With Washington State playing UCLA tonight, All Coug’d Up and Go Joe Bruin have got together and answered some questions to get a feel for where each has their team at this point. The questionnaire also includes predictions for the end of the season and of course some thoughts on tonight’s game in Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA campus.
This is GJB’s answers to our questions, thanks to their new editor Jeff Poirier, for the other half of the questionnaire that features our answers to his inquiries head to this link at GoJoeBruin.com
ACU: From everything I heard at the beginning of the season, there may have been some pressure on coach Ben Howland to make it back to another Final Four with all of the talent they brought in. Has there been any lowering of expectations as the season has unfolded?
GJB: There’s no question that the expectations have been lowered since the preseason, whether or not the Bruin faithful want to admit it. Howland’s seat is hotter than almost any coach in the country at this point, and he knows it. Unless UCLA manages to make a nice run in the NCAA Tournament (getting to at least the Sweet 16), I think his days in Westwood are over.
ACU: Do you think this UCLA team is a Final Four contender?
GJB: As much as I would love to say yes, I do not think UCLA is a Final Four team this season. The Bruins have only eight scholarship players, and only seven of them actually see the floor for major minutes. By the time the tournament rolls around, depth and fatigue could be a major issue for UCLA. Also, I think that the Bruins’ lack of a dominant big man will ultimately lead to their undoing. Any team that watches film on UCLA knows to just pound it in the paint.
ACU: It’s never an easy thing to mix in a lot of young talent and immediately succeed because of the chemistry factor. Kentucky did it a couple years ago but in general it doesn’t happen in year one. How do you think UCLA has gelled as a team and who is having the toughest time adapting. Or in other terms who will help this team turn the proverbial corner when they figure out how to play better within the Howland system.
GJB: I think UCLA has gelled fairly well, especially considering five of the Bruins’ eight scholarship players are in their first season in Westwood (four freshmen, one transfer). I would say Tony Parker is having the most difficult time adapting to the college game, and his minutes have been zapped because of it.
As far as turning the proverbial corner, I don’t know if it’s going to happen this season. And since Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson are expected to leave for the NBA, and Parker may transfer, and PG Larry Drew II is graduating, it may never happen for Howland.
ACU: Historically speaking, this series with Washington State has been a snooze-fest. Wazzu’s last win vs the Bruins was in 2009 and in LA only 2 wins all time. However UCLA played an atrocious game on Thursday against the Huskies and have at times not played well against teams they were supposed to beat. Do the Bruins have any chance of losing this game at home tonight?
GJB: I think Washington State has a very real chance to win the game tonight, and there are two main reasons why. First, UCLA has had a nasty habit of playing to the level of competition they are facing. And given the Cougs’ sub-.500 record, I would not be at all surprised if the Bruins come out flat and uninspired. Second, WSU has Brock Motum and UCLA’s interior post-presence is basically nonexistent. Motum has a chance to dominate on the boards, forcing the Bruins into a low-possession, grinding sort of game. That scenario would favor Washington State.
ACU: What are the top 3 wins at this point that would have an effect on the Bruins making the NCAA Tourney? Do you think they make it? What seed?
GJB: At this point, UCLA’s two best wins are pretty obvious, as the Bruins hold decisions over then-No. 7 Missouri and then-No. 6 Arizona. As far as a third best win, it would come down to either a road victory over Colorado or the season-opening win over Indiana State. The Sycamores have been quite a surprise this year, compiling a 16-8 record with wins over Creighton, Wichita State, Miami (FL) and Ole Miss.
I think the Bruins are on pace for a spot in the Big Dance, and will get there as long as they can win five of their next eight games. That’s easier said than done, but it is completely possible for UCLA to pull off. It’s hard to tell what seed they will end up getting, but it would probably be somewhere in the 5-8 range.