Last year ESPN kept talking about one thing regarding UCLA Basketball, the Wear twins. And ESPN ended up being right even though they were wrong. By that I meant the Wear twins did play a key role but only because Reeves Nelson and Joshua Smith fell apart. ESPN strangely thought that the Wear twins would lead UCLA to the Pac-12 title and the tournament despite playing the same position as UCLA top rated players going into the season.
Now ESPN is at it again. According to ESPN the key to UCLA basketball this season is "Larry Drew II." Yep, he played for North Carolina like the Wear twins so he is the player picked as UCLA's "most important player." From ESPNer Jason King's just plain ridiculous analysis:
The Bruins' recruiting class has generated a ton of offseason buzz, and rightfully so. But a strong performance by Drew at point guard will be vital if the Bruins hope to be a mainstay in the top 10. Drew was North Carolina's starter before walking out on his team midway through the 2010-11 season.
King is wrong in his main point but he could be literally correct on Drew as "point guard" at least on defense. For:
1. If Larry Drew is the most important player or the point guard on offense, UCLA will miss the tournament. That would mean that Josh Smith, Shabazz Muhammad, and Kyle Anderson have all failed, especially Kyle who will be the point guard on offense.
2. Larry Drew could be the starting point guard in the sense he could be covering the opponents point guard. Larry, while not being the most important, could be an important role player as he could be a key to the Bruins playing solid defense.
Larry Drew II is a potential problem attitude but he is also a potentially good defensive player. People overlook the fact that the player who beat Larry Drew II out at North Carolina was only the best point guard in college basketball, literally. Kendall Marshall won the 2012 Bob Cousy award for best college point guard. Further keep in mind that Drew kept Marshall on the bench for half a season for one reason, Drew was thought of as the better defender than Marshall. There was even a time when North Carolina played two point guards with Drew being the defensive specialist:
[UNC Coach Roy] Williams relied on Drew to bolster the Tar Heels' perimeter defense, including at times playing in the same backcourt with Marshall. By the final minutes, Williams was even subbing Marshall and Drew on an offense-defense rotation in a close game. "Defensively, (Drew) was by far the best player on the court for us at Georgia Tech," Williams said.
Another time it was Larry Drew II's defense that shut down Kentucky(emphasis mine):
But with a much-needed victory on the line Saturday, it the juniors who made the biggest impact for the Tar Heels down the stretch.
While point guard Larry Drew II clamped down on defense, 7-footer Tyler Zeller scored 12 of UNC's final 16 points to top No. 10 Kentucky 75-73 at the Smith Center.
Although Drew's shooting slump continued - he was 2-for-7 - he helped hold Wildcats freshman point guard Brandon Knight (15 points) to 1-for-6 shooting in the second half. Carolina also only had three second-half turnovers, and the junior's calm was key, as he showed the experience that the freshman class has yet to go through in tight games.
So while there are justifiable character questions on Larry Drew II, he may be the answer for UCLA to have a very good defense point guard. (Of course Norman Powell could be it as well.)
ESPN better be wrong about Drew being the most important player but may be right in that he could be the starting point guard because of a dedication to defense.
Other ESPNers get into the act as well. Dickie V is proving why he is past his prime by providing zero analysis and parroting UCLA talking points.
Good news for UCLA fans. Besides one of the top recruiting classes coming to Westwood, coach Ben Howland has to be happy to see big man Joshua Smith working harder on his conditioning. That has been an issue in the past, and reports indicate Smith is getting into better shape. That could mean added productivity in the paint. It helps that the Bruins have additional practice time this summer as they prepare to go overseas for an exhibition tour in China come August.
The third recent article on ESPN is actually the best piece both for what it says on UCLA and other teams. Eamonn Brennan writes like he actually has been to the west coast during the Obama Administration. Before talking about UCLA, I want to turn to what he says on Arizona:
Worst-case scenario: A close reading of that best-case scenario reveals a lot of if-then premises, and that's the risk for this team: A lot of things have to go right for it to succeed. The opposite outcome is not entirely unlikely. Lyons could prove to be a questionable teammate, a reputation he earned at Xavier. The freshmen could disappoint off the court (see: Turner, Josiah) and/or on it. Miller could struggle to bring so many new talents together, as many coaches do. Arizona will be talented no matter what, but if the Wildcats struggle around the margins, the risk of a merely mediocre season remains high.
If you take away Derrick Williams, one of the best college players of the last five years, what has Arizona done under Coach Sean Miller? Missed the tournament twice and under achieved. I am not sold on Miller as an elite coach or Arizona as a threat to UCLA this season for dominance.
I further agree with Eamonn on Cal:
Best-case scenario: There is plenty of reason to believe the Bears can pick up where they left off last year. Cal returns its three most efficient offensive players -- junior guards Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs and freshman forward David Kravish -- as well as solid interior depth in less-used forwards Richard Solomon, Robert Thurman and Bak Bak. If those forwards can defend the low block and rebound effectively, Cobbs and Crabbe should be able to shoulder much of the scoring load, and Cal should at least present UCLA and Arizona with a credible Pac-12 title challenger.
While I am not sold on Sean Miller as an elite coach, I am on Mike Montgomery. Monty has been to the NCAA Tourney in 13 of his last 14 college seasons. Also last year he owned UCLA and Howland. In 2011-12 season, UCLA had seven Pac-12 losses during the regular season. The five losses not to Cal were by a total of 15 points and UCLA was close in all five games. The two losses to Cal were by a total 26 points and they were not that close. The only double digit losses in the Pac-12 were to Cal with the first loss by 16 points being worse than all their other Pac-12 losses combined.
Cal is a threat to UCLA and Howland has something to prove against Cal because he has been out coached in recent years.
Lastly, let's turn our focus to UCLA. Shockingly Eamonn does not mention Larry Drew II but seriously:
Best-case scenario: A Pac-12 title, national title contention, and a full-on personal Ben Howland exorcism. The talent is obvious. In the best-case scenario, the top-five-ranked incomers (Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson) perform like the stars they are touted to be, while junior forward Josh Smith returns not as an overweight project but as a low-block terror. The team takes the lessons of Howland's recent near-downfall to heart, and the Bruins rediscover not only their defense but what it really means to be a team. If that happens, look out. The ceiling is ridiculously high.
Worst-case scenario: Much like Arizona, it's hard to predict anything but a very good season for the Bruins, but the worst case isn't all that hard to envision, either. UCLA's veterans bristle against the attention focused on Muhammad and Anderson. Or those two can't coexist in the same backcourt. Or Smith returns without following through on his offseason promises. Or Howland mismanages -- as he has before -- the team dynamic. UCLA has no reason not to be good next year, but Howland still has much to prove. And if things get bad, they could get really, really bad.
I agree with everything he wrote except for the Anderson and Muhammad comment. I think those two have played together a decent amount in high school all star games. It is one of the reasons they both committed to UCLA. Anderson, even more than Shabazz, is a winner. He will have no problems with Shabazz and will make it work.
Managing the team dynamic and veterans is key and the big worry. Can Howland cut Tyler Lamb's minutes? Will the Wears only play four this season? Can Larry Drew II come off the bench or deal with Anderson as the point guard on offense as he quit last time he was benched? Putting aside the obvious and important question of Josh's weight, can Howland make this a team built around likely lottery pick Shabazz, the unique talents of Kyle, and Josh with everyone else as a role player?
Jason King is clueless, but Eamonn has it right.