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UCLA Hoops Roundup: Numbers, Notes and Smith

While football continues its chaos, basketball continues its steady improvement.  Let's delve right into the all important where does UCLA rank as far as qualifying for the tournament.

From Sports Illustrated:

The Bruins have, easily, the best win in the league (over BYU) and now are in second place, too, moving ahead of Washington in the pecking order. A home sweep of the Oregon schools would put them in solid position down the stretch.

UCLA is now seeded as high as 8 in some bracket predictions.  We are in the tournament today, if the seeding was held today. We are getting votes in the national polls.  However, there is still a long way to go and as Washington showed last week, anything can happen. 

UCLA is in sole possession of second place in the Pac-10 right now.  I think it is safe to say the Pac-10 is both easier and harder than we thought going into the year.  Let's start with easier and the pre-season favorite Washington Huskies.  Washington is still a team that has trouble winning away from home , having lost 4 out of their last 5 on the road.  This is an ongoing problem for Romar's boys who did not win their  first road game  until February 13 last year and went 0-5 in the Pac-10 before finally winning one.  (I still think we beat the Huskies if Jones does not get hurt.) So I think a pretty strong case can be made that they are not as good as we thought pre-season.

However, the predicted bottom schools in Oregon are better than people thought and this is making the Pac-10 tougher.  Oregon is 3-1 at home since the opening of Matt Arena with their only loss being to UCLA.  This added confidence has helped them on the road where they have won 2 out of their last 3.  UCLA got a break playing Oregon without Joevan Catron, their leading scorer and rebounder.  Oregon is not the only school exceeding expectations, Oregon State is the only school in the conference so far to beat Washington and Arizona. 

The Oregon games are not gimmes anymore.  More after the jump. 

UCLA is a bit of statistical oddity within the Pac-10.  Despite being in second place. as a team we lead the Pac-10 in as many categories as we are in last place: ONE.  UCLA is by far the worst team in the conference in turnover margin with a difference more than 3 times the 9th place team and  UCLA leads the Pac-10 in blocked shots.  In most statistically categories as a team we are in the middle.  Looking only at the team statistics for the Pac-10 you would not think we were a second place team. 

The individual statistics though shine a different light.  First rebounding: our frontline of Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson, and Joshua Smith rank fifth, third and eleventh in rebounding. No surprise that Smith leads in offensive rebounds but Nelson and Honeycutt are second and third in defensive rebounds.  To have three players with so many rebounds is impressive. You can see where we have a front court advantage over most teams when our starters are playing.

In addition to Smith leading in offensive rebounds we have two other Pac-10 leaders.  Tyler Honeycutt leads the conference in blocks and Lazeric Jones in free throw percentage.  We all saw how important the latter was and it is reassuring to have the ball in Zeek's hands when the other team is in a must foul situation. 

Speaking of Zeek, he is hurting physicallyBrendan Lane will also miss Thursday's game:

UCLA junior guard Lazeric Jones had an MRI on his injured wrist, Ben Howland said, and the result is still just a sprain. He's been fitted with a special cast for non-basketball activities, much like a walking boot, but Howland said he'll be playing through it.

Also, Brendan Lane won't be available for Thursday's game because of his grandmother's funeral. Howland is hopeful he'll be back Saturday.

Zeek's poor play against St. John's may be in part explained by this.  Remember he had a bad game against SUC after hurting his finger only to play well later when he adjusted to the injury.  Let's hope he also adjusts to this injury as we will need him this week.

We send our condolences to Brendan and his family. Brendan's absence brings up an interesting point.  UCLA will only have 8 scholarship players available on Thursday and two of them (Reeves and Zeek) are hurting.  

Next year's recruits are going to be important.  And it looks like we have a very good one, although a bit naive, in Norman Powell.  You see Powell grew up rooting for SUC.  I think CBH has some words of wisdom for Powell about being both a UCLA and SUC fan:

"Trust me," Howland said. "Once he gets to UCLA ... Once you are a part of the rivalry, once you are a part of one side or the other, there’s no turning back. He’ll feel it, too."

Powell sounds smart as well choosing UCLA in part for the academics.  Thus even if he is naive he is not stupid and I think he will come to understand the difference.  On his physical gifts CBH is almost drooling:

"He’s really, really athletic, and even relative to our team and our players, he’ll be one of the top athletes from Day 1 when he sets foot on campus," Howland said.

Powell has a 45-inch vertical leap and a 6-foot-9 wingspan.

"Forty-five inches is incredible," Howland said. "He’s a freak athlete."

I have some doubt about 45 inch vertical leap as vertical leap numbers are often about as accurate as 40 times in football.  However, maybe he can.  After all, last year watching Josh Smith in high school, you had to think those are just high school kids wait until he gets to the "big guys" in the Pac-10.  Well, Smith has and he is really starting to dominate.

How dominate has Smith been recently?  Well LVBruin wrote "We were +39 as a team in Josh's 56 minutes of play and -18 during his 24 minutes on the bench."  In those last two games Smith played the most minutes he has played in any two game stretch. He has scored in double figures four games in a row and led us in scoring the last two games.  He has had seven blocks in the last three games.  He has really been dominate in about every way possible that a center can dominate.  

Part of the reason for this was the switch from having Smith plug instead of hedge on screens.  In the last two games Smith only had 2 fouls in each.  Smith has held up conditioning and continues to ride the exercise bike on off days.

Smith like the rest of the UCLA keeps working and improving.

Go Bruins!