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.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.
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.
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.
Photo: US PRESSWIRE