Blog Entry

Winless UCLA on verge of its season unraveling

Posted on: November 16, 2011 10:32 am
By Matt Norlander

I'm going to abandon convention and completely undress, evaluate, conclusion-jump and criticize Ben Howland and UCLA right now.

Because seriously, man -- what the hell? An 86-66 loss to Middle Tennessee State last night? In Los Angeles? Howland is having his Billy Gillispie moment. He's having trouble recruiting, and the talent that should be winning games isn't. I'm not merely talking this season, of course. This has been building, and now you're starting to see a real possibility the flames take down the house.
The Bruins missed Nelson's fire and grit in the first game of the Maui Invitational, not to mention his scoring and rebounding, but their second straight double-digit defeat against a no-name opponent was certainly no fluke.

The Blue Raiders appeared to possess better athletes and played with more poise on both ends of the court on the way to their first 3-0 start in 10 years.

Middle Tennessee State also made shots, an art form that continued to elude the Bruins (0-2). The Blue Raiders buried their first nine three-point attempts and finished 10 of 11 (90.9%) from behind the arc.

They seemingly couldn't miss from anywhere while making 35 of 49 shots (71.4%), building leads that swelled to as many as 22 points in the second half. Forward LaRon Dendy had 16 points and 13 rebounds as one of five Blue Raiders to score in double figures.
Last night was a convergence of a team lacking in passion going up against a group that had an all-time 3-point shooting performance. If MTSU hadn't missed the second-to-last 3-point shot it took, it would've set the NCAA record by going 10 for 10.

What's more for UCLA, there are clearly issues amongst the team, too, as Reeves Nelson didn't play last night and could just as easily ask for a transfer out of the program before this post is finished. Nelson is indefinitely suspended, and no one knows the exact reason why. But from the outside, it seems evident he's been a malcontent. Having talked with him before, I can tell you he's an eccentric guy, for sure. He's like a less-talented, more renegade version of Bill Walton (who famously clashed with John Wooden).

Josh Smith talked smack on Twitter about the team that beat him. He then recanted. Smith is an amazing talent, but lazy and overweight. He should not be speaking out of turn when his team's 0-2 and he looks perpetually afraid of the treadmill.

UCLA's season already feels like its on the brink. It's been eight years since the Bruins started 0-2. That season was Steve Lavin's last; the Bruins finished 10-19. Fans are not anxious or panicking -- they are full-on freaking out. This awful start puts a threat that 2012 No. 1 recruit Shabazz Muhammad will consider the Bruins. If Howland doesn't get Muhammad and UCLA misses the tournament this year, is he out? Plenty will make the case he's a coach who will have gone through his life cycle there. The month of November is a crucial one for Howland's future in Los Angeles.

It is no secret that Howland is not considered easy to play for. He's had to bring in Korey McCray, an AAU coach out of Atlanta, to help with recruiting. It may not be enough. Howland's going up against coaches who no doubt are killing him behind closed doors. With the talent UCLA has on the team right now, this has to be an NCAA tournament team this year. But we're already at a point where a post like this is justified.

Now comes the Maui tournament, though technically the tournament began with a loss, as the MTSU game was part of the mainland portion of the bracket. It starts with a game against D-II Chaminade, then will be followed by a tilt with Georgetown or Kansas. The field also has Duke, Tennessee, Michigan and Memphis. Some believe its the deepest crop the Maui Invitational has ever hosted. Could UCLA only get one win there? Is this team going to be 1-4 by the end of next week?

It feels make-or-break. If UCLA emerges 2-3, it will have done the inconceivable and smothered the issue in duct tape. UCLA's season can essentially go up in flames in the next three weeks, which ends with a home game against enigmatic Texas. Howland's faced a lot of pressure in Westwood since arriving. It's never been as much of a squeeze as it is right now.


Since: Jan 17, 2008
Posted on: November 18, 2011 3:28 pm

Winless UCLA on verge of its season unraveling

I will be VERY interested in seeing how a bad year at UCLA will affect the recruitment of Shabazz Muhammed. UCLA was rumored to be the leader in the race to land the #1 overall recruit for next year, but does he really want to sign with a team that might fire their coach this year?

