Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, January 11, 2013

2013 UCLA Basketball Preview

There's many in BuffNation who were expecting a cakewalk last night, and they're gnashing their teeth this morning.  "How could that game be so close?" "Worst game ever!" ... and on, and on.  Even the game wrap-up headline is from the woe-is-us school, hedging "Buffs Outlast Trojans - With Much Difficulty."

I, on the other hand, fully expected USC to make life difficult (that's kind of their niche), and predicted an ugly victory.  With the flu going around, and a sexier matchup with UCLA looming on Saturday, is anyone really that surprised that CU failed to look like the '96 Bulls last night?  Be honest...
A win's a win.  From: the BDC
Everyone I've heard from today is kicking the dirt, and declaring a win over the Bruins impossible in light of last night's rough finish.  How do you think BruinsNation feels after almost choking away a 12-point second half lead in Salt Lake City last night?  At least CU didn't pull a Stanford and lose!

It's basketball.  Your not going to see everyone's best every night.  You just have to hope when the team isn't playing perfectly that they walk away with a 'W.'  Thanks to a favorable whistle, and some poor USC strategy in the final two minutes (why weren't they sending the young Buffs to the free throw line?), CU still got the desired result.

66-60 win?  With USC only threatening to make it a one-possession game, not a loss?  If that is what passes for an off night in these parts, then I'll happily take it.


The quick turnaround serves up a high-profile matchup with UCLA on Saturday afternoon.  This is the kind of game that could determine whether CU makes the Tournament.  A loss doesn't necessarily hurt, but a win over a team currently in the RPI top-50 makes that resume all the more enticing for the committee.

Tip-off from a sure-to-be packed CEC is set for high noon tomorrow.  The Broncos don't kick off til 2:30, so there's no excuse to miss this one.  For those unable to make it to the CEC, coverage can be found on Pac-12 Network.  If you're at Mile High, why not tune to AM 760 and listen to Mark Johnson while you tailgate in the freezing cold?

Click below for the preview...


When last we met - 

CU got a lesson in bucket getting, as the Bruins shot 60% from the floor, and scored 1.22 ppp en route to a breezy 77-60 win over the Buffs last January.  While CU was able to keep pace in the first half, cranking out 56% shooing on their end, production trailed off in the second half, which turned a close game into a laugher.
The athletic Bruins flew right past CU last season.  From: the AP
What else can you look at other than shot percentage defense?  It's a metric that Coach Boyle burns into the brains of his players, yet somehow they allowed UCLA to shoot at a ridiculously high level for the entire game.  It wasn't something that ebbed and flowed, UCLA just hit open jumper after open jumper for 40 minutes.  It was a defensive nightmare that I certainly didn't think was possible.

The Buffs finished best in the conference by only allowing 40.4% shooting in '11-'12, so that 60% was an aberration.  I'm sure Coach Boyle has reminded the team repeatedly in practice how freely UCLA tickled the twine last season.  For their sake, I hope we don't see a repeat performance tomorrow evening.

Opponent's season so far - 

UCLA got off to a rough start this season, getting pushed to the brink by UC-Irvine in opening week before dropping an inexcusable home game to Cal Poly.  That loss provided the team with a soul-searching reset opportunity, which they seem to have taken full advantage of.  In the aftermath coach Ben Howland tweaked the rotation, the vaunted freshmen began to assert themselves, and the team has since only lost one game - of the understandable variety to a strong SDSU squad at a neutral site.
Cal Poly managed to stun UCLA into action.
The highlight of UCLA's season is undoubtedly their 97-94 overtime win over #7 Missouri from last month.  The game was a late Christmas present to college basketball fans everywhere, as two heavyweight programs duked it out on national TV.  Back-and-forth for 45 minutes, it was one of the best combined offensive performances I've seen in years.  While Mizzou's Phil Pressey seemed destined to steal headlines with his 19 point, 19 assist performance, this game may best remembered in future years for being the moment when freshman superstar Shabazz Muhammad stepped into the national spotlight.  His 27 points, seven of which came in overtime, propelled UCLA to victory.
The Shabazz-lead overtime run spelled victory.
Surprisingly enough for a Ben Howland coached squad, these guys make their hay on the offensive end.  They rarely turn the ball over (15.6%, good for 5th in the nation), and hit plenty of shots (eFG of 51.5%).  As a result, they produce a highly efficient 1.14 ppp.  Their strength lies in their mid-range shooting.  Nearly half their shots are two-point jumpers, and they shoot a soothing 43% on those attempts.  It's all a product of their numerous lengthy weapons (6th nationally in effective height), making pick-and-pop situations a lose-lose for defending teams.

On defense, they do a great job keeping teams off the line.  Their 22.8 defensive free throw rate is easily best in the conference, and good for 5th nationally.  One of CU's strengths lies in getting to the line; should UCLA play to form and force the Buffs into scoring from the floor, this could get out of hand quickly.

I really like this team.  UCLA has a boatload of athletic talent, and can score seemingly at will.  They may not play enough defense to win anything of note, but they make watching basketball fun, and should prove strong enough to get the ravenous UCLA fanbase back into the Tournament.

In memoriam

Earlier this month, the Pac-12 lost one of it's favorite punching bags when The Big Hefty, UCLA's 300+lbs center Josh Smith, declared his intention to transfer to Georgetown. Once a highly regarded five-star center out of Washington, his continuing battle with his weight cost him both favor and playing time. 

