Friday, October 31, 2008

Bruin Basketball Update

Just a little update for UCLA fans. It's a bye week for football so we're allowed to look ahead a little bit to basketball. First of all, Pac-10 basketball media day was yesterday, and the press got to hear from coaches and staff of all ten teams about the state of the conference and of the outlook for the season.

The Pac-10 is facing a "rebuilding year" of sorts, if you will. That is, four out of the ten schools just hired new coaches. Of course, Oregon State suffered one of their worst seasons ever last year and Jay John was fired before the year was over. John has been replaced by some guy named Craig Robinson. Apparently Robinson's brother-in-law is none other than presidential candidate Barack Obama. Over at Cal, Bruce Boxleitner, errr, I mean Ben Braun, was let go last year after failing to live up to expectations. Mike Montgomery, legendary former coach of Stanford during the Dark Ages of Lavin, has returned to norcal to coach Stanford's rivals. As for Stanford, Montogmery could have returned there with the firing of Trent Johnson - though I don't know if he was offered - but ultimately it went to former NBA and Duke player Johnny Dawkins.

And of course, the fourth Pac-10 team to get a new coach was Arizona. If you haven't heard, that news broke just this past week, with the announcement that Lute Olson was retiring/stepping down after 25 seasons with the program. Not only is it bad for Arizona that they're losing their hall of fame coach that led them to the nation's longest steak of NCAA tournament appearances, but the timing is awful. The '08-'09 season is just a week away, if you count exhibition games, and Arizona has no better than an interim head coach, namely Russ Pennell. Worse, their top-flight commits for next year Abdul Gaddy, Mike Moser, and Solomon Hill, have all subsequently de-committed due to the uncertainty of the direction of the program. Gaddy has since committed to Washington.

Where's UCLA in all of this? Well, naturally we're above all this nonsense (this year). Coach Howland has really established something great with a national title appearance and subsequent back to back Final Fours. The coaching staff is intact and recruiting is very strong. Because of all this, the Bruins are ranked 1st in the conference media poll (which, admittedly, doesn't count for crap but it's good to see anyway). The rest of the poll is as follows:

The poll from the Pac-10 Media:

1- UCLA (37 first place votes- 379 points)
2- Arizona State (1 first place vote- 325 points)
3- USC (292 points)
4- Arizona (241 points)
5- Washington (217 points)
6- Washington State (188 points)
7- Oregon (147 points)
8- Cal (143 points)
9- Stanford (115 points)
10- Oregon State (40 points)

But how is the team REALLY looking? Well, first, here's the obvious: with the departure of Kevin Love to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lorenzo Mata to somewhere else, we once again lack size. Alfred Aboya will be expected to step up and play ~25 minutes per game, which will be split between the 4 and 5 spots. He will be required to cut down on playing out of control in order not to foul out in his first five minutes on the floor. James Keefe will likely take over at the 4 spot when Aboya's at the 5, and freshman J'Mison Morgan will back Aboya up. Speaking of Morgan, I'm hearing that while he's a solid player, he still has some ways to go before getting up to the level of toughness and strength expected from any Ben Howland player. Also on the topic of toughness, Nikola Dragovic is back again and he'll be expected to step up behind Keefe in the rotation and not be a weakling and make his damn shots like he's supposed to. And play defense. Drew "I'm 6-10" Gordon will be playing at the 5 when he goes in. When both Aboya and either Gordon or Morgan are in, Aboya will move to the 4.

Over in Guard land, Mike Roll has yet to completely heal after rupturing his plantar fascia for the 80 billionth time last year. While his contribution would be appreciated, I wouldn't really expect much from him this year. But I think that's okay, since this is a guard-heavy team. We've got Darren Collison and Josh Shipp returning as senior leaders. Collison will likely start at point guard (duh). One thing to note about Shipp, who has been kinda so-so these past couple of years, is that for the first time ever he's had the whole offseason to work out instead of rehabbing from one injury or another. This should work significantly to his - and the team's - advantage because for a Howland team, preparation (including off-season work) is key. Shipp will start at the 3 as he has been this whole time. I haven't heard much about Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee other than that Lee is suffering from a groin strain (ouch) and Anderson has just recovered from one. I don't really know what to say about that, really.

And of course, our #1 recruit, Jrue Holiday is meeting expectations and will likely start at the 2 spot.

The Bruins have been ranked 4th in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll behind #1 UNC Tar Trolls, #2 UConn Huskies, and the #3 Louisville Cardinal.

The first (exhibition) game is against California Baptist on 11/3/08 at 7:30 PM. It's not on TV but you can stream it live at http://uclabruins.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/102008aaa.html (not for free). It requires Microsoft Silverlight.

Go Bruins!

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