Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Real UCLA Shows Up - Final Four x3

I don't fancy myself a great prognosticator. Anyone who read my NCAA Tournament predictions knows that's not true, but I would like to point out that after the WKU game, I wrote:
There's nothing about the recent play of either team that should make me feel confident about tomorrow's matchup with Xavier. That said, I think the Bruins will win, and while it won't be said and done until near the end, I don't think it will take overtime or a buzzer beater. It just has the makings of one of those games where everyone is convinced that Xavier is is going to really take it to UCLA, and the Bruins won't be able to respond, but when teams actually take the floor, the cream rises to the top. Get ready for all of the pundits to pick the upset. Those guys are usually wrong.
I'd say that was pretty spot on. That said, here are my thoughts:
  • People thought Texas A&M would be a wake up call. It wasn't. Texas A&M is a good team, and they gave UCLA all they could handle because they were solid and unafraid. The wake up call was the second half against Western Kentucky. And I can almost guarantee you that Ben Howland reminded them how easily a game can get away when you don't give everything you have.
  • Where are all the folks who say that UCLA gets all the calls? I wonder if they actually watched the last game. The officials were terrible. They called a very tight game on one end of the floor. Not that they let Xavier get away with murder, but they called so many non-fouls on UCLA that it was really embarrassing. In one sequence, they called what was a clear charge taken by Aboya a block, and shortly thereafter, they didn't call an obvious trip on what should have been a lay up by Russel Westbrook.
  • Speaking of Westbrook, someone needs to tell him that there's no rule saying that when you break a full court press, you have to go right to the basket. Teams play the press hoping to create turnovers, but the real goal is to speed up the game, to force quick shots, and to get you into their tempo. The way you beat that, if you're UCLA, is to get the ball into the front court and slow it down. Run the clock. Alter the tempo. I said this the other day, but we're talking about UCLA. They should be able to force teams to play at THEIR pace.
  • Xavier lost to Arizona State this year in Phoenix. In fact, they got hammered. Maybe they just got scared of the Sundevil on the court in tonight's game.
  • Once again, Josh Shipp underwhelmed on the scoreboard, but I thought he played an excellent game. Had two blocks, a big assist, played excellent defense, and made great decisions. He passed up some threes, not because he was tentative, but because he knew that controlling the pace and the clock was in UCLA's best interests at those times. It's a cliché, but he really did do ALL the little things.
  • Luc's ankle looked pretty good to me. 13 points, 13 boards, 3 assists, 3 steals!, some big baskets at big times, including a tough shot with about 8 minutes to go when Xavier was within 15 and just scored on their last possession.
  • Raftery and Lundquist mentioned that only UCLA's starters were scoring. They did it a few times. And James Keefe clearly didn't have the game he had against WKU. But the other night, I mentioned that UCLA beat Texas A&M with two, maybe two and a half players. Tonight all five starters were on the scoreboard in the first six minutes. Love, LRMAM, Collison, and Westbrook combined for 68 points, against what is regarded as a very fine defensive team. You don't need bench production when you can get that out of your starters. You need some minutes, and some defense, but I'm fine with the starters dominating the scoreboard if they can put up those numbers.
  • Mike Roll has a chance to be a member of five final four teams.
  • This was, in my opinion, under the circumstances, the finest performance of the season by the Bruins. They led every statistical category. Xavier stayed within shouting distance for a bit, and there was as surge of momentum when they pulled to within 12, but they never really let the game get into doubt in the second half.
  • Love was CBS's player of the game, but Collison was mine. 19 points, five assists, and three for three from three. Quite a comeback after what happened Thursday night. He was the difference maker tonight.
  • Memphis or Texas? Don't care right now. But keep this in mind. UCLA has three losses this year. They can look back and say that two were avenged (OK, so they avenged the Washington loss before they lost to them), but if they face Texas, they'll have a chance to say they've beaten every single team they played this year. But I think they have a better shot to win against Memphis (who I think will lose anyway).
  • It's nice to know that college basketball matters for another week.