There'd be brief moments every summer where, upon hearing rumors that Smith may have been shedding instead of adding pounds, I'd fear what the hypothetically motivated big man could do. Then I'd remember that we're talking about Josh Smith, a man who may have been spiking his gatorade with lard for all we know, and I'd calm down.

He may be gone from the Pac-12, but we'll always have this:

My only regret is that we never got to see him struggle at altitude.  He will be missed.

Coaching - 

Smith wasn't the only player to leave the Bruin bench this winter.  Tyler Lamb, who killed CU last year, also decided to bolt after a discussion with coach Howland.  Smith and Lamb, once the centerpieces of UCLA's 2010 recruiting class, now form only the latest chapter in the continuing saga: Ben Howland - Forever Alone.

Since 2008, the total is now up to an astonishing 11 scholarship athletes who have ditched the Blue and Gold for greener pastures.  That's not even inclusive of the six players who turned pro early during that period.  That's 17 scholarships that have up and vanished - like a fart in the wind (It's a miracle!) - since the start of UCLA's last Final Four season.  SEVEN-FUCKING-TEEN.

With LAX crowded with fleeing Bruins, the blame easily falls at the feet of UCLA head coach Ben Howland.  Sure, he can still recruit, as proven by last year's #1 recruiting class, but his inability to either keep that talent on campus, or turn it into anything of value in recent years, has nearly destroyed his legacy. 

It certainly didn't help matters when SI ran this damning article about the "Howland way" last year. Stories like that on top of the seventeen early defections could be overlooked if only they were being offset with victories.  Unfortunately for Howland, they simply haven't been.  UCLA has only made one Tournament appearance in the last three seasons, and plenty of prominent members of the Bruins fanbase have begun calling for his head as a result.
"So a few players left early and I let miscreants run my locker room...  What's the big deal?"
*smh* ... from back-to-back-to-back Final Four appearances, to having your fanbase eye you for the hangman's noose in only four years has got to be some kind of record...
I have no doubt in my mind that Howland is still a great coach - you don't just fall into three straight Final Four appearances, after all - but he needs to follow the majority of his talent from the past few years, and get the hell out of Los Angeles.  That partnership has become untenable, and it'd be in everybody's best interests if he were to bail.


As a postscript to the UCLA talent drain story, check out this story on current Bruin center Tony Parker.  Sounds like Howland will soon be claiming his 18th victim.

Star Players -

Of the players who remain in Westwood, the best is unquestionably Shabazz Muhammad.  He was the #1 recruit in the country in 2012, and has, so far, lived up to that billing.  Muhammad got a late start to his (probably) lone collegiate campaign, however, as he was suspended by the NCAA for the first three games this season.  The reasons behind the suspension were dubious, and the jurisprudence highly suspect, so a timetable for reinstatement was quickly settled.
He's on the court, and tearing things up.
Since being reinstated, the 6-6 wing from Las Vegas has been dropping 18/5 each night, showing off a complete offensive game.  Unsurprisingly, he leads the team in possessions used, and is UCLA's primary scoring option when on the court.  He'll be a tough assignment for whoever is tasked with guarding him.

A pair of highly regarded freshmen share the backcourt with Muhammad.  Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams would've been the center piece of almost any other team's 2012 recruiting haul, but have taken a publicity backseat on the Bruins' roster. 

Anderson, a 6-9 point guard trapped in a power forward's body (fuck you), has been coming on strong in recent weeks, and has scored in double figures in six of his last 10 outings.  Commensurate with his size, he's a great rebounder for his position, and actually leads the team in rebounding with nine per game.  He defines the phrase "match-up-problem," and you pretty much have to pick your poison with him.
A 6-9 point guard?  OK, Magic Johnson...
Adams has been the pleasant surprise, and it was the 6-5 traditional two-guard who carried the scoring load while Muhammad was clearing up his eligibility issues.  He topped 20 points in each of his first four collegiate games.  Since then he's cooled a bit, but is still a pure scorer seemingly destined for the NBA.

Trying to keep the three high-profile freshmen in line is senior starting point guard Larry Drew II.  A 6-2 transfer from North Carolina, he's been dropping 8.3 assists per game (fuck you), good for 3rd in the country.  I'm sure UNC wasn't expecting that kind of production when he left.
Drew seems to have put the ugly exit from UNC behind him.
The Wear twins, David and Travis, are still holding down the power forward slots.  Each running at 6-10, 230lbs, they can cause a nightmare in the paint.  The pair combine for 19/11 each night.  Travis is the one who gets the starts and the majority of minutes.

Prediction - 

Last season has me worried.  The flu-ridden CU roster appears too exhausted to chase a team as athletic as UCLA around for 40 minutes, leading me to believe open jumpers will start raining down again.  A true repeat of 60% is probably out of the question, but they will hit enough to put the game away in the 2nd half. 

The home whistle won't be enough to save CU this time...

UCLA 80 - CU 69



ninzaburo said...

Asian girls everywhere. UCLA.

Aaron Jordan said...

I have heard a couple times about the concept of "Home Whistle". What is that all about?

Shouldn't the refs call a fair game no matter where it is at?

RumblinBuff said...

In theory, a referees call should be the same in every situation. In reality, circumstance effects how an official perceives the action.

Better players get better treatment, officials are reluctant to hand out a 4th or 5th foul for light contact, home teams gets preferential treatment, and officials bungee the foul count to keep things close. Whether its institutional bias, or inherent, these facts have become assumed when watching a basketball game. I tend to think it's just a reaction of human nature.

Further reading: