation because of Lane's admitted troubles dealing with strong inside players. Lane is just not a good defender.
The problem is if you look at Stover, Lane, and Lamb for one game, their best, they sure look good. But for the season you realize with Lamb or Stover on the court we are playing offense 4 on 5 and with Lane on the court we are playing defense 4 on 5 and sometimes on offense. They will get better but if you want to win now, it is hard to play them. Even when "Bad Reeves" is on the floor, you can't leave him uncovered.
Third, CBH realizes the problem against Cal and shocks everyone by going zone. Something many here, including myself, have advocated he use occasionally. That's right: stubborn system coach CBH goes zone and no one gives him credit for it or barely comments on it.
If you want to go after CBH and the Bruins for problems, it should be based on more than one game, good or bad. The standard should be whether the Bruins are improving, making the tournament , and never embarrassing the four letters, which leads me to what I think are problems based on the season and not one game.
As to those season-wide problems, for me it breaks down to a couple of things.
First, I have been thinking about it, the house cat analogy may not be the right one. House cats keep teams (and mice) in the game but they at least make an effort. The Bruins problem, as has been well documented here, is the lack of 40 minutes of effort. Until the loss in Berkeley, I thought this was improving. The Stanford and Oregon State games were never in doubt although they were both closer then they should have been in the final score. I thought the effort was better. Overall, I think we are doing better with the Cal game being a noticeable set back. Is the effort (or lack thereof) against Cal the new norm or will we blitz Arizona State like we did Oregon State? It is on CBH to make sure the lack of effort against Cal was a blip and not a trend.
Second, Tyler Honeycutt. I think the criticism of Tyler's defense is not only fair but valid. Montgomery is a good coach and he exploited our weakest defender. I think at this point in the season it is safe to say Tyler cannot play defense against a reasonably good wing player. Forget, Jorge Guiterrez, try Trent Lockett at Arizona State. Lockett went off for 6 offense rebounds and 17 points when matched up against Honeycutt for just part of the game. Tyler may be a pro wing some day but he can't cover a decent college wing to save his life right now. His best position is power forward. Sure he is too thin to play it in the pros but who cares. Tyler can play against someone heavier than him but can't match up with someone quicker. Tyler's strengths of rebounding and blocking shots are also better served by playing close to the basket.
But there is a solution: I will turn to a quote from Nestor, first reviewing last year and then from the Cal game last year (emphasis mine):
I am not going to give up on our current group of sophomores. Not yet. By any measure Jerime Anderson andhave been disappointing this season. . . . Anderson has been plagued with injury all season. I don't believe he has ever been 100 percent after tweaking his groin during the pre-season and then retweaking it again. However, more disturbingly Anderson seemed to have been plagued with the issue of commitment. From what we saw this year, it did not seem like Anderson put together a lot of effort to get better this off-season and came in with a sense of entitlement thinking would just coast to the starting guard spot at UCLA.
Staying on the topic of starting rotation, Jerime Anderson had an enigmatic night. He certainly had his moments with couple of huge 3 pointers during the regulation and money shots down the stretch. Yet at the same time, he also provided those hair pulling moments during first half when he was committing absolutely silly TOs during transition and almost committed one on that game winning shot (lol). I still like the fact he came out and battled. He certainly provided a little spark on the whole coming off the bench last night and perhaps it's a role that will work for not just him but the entire team here on out.
Nestor and CBH never gave up on Anderson and it is paying off now. At 2 guard the "silly TOs" are disappearing and the "huge 3 pointers" are coming more regularly. More importantly, since Anderson has come off the bench and played defense this year, there is no longer a question of his commitment to playing Ben Howland style basketball. Anderson has played well this season on a regular basis, especially with Jones on the floor with him.
I would go even further and argue that Anderson as a two guard is the answer to many of our problems and not a liability most of the time. Most Pac-10 teams play three guards. Furthermore, Malcolm Lee has shown he can guard the best player, be it a PG, SG, or SF so Lee can cover a forward when needed.
Anderson is shooting better than Honeycutt across the board and has a better assist to turnover ratio. He is a better match up against a guard as well. Of course Anderson can't rebound as well but Honeycutt got zero rebounds covering a guard on Sunday.
In a sense the solution to the horrendous wing defending Honeycutt is Anderson. The solution to the "bad Nelson" is Anderson at the 2, Lee at the 3 and Honeycutt at the 4. You don't lose rebounding without Nelson with Honeycutt and you have to cover Honeycutt on defense. This is based on the season not on four good minutes.
So, in the end, the Cal game was one loss. It was not the season nor a time to give up. It was a wake up call to some long- term problems, but the fact remains this team, while frustrating, is doing what it is suppose to do. And sophomores Honeycutt and Nelson, could very well be stupid and go pro. Or they could be the next juniors like Lee and Anderson.