Friday, March 28, 2008

UCLA Dominates, Chokes, Recovers, Against WKU

Well, that was a little too close for comfort if you ask me. But like I did for the last game, I'll just bullet out my thoughts. Keep in mind that I watched the first half in a bar, and that they turned the game off in the second half except on a couple of small TVs, after which I walked the (literally) 250 feet from the bar to my apartment to watch the rest. It was during this time that WKU started their run:
  • Do not overlook the importance of free throws in this win. UCLA shot a 74.3% for the game, but they really nutted up in the clutch, hitting 12 of their final 14 to salt the game away. They way Brazelton was canning threes, they needed every one of those. Special congratulations to Russel Westbrook, who has been a little spotty from the line this year, but hit seven of eight last night, and was 6 for 6 in the final 1:11 of the game.
  • Obviously the big stories of the game were the huge night for Kevin Love and the surprising performance from James Keefe. People forget, or are unaware, that Keefe was a McDonald's All American. I think he's struggled fitting in on the Bruins for the last two years, but the guy is a good basketball player, and he's really benefiting from the increase in playing time. He just looks more comfortable in the rotation, and last night he really emerged. That said, I don't expect another game like that from him in this tournament, but hopefully they won't need one. More than anything, it gives me a little more comfort with regard to next season, when Love likely won't be around. They'll be solid on the perimeter, and after last night's explosion, I think they'll be alright on the interior as well.
  • I also don't expect another performance like last night out of Darren Collison. It's funny, but I didn't see or hear much "UCLA gets all the calls" smack last night. Maybe in some parallel universe, Collison actually touched the guy on that fifth foul.
  • I'm not overly concerned about this game "exposing" the Bruins, or giving Xavier a roadmap to victory tomorrow night. I don't think UCLA's problem was with full court press, although that's going to be the dominant narrative. The problem is that they built a big lead, came out unfocused in the second half, started making mistakes, and couldn't get their heads back in the game. They let WKU speed them up, and they had a tough time re-grabbing the reins.
  • To add to the point above, I think that a big flaw in the way they played wasn't so much the press per se, but rather the fact that they allowed WKU to set the tempo. The talk before the game was that WKU will speed things up, and the game will be fast paced, etc. But there are two sides of that coin. UCLA likes a slower style, and what they didn't do was force THEIR pace. This is UCLA, a number one seed. They should not allow their opponent to dictate the tempo. When you're UCLA, and especially a Bruins team that is this good, you need to make your opponent adjust to you, not the other way around.
  • When Joe Shipp was at Cal, he always seemed like one of those enigma type players to me. He wasn't a speedy ball-handling point guard. He wasn't a three point gunner. He wasn't a high flying dunker. What he was was a scorer. He didn't do anything great, but he did a lot of things well, and at the end of the game, he'd have 15-20 points. That's the way Josh Shipp plays when he's at his best. Somewhere along the line, he convinced himself he was a spot up shooter, and I think that's contributed to his slump this year. But in the later part of the first half last night, he slashed to the basket twice for layups. I don't know if they made a difference in his confidence, but his circus shot at the end of the game was huge. He just needs to convince himself that there are shot worth taking from closer than 20 feet.
  • Come to think of it, that's two circus shots he's hit with a clock expiring (either game or 35 second). Perhaps he's been TOO open during his slump. In other words, he's not shooting unless he's got a perfect opportunity, which unfortunately includes time to think about missing. I'm not saying he should take more contested shots. I'm saying that he probably shoots better when he doesn't have time to think about it, or more importantly, just isn't thinking. Shooting isn't a cerebral exercise. It's feel and mechanics. To paraphrase Crash Davis, don't think, just shoot.
  • There's nothing about the recent play of either team that should make me feel confident about tomorrow's matchup with Xavier. That said, I think the Bruins will win, and while it won't be said and done until near the end, I don't think it will take overtime or a buzzer beater. It just has the makings of one of those games where everyone is convinced that Xavier is is going to really take it to UCLA, and the Bruins won't be able to respond, but when teams actually take the floor, the cream rises to the top. Get ready for all of the pundits to pick the upset. Those guys are usually wrong.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In Agreement with the Chronicler

I pretty much agree with all of this. And that goes for the basketball posts as well.
But, at this point, I've been doing this for the Vlad Era, and this many years into it, I think I'm pretty much out of things to say. Rally Monkey's better than I am on the stats stuff, Rob has the minor leagues covered with his daily updates, and I can always count on Seitz to criticize John Lackey's pitch selection or the umpires or whatever. Not to mention that Halos Heaven is about as thriving an online fan community can be. I think my capacity to share with my readership something new, and my devotion and energy to finding new things to share, is at a nadir. And the Halosphere has me covered -- I'm sure my twenty or so readers will manage.

Who knows, in two or three weeks, with the season in full swing, maybe something will occur to me. Maybe I'll end up doing one piece per month or something. If you have me in your blog reader, keep me there. If you don't have me in it, well, then you probably aren't reading this anyway. If you don't have a blog reader, you should start using one, they're really convenient.
Writing has been sporadic primarily because the few people that read this site come from either Bruins Nation or Angels sites, primarily Halos Heaven. And as those sites are updated much more frequently and have larger communities, most of what I could find myself saying has already been said, and at a place or places where the people that read this site have already been or will soon be going. That's part of the reason there have been more music posts. This is a pretty self indulgent exercise to begin with, and I'm not really out there soliciting traffic, though it's nice to know people stop by.

That said, I assume that once the season starts, blogging will pick up more regularly. As the Chronicler noted, writing's only kind of fun when you have something to say. And most of what I write is based on what I see. Take for instance the post below on the UCLA game. Those are observations, some of which have since been covered multiple places, but they were thoughts fresh in my head based on what I had witnessed, and hopefully there was something there that someone enjoyed, or hadn't thought of in quite the same way. I'm not really a stat guy, so I'm not going to do any in depth analysis in that regard. When the games start up, and I start seeing more stuff, I'll start writing about more stuff.

That said, I will be writing more about the Kings next year, but probably not here. It's an opportunity to write for someone else's site, and I'll have more on that as the day approaches. That's of course in addition to the sporadic "Song of the Day" stuff I've had over at the Bulls' place.