Thursday, November 20, 2008

Well, at least it's still early - Updated

He's seen it year after year after year, and Ben Howland still hasn't figured out how to prepare a team for a 1-3-1 zone.  The Bruins dropped an early season game to an inferior opponent primarily because they simply can't beat John Beilein.  On a neutral floor, with even teams, Beilein will win every time.  UCLA only wins when they have far superior players, like last year.
*Update* - When I originally wrote this, I figured Howland teams had played Beilein teams quite often when they were in the Big East, but I was too lazy to look it up.  As it turns out, they've faced off more since Howland left.  While at Pitt, Howland faced Beilein only twice, and won both matchups, albeit with a top 10 team against a coach in his first year at West Virginia.  I don't think it changes the analysis (such as it is) very much.  

Part of it is a testament to Howland's stubbornness, which is a reason he's successful.  It's the second week of the season, and he's got a fairly young team, and there's no reason to spend a week preparing for a defense you won't see the rest of the year.  That's why I'm not overly disappointed.  In fact, it's a sign that he knows what's important is not what you do in November, but what you do in March.  

But what this game did show us is that UCLA is in, well, I won't say a long season.  The Pac 10 sucks this year, so the Bruins should have a very successful regular season.  But the post-season will be short by UCLA standards.  Unless one of their freshmen big men really figure out how to play, or unless James Keefe takes the next step, they will be forced to play on the perimeter all year.  They have absolutely no interior offense.  They have no one they can give the ball to when they absolutely need a basket.  Or more accurately, they have no one on the inside who can keep the defense honest, allowing them to get the ball to Collison for a needed basket.  And with the extension of the three point line, it will be much harder to win on the perimeter this year.  

In a way this might be a good thing.  If they can't beat Michigan, they would have been slaughtered by Duke.  I'm not sure they'll beat SIU quite frankly, and it doesn't help that the guy who sits in the office next to me is an SIU grad.  And we saw why college basketball is occasionally a joke.  A Michigan player throws the ball away about three seconds before running into Aboya, and Al is called for a block.  Josh Shipp barely makes contact with an elbow, which causes his defender to leap backwards about five seconds after it happens, and the official completey across the floor decides to make the call.  College basketball is consistently the worst officiated sport that still maintains a large following.  But that's not why the Bruins lost.  

But it's a long season.  They have a lot of time to grow.  Hopefully this is a learning experience.