Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Conference Play

I finished this whole thing earlier but LifeCast decided to a) not post it and b) forget the latter 70%. So I'm rewriting this and it's probably going to be much crappier than the first time.

Well, it's been a terrible year for UCLA football, and a much less terrible year so far for basketball. Actually it's been a pretty darn good year for basketball.

One thing that has become glaringly apparent is that the 08-09 Bruins are very different than the teams of the last three years that played in the Final Four. The team is 10-2, and after seeing twelve non-conference games we have a pretty good feel for what type of team this is.

The Bruins are notably Kevin Love-less this year, but the losses of Russell Westbrook and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to the NBA have noticeably diminished the team's defensive prowess. We do seem to be more of a running team though, especially with the addition of Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee, and Jerime Anderson and the return of Darren and Josh.

With the Pac-10 conference season quickly approaching, here's a quick run-down of the players and their performances so far:

-Darren Collison: It's a good thing Darren returned to UCLA for his senior season. Not only is it better for Darren, but it's better for the team. He's been shooting well and for the most part, leading the team very well. His court vision has improved a bit, as well as his body control. He's become a very solid floor leader, and the perfect guy to teach the newbies how things work around here.

-Josh Shipp: He puts up valuable scoring numbers with his aggressiveness, but after four years in Howland's system, I really would expect his defense to be better. Plus he's a lazy dog.

-Alfred Aboya: Unlike Josh, Alfred has really really really improved over his four years at UCLA. In fact, he's improved a ton in just this past offseason. His free throw has gained a better arc and is up from 52% last year to 66% this year. Most importantly, he's maintained his unparalleled toughness on defense while greatly reducing the fouls, which has been a major problem his whole career.

-James Keefe: He may provide a few intangibles on defense, but for a starter, he sure doesn't contribute much. I remember his stellar games in the past two NCAA tournaments, but so far this year, when he's had the most opportunities to shine, he hasn't shown anything close to that. I look for him to start playing well any time now, but even if he doesn't I'm not sure who would replace him in the lineup.

-Mike Roll: He's been on a roll for the past few games. Mike plays solid defense, is a good passer, and his shot has improved. And that's good, because he's mainly there to play defense, play smart, and shoot the ball. He needs to get more playing time, because his contributions will be needed greatly down the stretch of conference play.

-Nikola Dragovic: "Drago" as some call him, has been surprisingly decent in the post and on defense. He's still not the best defender and his shot could use more consistency, but hey, I'll take what he gives the team if it's positive.

-Jrue Holiday: The lone starter of the freshman class, Jrue is a definite talent bonus. He has a good eye for the passing lanes and great body control. He has the uncanny ability to drive through the lane and evade defenders when necessary. Jrue is very active on defense, but sometimes overly so, and sometimes he forces things with his passing. These are things that can easily be improved with experience, and experience he will receive. He doesn't seem the one-and-out player that he was originally projected to be, but selfishly that's a great thing.

-Malcolm Lee: My brother described Malcolm Lee best when he said "Mal Lee has two speeds: all stop and full speed ahead." Early on, his tendency to overdo things cost the team a few turnovers, but he has since learned to temper that a bit. Nevertheless, he brings great energy and aggressiveness to the court and is not afraid to attack the opponent. He will be making great contributions to the team in the near future, but for now he has an undetermined knee injury.

-Jerime Anderson (pronounced "Jeremy"): I feel comfortable leaving the reins in his hands in the absence of Collison. Jerime is not flashy, but for a freshman he's shown pretty good poise and control. He can shoot the ball pretty well and will turn on the afterburners if necessary.

-Drew Gordon: He's shown flashes of brilliance, but honestly, from what I'd seen of his high school playing, I thought he'd be further along at this point. Still, he has the potential to be a big, powerful Dan Gadzuric type. Well, at least, he got rejected by the rim like Gadzuric did.

-J'mison "Bobo" Morgan: He's definitely a project. He needs to work on his stamina and his fundamentals. And he needs to get better at moving.

Happy new year, everyone, and be sure to check out the next game: UCLA at Oregon State, Friday, 1/2 at 7:30 p.m.