Since: Apr 12, 2007
Posted on: November 17, 2011 12:52 pm

Winless UCLA on verge of its season unraveling

To Tokyo...Nice cross-over my man!  And AGREED!  How anyone can with a straight face claim that the Indianapolis Colts aren't TANKING their season to get LUCK is just absurd.  i mean come ON!  You lose one player, granted he's the QB and one of the best ever, but 0-9 and counting???
The NFL should step in immediatlely and change the rules and see how loud they cry and complain which only further prove their guilt.  Make it a lottery NOW. 

Since: Apr 12, 2007
Posted on: November 17, 2011 12:48 pm

Winless UCLA on verge of its season unraveling

As a KentuckY fan, i am not privy to the details of the UCLA program so thank you for pointing this fact out.  While i largely concur with your conclusion, i would argue that a few more than you cited came in with NBA-level talent; namely Jrue Holiday without question (well i'm about 94% good on him), Collison, Westbrook, and Farmer had NBA-level talent but were certainly raw.  The rest i've rarely if ever heard of so i will take your word for it.

As for right now, you have to admit that UCLA's start does not bode well to land Shabazz Muhammad.  Tho, if Howland is really good he could say, "Hey Shabazz...See how bad we need you?"

Personally, i hope Howland or someone brings UCLA back to prominence as the game needs more West Coast Kings.  Although, well, nah, i won't even start on the whole Sam Gilbert UCLA shame debacle; though, SI, Yahoo, or ESPN should do an expose putting those issues to rest after actually systematically looking into them vs doing what the ncaa has done for decades which is just sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn't happen.  Hmmm...i wonder how many NC's would be revoked...

Since: Oct 29, 2006
Posted on: November 17, 2011 8:28 am

Winless UCLA on verge of its season unraveling

Larry Drew II arrives in LA and suddenly UCLA's team morale is in the gutter and the season is on the brink.  Conincidence?

Since: Apr 1, 2007
Posted on: November 17, 2011 12:19 am

Winless UCLA on verge of its season unraveling

Really?  UCLA does not develop NBA talent?  How about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, both All Stars last year?  You want guards that developed into NBA talent, how about Jordan Farmar, Aaron Afflalo, Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, and Jrue Holliday?  How about post players Kevin Love and Luc Richard M'bah a Moute.  Wings? How about Trevor Ariza and Matt Barnes?  There are as many UCLA Bruins on NBA rosters today (16) as Duke Blue Devils, and only one less than Kentucky Wildcats (17).

What's best about these players is that, with the exception of Kevin Love, none of them came to UCLA as NBA type talents.  They were toughened and shaped by Ben Howland's strict system.  

Since: Nov 16, 2006
Posted on: November 17, 2011 12:10 am

Winless UCLA on verge of its season unraveling

UCLA in playing in the Clippers old barn and starting to play like the old Clippers teams.   They wanted to play like a LA pro team.... they just picked the wrong one!

Since: Mar 30, 2009
Posted on: November 16, 2011 11:41 pm

Winless UCLA on verge of its season unraveling

By and large, except for a couple of now fluke seasons, UCLA has been a non-factor, a negligible entity in the NCAA.  I mean, dude, if you can't recruit in LA, and STILL get the leftovers that others don't get, and not win, then you just flat can't coach.  I got 25 bucks says Chaminade pulls their usual upset in this thing and beats down UCLA.

Since: Sep 12, 2006
Posted on: November 16, 2011 11:15 pm

Winless UCLA on verge of its season unraveling

UNC has been out of the picture with Muhammad for a while.

Since: Mar 22, 2011
Posted on: November 16, 2011 11:03 pm

Winless UCLA on verge of its season unraveling

"Howland's going up against coaches who no doubt are killing him behind closed doors" - what does this mean, Norlander?

Since: Mar 27, 2007
Posted on: November 16, 2011 10:09 pm

Winless UCLA on verge of its season unraveling

Maybe Howland's secrte plan is to loose all of his games and get the #1 pick...oh yeah, that's another league! :)

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