UCLA Basketball: 10 Changes the Bruins Must Make to Sneak into the NCAA Tourney
This isn't your father's UCLA basketball program...Your father's Bruins were better.
Ben Howland is doing his best to salvage what has been a challenging season.
They lost four of their first five games, including puzzling defeats to open up against Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee.
He had to dismiss Reeves Nelson (last year's leading scorer and rebounder) after six games.
They have played their "home" games in multiple locations.
And as they cross into February, the Bruins are 12-9 (5-4 Pac 12) and need to go on a serious run to make something out of this chaotic craziness.
Here are 10 changes that UCLA needs to make if they are going to sneak into the NCAA tournament:
Hold Their Opponents Under 30 Percent from Beyond the Arc
UCLA is one of the worst teams in D-1 hoops at defending the three-point line.
They are allowing their opponents to connect on 38.6 percent from beyond the arc.
The following shows how bad things were in the Bruins' first four losses of the season:
- Loyola Marymount (10-of-15: 66.7%)
- Middle Tennessee (10-of-11: 90%)
- Kansas (7-of-16: 43.8%)
- Michigan (7-of-14: 50%)
Even in UCLA's win over Colorado over the weekend, the Buffs shot 7-of-15 from downtown.
There is no way that you can let other teams have open looks from three-point land and not pay for it.
Hold Their Opponents Under 40 Percent Shooting from the Field
UCLA is normally a tough team to shoot against.
Most years they hold their opponents to less than 40 percent shooting.
Not this year. The Bruins are allowing their opponents to hit 42.6 percent from the field.
That may not sound like a big difference, but that would move them from being ranked No. 170 for FG percentage defense to No. 51.
Hold Their Opponents Under 60 Points Per Game
One of the trademarks of a Ben Howland team has always been tough-as-nails defense.
Unfortunately, this year's team is not quite that tough.
They are giving up an average of 63.6 points per game.
That puts them at No. 94 behind such powerhouse programs such as UTEP, Wagner and Kansas State.
In eight of their nine defeats, UCLA has allowed their opponents to score more than 63 points.
In their 12 wins, the Bruins have only allowed their opponents to score more than 63 points one time.
Seems pretty straight forward, doesn't it?
Get the Wear Twins to Foul More Often
I'm sure that David and Travis Wear are nice and polite young men, the kind of sons that you would be super-proud to be their parents.
Unfortunately, they may be a little too nice at times on the court.
Opponents sometimes win the battle for position on the boards or get a put-back without too much resistance.
On the season, the Wears are only averaging 1.1 fouls per game.
David has fouled out of one game and has had four fouls in three others.
Travis has not fouled out of any games yet this season, and has also, like his brother, had three games where he had four fouls.
Bottom line: With a little more aggressiveness and a big helping of nastiness, the Wears are going to be very good as they move forward.
There's no better time like the present to get started.
Do a Better Job on the Boards
I would have to think that Ben Howland was simply licking his chops before the 2011-12 season started, thinking about how the Bruins were going to absolutely dominate the boards.
With players like Joshua Smith and Reeves Nelson returning and the Wear twins becoming eligible, UCLA should have been able to control the glass against just about every opponent that they would face this year.
This sounds good on paper, but this is not how things have turned out.
UCLA averages 34.2 rebounds per game, good for No. 201 in the nation.
While the Bruins are out-rebounding their opponents on average by 3.4 rebounds per game (No. 77 in rebounding margin), they need to do a better job of hitting the boards and keeping their opponents off the glass if they are going to make any kind of postseason run.
Set Up Jerime Anderson and Norman Powell to Shoot More Threes
Jerime Anderson and Norman Powell are good shooters from beyond the arc.
On the season Anderson is 23-for-52 from downtown for a respectable 44.2 percent.
Powell has gone 20-for-50 for an even 40 percent.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, they don't take the most threes on the team.
Lazeric Jones and Tyler Lamb both take more shots from distance than Anderson or Powell (about one more per game), but shoot 36.8 percent and 32.9 percent respectively.
Knowing who should take your threes and getting them the ball will help the Bruins be more effective on the offensive end.
Get the Wear Twins to the Line More Often
Not picking on these two, but they are a big key to the Bruins' success.
Travis and David Wear are good shooters from the line.
Travis is hitting 84.3 percent (43-of-51), and David is dropping in 76.3 percent (29-for-38) on the season.
With them shooting such a good percentage, they need to be more aggressive in taking the ball to the rim and getting to the line.
The answer is not forcing shots in traffic, but simply being more aggressive in the paint.
Joshua Smith does a good job of getting to the line. He has shot the most FTs of any Bruin player (93 attempts). Unfortunately, Smith only knocks down 57 percent of his FTs.
Win the Rest of Their Road Games
The Bruins have five remaining road games: Washington, Washington State, St. John's, Arizona State and Arizona.
So far this season, UCLA is a less than impressive 2-4.
For RPI sake, they can't afford to lose any of their remaining games on the road.
Win the Rest of Their "Home" Games
If you want to get a rise out of a UCLA fan this year, talk about their "home" games.
The Bruins have played at the L.A. Sports Arena, the Honda Center in Anaheim, and I think they even played at Venice Beach...not really.
UCLA is 10-3 at "home." The record isn't so bad, other than when you consider the three games that they lost were to Loyola Marymount, Middle Tennessee and Texas.
The Bruins have Stanford, Cal, USC, Washington State and Washington still on the schedule to play at "home."
They can't afford to lose any of these games.
Win the Pac-12 Tournament
If the Bruins actually win all of their remaining regular season games, they will punch their own ticket to the Dance.
They would carry a 22-9 overall record with a 14-4 mark in conference.
But, regardless of what they do in the next 10 games, the Bruins could still get into this year's NCAA tournament if they win the first ever Pac-12 tournament.
The winner of the conference tournament, like most of the other D-1 leagues, gets an automatic bid.
I think Big Ben would rather have that tied up in the regular season than pin his hopes on things working out March 7-10.