I was under the false assumption that last year was our blip year – a predictable dip following three consecutive Final Four appearances. Observant Bruins fans could see the flaws in last year’s team: uneven play on the road, difficulty containing dribble penetration, long dry stretches on offense, lack of rebounding. Those same flaws are alarms this year.
I’m a proud UCLA alumnus and will always support the school and athletic programs. I’m not unrealistic about where the basketball program is, where Ben has taken it from or what the possibilities are for the school moving forward. But, we’ve had six full season of Benball and, undeniably, the man can coach defense. I’ve yet to see the consistency on offense that it will take to clear the last hurdle.
Everyone recognizes that winning the NCAA title is equal parts talent and luck, but a huge part of that equation is the ability to score. It amazes me that UCLA still struggles facing zone defenses and the team goes on long scoring droughts if the defense isn’t causing turnovers. That is not just this year, that has been a common theme during Howland’s tenure. The only season the team was machinelike on offense was with Kevin Love at center. If the Bruins intend to play from the inside out, fine, just recruit more refined players at the post. Outside of Love, Howland's M.O. appears to be to find physical players to play the 4 and 5 that rebound and can play his type of defense.
Developing an offensive identity is every bit as important as garnering one on defense. I’m not certain it’s all about a lack of talent, the Bruins have had several players move on to play professionally so the that cannot be the sole reason for the choppy play. Our floor spacing and movement off the ball isn’t very good – that’s a coaching issue. Again, I respect CBH and what he’s brought to Westwood. In no way, shape or form would I want another coach at the helm. UCLA has the same caliber athletes UNC, Kansas and Duke has, let’s be unafraid to play offense like those teams do.
The departure of Drew Gordon from the program is a direct result of UCLA's recent success self-recruiting players that didn't fit Howland's original blueprint. Those early teams, the Final Four teams, were self-less, hard working, hungry and opportunistic. The latter versions have an air of entitlement that permeated the program and quickly ate away at the team's heart. The Bruins cannot win without talent, but what types of players the team recruits is equally important. It appears the reason Gordon left was his frustration with his role, but he was also upset with the lack of opportunities to run the floor and play an up tempo brand of basketball. It's something that figures to rear its ugly head again, and, more importantly, not allow the program to attract the type of athlete's it needs to hang championship banner number twelve.