UCLA: 2011-12 Post-MortemPosted by AMurawa on April 23rd, 2012
Over the course of the next two weeks, the Pac-12 Microsite will break down each team’s season: what went well, what didn’t, and a look ahead at the future. Today’s subject: UCLA.
What Went Wrong
Team chemistry. While Reeves Nelson is the fall guy for this, after displaying abominable behavior for two-plus years on this Bruin team before eventually being dismissed in early December, the problem went deeper than that. There was supposed senior leader and point guard Jerime Anderson getting busted for stealing a laptop in the offseason and earning a light two-game suspension as a result. There was center Joshua Smith showing up for his sophomore season in worse shape than his rotund, breathless freshman edition. And given that he was close friends with Nelson, it appeared at times that his buddy’s bad attitude rubbed off on him. Aside from behavioral issues, there was also a case of mismatched parts on this team, with a talented frontcourt supported by guards that were in a bit over their heads (despite the relative success that Anderson and backcourt-mate Lazeric Jones enjoyed). And there was head coach Ben Howland who had undoubtedly one of his poorest seasons on the sideline. He was unable to respond to the attitude issues with Nelson in a timely fashion, struggled to meld newcomers like the Wear twins in quickly and in the end, was widely questioned for his inability to find playing time for guys like freshman guard Norman Powell and sophomore center Anthony Stover.
What Went Right
Still, after the Bruins got around to ditching their Nelson anchor, the team developed into a solid Pac-12 squad. After getting off to a terrible 2-5 start with losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee mixed in with more reasonable defeats in Maui, the Bruins went 17-9 the rest of the way. Travis and David Wear, regarded as Charmin-soft early in the year, turned into the team’s top two leading rebounders and solid interior players. Smith showed some progress on the conditioning front and somehow Howland turned the combination of Jones and Anderson into a quite competent Pac-12 backcourt.
Lazeric Jones, the first UCLA junior college transfer to earn minutes since Jack Haley, came to the program as something of an afterthought two seasons ago but was the go-to player for the team this year. Playing off of the ball for the first time in his career, Jones adapted well to the shooting guard role and led the Bruins in scoring with 13.5 points per game, showing a well-rounded skill set by leading the team with 136 assists on the season and chipping in 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per night. He may not have been the type of point guard UCLA fans have come to expect in the Howland era (although that’s tough competition for anyone), but he will go down as an overachiever in his college career.
Jones is gone to graduation as is his backcourt mate Anderson, while little-used frontcourt player Brendan Lane graduates too with a year of eligibility remaining – he’ll use that up at Pepperdine, taking advantage of the graduate transfer rule.
Players Coming In
As this wrap-up goes to post, the Bruins have four new players ready to bring new blood to the program: freshmen Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, and Jordan Adams along with North Carolina transfer Larry Drew, Jr. Between Muhammad (#2 national recruit in the 2012 class, according to ESPNU), Anderson (#5 recruit) and Adams (#41), the Bruins have the #3 overall class, while they still await the decision of center Tony Parker (#26). Disregarding Parker for the time being, between the other four, Howland awaits a significant upgrade in athleticism and perimeter shooting, two areas in which the Bruins have been lacking in recent years when they missed the NCAA Tournament.
Reason for Hope
A #3 recruiting class in a solid recruiting year is reason enough to expect the Bruins to be back in the thick of things, but it is not the only one. The Wear twins showed great improvement over last season, and given that 2011-12 was really their first full season of important minutes in college, each of them could be due for another bump in production next season. Throw in Howland’s desire to prove himself in the face of near-constant criticism since November and a weak conference and there is absolutely no reason this roster shouldn’t be the favorite to win the Pac-12.
Reason For Concern
There are still some questions not only about next year’s roster (Who’s the point guard? Can Anderson defend to Howland’s expectations? Can Smith get into some kind of shape?), and there are ongoing questions about Howland’s ability to coach up elite talents, a question that seems silly in the face of a not-too-distant streak of three straight Final Four appearances. But, at this level and at this institution, it is all about what have you done for me lately? Regardless of previous accomplishments and recent successes on the recruiting trail, this Bruin team has a lot to prove.
D-. This is a team that was picked by the coaches to win the Pac-12 conference title. We at RTC picked them to finish second in the conference. And yet, not a week into the regular season, everybody across the nation that was paying any sort of attention knew that those kinds of expectations were bunk. While the team improved as the season went on, the overall image of the program suffered in the wake of a critical Sports Illustrated story in the middle of the season. And, when March rolled around, the Bruins were left watching from the sidelines, too mediocre for even the NIT to feign interest.