Before we tip-off tomorrow night's game, we decided to get a little Pre-Game chat going with Bruins Nation, the SB Nation UCLA blog. We asked Ryan Rosenblatt some questions about tomorrow's game, and his responses are below. You can view my responses to Ryan's questions here. Enjoy!
Q. Who has been the best player so far the Bruins? Who should Beaver fans be looking out for?
A. That's an outstanding question and one that the Bruins are trying to figure out. Tyler Honeycutt is the most talented player on the team and when he's on is nearly unstoppable, as his 31 point performance against Kansas showed. That said, Howland still hasn't figured out how to best use him and Honeycutt doesn't demand the ball so he can easily fall out of a game.
Reeves Nelson has been the most productive player this year with 15 points per game on 55% shooting, but he can easily fall in and out of a game several times depending on his emotions. Malcolm Lee is the Bruins' best defender and has been a dominant scorer in a couple games, but his offensive game is inconsistent as well so who knows who the best player is.
Q. Obviously, UCLA is a dangerous team with great wins against BYU and Washington State. But the Bruins have not looked like the same team that consistently contended for the Pac-10 title before the last couple of seasons. What's the main reason for that, if there is one?
A. Oh, trying to find a main reason is nearly impossible. A lot of things have contributed to the Bruins' fall since their three straight Final Fours. One is that a couple of the assistant coaches that covered some of Howland's deficiencies left for head coaching jobs and Howland has done a poor job hiring replacements who have been described by some as "Yes Men."
Howland has also loosened his grip on the team, allowing some players to get away with less than stellar effort at times and that has spread, something that can be cancerous when he's recruited guys who have questionable attitudes to start with. Add in an unusually weak crop of recruits in California the last couple years and Howland's fruitless chasing of national recruits that he had no shot at and this is what you get.
Q. What must happen for UCLA to make the postseason?
A. At this point, UCLA probably will need to finish in the top two of the Pac-10 or win the Pac-10 Tournament. Losing to Montana looks like it won't be a bad loss because they're playing very well, but with only one quality out of conference win to their resume, it's going to be tough to get an at-large bid without a top two Pac-10 finish.
Q. With the lack of depth and "conditioning" on this year's team, what do you expect to be done tactically to "shorten" games, and protect an area of weakness, vs. emphasizing the portions of the game that are going well?
A. The conditioning of the team isn't as much of a concern as it is keeping guys out of foul trouble. Specifically, Josh Smith needs to stay out of foul trouble. He gets called for one or two unfair fouls a game where he's punished for being big, but he also has one or two stupid fouls a game that he needs to cut out. If he can stay on the court, UCLA doesn't have a huge depth issue, but if he or anyone else does, Howland uses his timeouts and fouls to sub offense for defense when he can. Aside from that, the Bruins don't do a ton to shorten games.
Rest of the Q&A after the breakQ. Which newcomer has had the biggest impact for the Bruins?
A. We'll call it a tie between Josh Smith and Lazeric Jones. Smith should be the biggest impact guy, but his continued foul trouble and UCLA's inability to get him the ball regularly has lessened his impact. Meanwhile, Jones has stepped in as a JUCO transfer and given the Bruins adequate minutes and the point guard position, where they desperately needed help. Because point guard was such a need (to the point that Jones' merely adequate player is considered a huge upgrade), Jones gets thrown into the mix.
Q. Did you guys lose anyone from last year's team, and if so, were they key player(s)?
A. The biggest loss from a year ago is Michael Roll. This year's team doesn't have a senior and is clearly lacking a leader. Roll was just that and he was also a good shooter, something that Bruins could use right now. Add in Roll's ability to throw a great entry pass and you have a player who could fit a lot of holes. Having another player who gives 100% at all times would be nice too, which says a lot about where the team is right now.
Q. Predictions for the game?
A. Truthfully, it's hard to predict anything this UCLA team will do. When playing their best, they can win the Pac-10, but they don't have the attitude necessary to play their best regularly and haven't done it for an entire game, let alone game to game. There's no way anyone could predict what this UCLA team will do, but if I had to, I'd say the Bruins win just because it would make me feel better.