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March Sadness—Reviewing the UCLA Basketball Season—Part 1

A lot of things have been written about Howland and Guerrero and why they need to go, recently here by Tydides and Ryan. I tend toward the Ryan argument that this is not about an SI article but that no UCLA coach should have four years like Ben Howland has had and still have a job. But for this post I will try to objectively show why this year in particular shows why UCLA needs a new coach. I will focus on the four CBS UCLA award winners and what that shows for Ben Howland.

1. The Defensive MVP

C Anthony Stover. Primarily a backup to fellow post player, Joshua Smith, Stover made the most of his minutes when given the opportunity. Despite playing eight minutes per game, he still led the team with 39 blocks this season. Stover also averaged nearly two rebounds a night, a number that would have ballooned with more playing time.

Okay, first I disagree with the last statement. Stover averaged 1.5 rebounds which is not that close to 2 and he averaged a rebound every 5.6 minutes, which is less than Travis Wear's rebound every 4.4 and Josh Smith's every 3.5. In other words he was the worst rebounder per minute of any of the Centers.

But putting that aside, before the season who thought a player named "Defensive MVP" for Ben Howland would average 8 minutes a game? Ben Howland, the king of constricting defense only plays his best defender 8 minutes a game?!?

Of course, Stover has some other issues which show up. While I tend toward Peter Yoon's view of the Sports Illustrated hit piece by:

Sports Illustrated had a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer sniff around the program for two months and found little other than a bit of disciplinary dysfunction, but not much in the way of a dirty program.

The same writer who uncovered academic fraud at Minnesota and the tattoo scandal at Ohio State, found only that UCLA players occasionally smoked pot and did ecstasy, star players received special treatment from Howland, Reeves Nelson had behavioral problems and Howland has a prickly personality.

To me it now seems likely the most serious parts (Nelson ending Keefe's career, for example) of the article were gross exaggerations. But the person, as of right now returning from the bad boys in that article is Stover. Stover is good friends (according to twitter) with Gordon and Nelson and was part of the partying crew. But this is one of the most troubling lines of the article because it is still relevant, likely true, and Stover is still here:

"on another basket Nelson and Stover would be shooting their free throws with one hand or fading away."

Stover for his career shoots 31% from the Free Throw line. If there was ever a kid who needs to take Free Throw practice seriously, it is Stover. Yet Stover partied and did not take practice seriously. In three years, Stover, while having a great basketball body, is still raw and a major liability on offense. For one year, it is certainly fair to place the blame on Stover. After three it seems like Howland deserves the blame for tolerating and/or not fixing it.

2. The Most Improved Player

G Jerime Anderson. He moved into the starting lineup for the Bruins, at PG, when Lazeric Jonesmoved to SG at the midway points of the season. Anderson flourished in the new role and averaged 8.8 ppg., 4.2 asp., 3.1 rbg. and 1.8 spg. He also shot 45 percent from the field and boasted a 40 percent clip from beyond the three-point arc.

Jerime like Stover was part of the partying crew and as late as before the start of last year along with Stover was the host of an athlete's party. Anderson later backed out of the party after he stole a laptop. Thus like Stover I am not sure how much he improved off the court. Howland's loyalty to Anderson is shocking given the problems Jerime caused to team chemistry.

However, Jerime, unlike Stover, did improve on the court in his last two seasons.

But that's just it. It is generally not good when you have the same player as your most improved player two years in a row. Especially when your team got worse! Yet that is what happened with Jerime Anderson.

But did Jerime really improve? I will say Jerime cared his senior year and Howland did teach him the offense. But to me the memory of Jerime I will always have is of Senior Day 2010 against Oregon. UCLA is coming down for the last shot and Anderson has the ball in his hands. Everyone knows that it will be senior Michael Roll (the only bright spot in the dismal season) shooting the final shot and the only question is whether he will make it to end his career as a player at Pauley on a high note. Anderson is bringing the ball up and Roll is waiting wide open about 5 feet above the three point line and Anderson, without pressure, throws the ball out of bounds.

I bring this up because in addition to being a problem off the court, Jerime throughout his career is the least clutch player I have ever seen. And Ben Howland made him his point guard. Much has been made of the fact UCLA lost a number of close games this year. In the 8 games decided by 5 or less, Jerime Anderson in the last two minutes had the following line: 1-6, 0-2 from three (the only make was on a Jones assisted "layup" at Arizona), went 5-8 from the free throw line, 3 assists, two rebounds, and a block.

Not exactly what you hope for from your point guard in the clutch. And given Jerime's history this could not be a surprise. Yet Howland turned the team over to Anderson to run the point with the game on the line. That is on Howland and the question remains why did he give Anderson all those chances?

3. Rookie of the Year

G Norman Powell . The freshman showed flashes of upside as the sixth man for coach Ben Howland this season. Powell averaged 4.6 ppg., 2.2 rbg. and 1.2 asp. in 18 minutes a game. Defensively, he added nearly a steal and block per game. Powell started five games and figures to be more involved in the game play next year.

To my mind having watched every minute but one game, Powell was the defensive MVP. He was the only guy who was a fairly consistent stopper on this team. Before the season I quoted ESPN saying:

Powell is an ultra-athletic scoring guard for the high-major level. He has a terrific frame with extremely long arms and huge hands. He excels in the open court where he can attack the rim utilizing his extreme bounce and strong frame. His hands allow him to palm the ball while hanging in the air to score over larger defenders. He is a very good scorer in the paint area off the dribble and he knows how to use his frame to ward off defenders. He has a very good 1st step to burst by his opponents and his jump shot, in the mid-range area, is improving. Defensively, he affects the game in multiple ways. He is a terrific defender who slides his feet very well and he has very quick hands. In addition, he is a potent rebounder in traffic at both ends of the floor.

Yet, Powell became a three point jump shooter for Howland. Almost half of his 154 shots (75) were from three. Powell seemed to spend most of his time on offense looking for a three or to pass the ball around the perimeter. Why was not Powell encouraged on offense to try and create, something this team sorely lacked. Maybe, like Westbrook who Howland mistakenly called Powell in one press conference, he will explode his sophomore year. But any way you look at it, it seems UCLA should have gotten more out of Powell this year.

4. Player of the Year

G Lazeric Jones . He ranked among the team leaders in a number of offensive categories, including per game averages in points (13.5), assists (4.1) and rebounds (3.5). That's not to say that Jones did not get things done on defense, he averaged 1.8 steals a night. Coach Ben Howland will have a hard time replacing the senior.

On a purely coaching level Jones is a good story for Ben Howland. Jones listened and worked hard. Jones started every game of his UCLA career including last year with two hurt hands. Jones gave it his all and came as close as anyone to realizing his true ability.

But that is the problem. For last year's Bruins he was the fifth best player. That team had three all PAC 10 players and one all PAC 10 Freshman and was only a runner up in the PAC 12. This year's team had LJ as the only player receiving any conference honors, an all second team mention.

While the highly recruited players above (Stover, Powell, and even Anderson) all have under achieved, Jones over achieved for his UCLA career. While that is nice, it is a bad sign for UCLA, in the rich recruiting market of Los Angeles to have its best player be a JC transfer from Chicago. This is the first time since 2003-4 season (Howland's first season) and only the second time since 1960 that UCLA has not had at least one all conference player. In other words, Ben Howland now is the only post-Wooden coach to not have an all Conference player and he has done so twice.

Players like Jones gave it their all, but ultimately Howland failed them and UCLA.

Go Bruins.