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The New Ben Howland Theory

Want to know how the Bruins are going to do the rest of the season, look at the opposing coach.

Howland will have to start doing more than riding on Shabazz's back if UCLA is going to the Tourney.
Howland will have to start doing more than riding on Shabazz's back if UCLA is going to the Tourney.
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Many years ago I first wrote about how UCLA plays better on Thursday than Saturday under Howland. Recently that has not always been the case, especially the blowout loss to Cal. Of course, this is a new "offense first" Ben Howland, so I have a new simple theory: Ben Howland beats the coaches he is better than and loses to the ones he is worse then.

I don't think this theory is perfect but here goes, going backwards.

  • Stanford, one of the worst coaches teams in the PAC 12 and the coach next to Howland most likely to be fired after the season= 2 wins
  • Cal, with the best game coach= 1 blowout loss and a win at home. Cal combined the Oregon strategy with the ASU strategy to destroy UCLA. The win at home has a huge asterisk as Cal literally had no backcourt depth, as ESPN reported at the time: "Crabbe played 39 of 40 minutes, with the Bears lacking a solid bench player to relieve him." Now Cal has Smith back and has a short but effective bench.
  • WSU has arguably the worst coach in the conference in Ken Bone= we blow them out in the middle of a slump.
  • UW's Romar's coaching always makes me laugh= a win despite UCLA not being able to shoot. Romar is a good recruiter and motivator but is one of the worst game/teaching coaches in the conference.
  • USC's interim coach copied the game plan of the ASU coach= win over UCLA at home. Biggest win for the Trogans in a while. USC interim coach's record is the same as UCLA for his nine game tenure. Does anyone think USC and UCLA have the same talent?
  • ASU, invented the one man zone strategy, daring Larry Drew II to shoot when UCLA is on offense and pick and roll against UCLA on D=one blowout win. Fortunately for UCLA UW, WSU and Stanford's programs don't watch film.
  • Arizona. For those who think Howland is a god awful coach see Arizona=1 win. While UCLA's freshmen have had their ups and downs, they are way out performing Arizona's almost as talented freshman class. UCLA freshmen are meeting (Shabazz) or exceeding (Adams) the expectations set for them before the season; while all Arizona's freshman are all under achieving. Arizona's Coach Miller can recruit, but can't teach. (His record is a product of a number of bad close calls at home in Arizona's favor.)
  • Oregon. Oregon beat UCLA with ball pressure, inside play and the fact a team of five equals makes it difficult for UCLA to hide its bad defenders. Howland was badly out coached by a coach who made adjustments at half time to beat UCLA=1 loss.
  • Oregon State. While USC often throws their basketball program under the bus to protect their football program, the Beavers have taken it to another level= 1 win. The Beavers gave Coach Craig Robinson a four year contract, the only conceivable reason is it matches his brother-in-law's term as President and gives the university more exposure. It certainly had nothing to do with the basketball team.
  • Colorado. This is where the theory may fail. I am not sure about Colorado's coach. He may be better even though we beat them at home.
  • Utah. The Utes kicked off the team their most talented player before the season=1 win for UCLA.

So what does that mean for the rest of the season? The USC game looks really tough right now. I hope the fans show up like they did for Cal. Then it is another tough game against ASU. Ironically the ASU game is a relatively short turn around, since the SUC game is Sunday. Howland needs to have the game plan ready for that one as well before Sunday. UCLA could easily lose its next two under the new Howland theory.

I actually feel really good about the Arizona game. Sure Miller will have his guys more ready but Shabazz will be great in the last game of his college career on ESPN. Up next is the WSU game. This game is a lock. UCLA wins this easy as there is a reason why UCLA has dominated WSU over the years. WSU is so badly coached they cannot take advantage of their very good big in Brock Motum.

The UW game is tough one. UCLA has not won at Hecht Ed at UW in forever. Romar IS a good motivator which helps at home. However, UW is the hardest team in the conference to figure out right now, which is saying something. Early in the year they were better on the road than at home. UCLA's season could rest on this game.

So what does it all mean? UCLA should win the rest of their games on talent alone. But UCLA could easily lose its next two which means they are likely out of the tourney and NIT bound. However, Howland has so much more talent than USC and, while UCLA has no answer for ASU's point guard, Jahaii Carson, being at home could change the game with a couple foul calls on ASU's UCLA-destroying-big Jordan Bachnski. If Jordan plays less minutes UCLA could win.

If they lose only one of the next two, then they have a good shot to finish second in the conference providing they beat UW on the road (they could tie with Arizona but win the tiebreaker by beating them twice.) Of course if they win the next five, UCLA would almost certainly let down and lose to UW in the last game of the season as they would be playing for nothing unless Oregon continued their collapse even after their injured point guard Dominic Artis returns.

The moral of this convoluted tale is: Howland is now losing games because he is being out coached. His team has talent but also has holes good coaches can and have exploited. Howland has to compensate for that in his next two games or his last three games against bad coaches won't matter.

Go Bruins.