Wednesday, December 5, 2012
UCLA beats CSUSM
I've never heard of Cal State San Marcos. Chances are you still haven't, even though we beat them easily in the 2nd half to pull away 83-60 last night. The game wasn't televised, wasn't on the radio and wasn't attended by probably more than 3,000 people. But I was there.
And I wasn't impressed, unfortunately. Howland opted to practice man to man defense all night since our zone was devastated by 3 pointers from SDSU the last game. There were several instances of SM's big men scoring on the Wears when they shouldn't have. We didn't contain driving perimeter players as we should have. We turned the ball over 21 times. Our offense didn't yield as many scoring opportunities as there should have been.
Shabazz scored a team-high 19 and he really had to earn them with an assortment of floaters and other short range but highly contested shots. His jumper was suspect and he looked terribly out of shape still. Kyle Anderson finished with a team-high 16 rebounds while neither Wear finished with more than 7 in about the same number of minutes. Larry Drew played the most minutes of any Bruin and finished with 10 points, 10 assists in 30 minutes.
These two weeks leading up to the nationally televised matchup vs Texas this coming Saturday has been turbulent, to say the least. No, it hasn't been nearly as bad as the Reeves Nelson nightmare early last season or the SI.com propaganda fallout late last season, but it hasn't been good.
It started with the departure of last year's starting shooting guard, Tyler Lamb, probably due to his unwillingness to fight for lost minutes. Then came the embarrassing loss to Cal Poly SLO, which seemed to confirm the hard truth that we are not true contenders even with the #1 recruiting class. Then two days later, one of the most talented big man in the country, Josh Smith, left our team for personal reasons. The sad truth is he had been utterly unable to lose the weight he needed to resurrect his career. Ideally, a conditioned Smith would make him the most influential player on the court. This brought our depth chart down to 8 players.
Even the beatdown handed to CSUN was forgotten immediately after the hard-fought loss to SDSU in Anaheim over the weekend. To make things worse, their fan section vastly outnumbered UCLA supporters, though that really isn't news to those in the know.
Where do we stand?
Howland has had to resort to a 2-3 zone to cover the defensive liabilities of our team. It is hard to say whether those liabilities are a result of a lack of athleticism or a lack of fundamentals. Perhaps it is both, but if this were the football team, they would need a good old fashioned Jim Mora style 2-a-day boot camp in the desert to whip them back in shape. So far, this is not the Howland coached team that we are familiar with. If we end up playing zone all year, what's the point of keeping Howland? What is Howland without his signature man to man D?
Our #1 recruiting class has actually been a disappointment. They were the ones who were supposed to come in and immediately make us relevant again. UK's success last year certainly raised the bar. Unfortunately, our two highest ranked freshmen have been relative letdowns. Without the hype, Shabazz and Kyle on paper have been fabulous freshmen for us. However, though Shabazz is scoring points, he is not dominating the way a NBA ready HS star should be. He is working way too hard to score, and again, he looks awfully out of shape. Kyle is a great rebounder and has great vision, but is much less athletic than we knew. He has little lift and gets blocked in traffic nearly every time. His jumper is also prolonged and subpar.
Howland's problem in the last 4 years has been that he hasn't recruited truly great basketball players. Jrue Holiday was really the last NBA 1st round talent that we've recruited. Since 2009, nobody has been drafted 1st round, which should be embarrassing for a program as storied as ours. Josh Smith and Tyler Honeycutt clearly had the basketball talent, but not pro bodies to go along with it. Say what you want about how Howland has run his program, but the biggest point of failure is the same in every struggling program: the lack of premier talent. This year, he brought in a Shabazz.
And so he'll have this year to save his job. He'll have this month to get ready for Pac-12 play. And he'll have Sat vs Texas to make a new statement about these young Bruins.