The momentum for the campaign to fire UCLA head hoops coach Ben Howland is picking up.
In fact, it’s in full-swing. The freight train out of hell officially took off after UCLA was run out of its own gym by Cal Poly on Sunday night. Despite the Bruins laying claim to the best, young talent in college hoops, the team has looked thoroughly unimpressive, losing to Georgetown and Cal Poly while also escaping with wins against mediocre squads such as UCI and Georgia.
And while four of the players in UCLA’s nine-man rotation are new, there’s no excuse for losing to Cal Poly, a below-average Big West team. UCLA should have beaten the Mustangs on pure talent, and it’s evident that there’s a lot of things wrong with this squad.
Athleticism isn’t one of them, although Ben Howland will tell you otherwise. Sure, Kyle Anderson and the Wear twins are far from freakish athletes, but the entire UCLA roster is far superior in talent in every way possible to Cal Poly.
You can put a lot on the coach in this situation. In this writer’s opinion? Point to Ben Howland’s wacky rotations and severe misuse of the talent at his disposal. For some reason, Ben Howland insists on a two-Wear line-up, insists on sitting Jordan Adams — UCLA’s top scorer this season — and insists on making Kyle Anderson subordinate to Larry Drew II in the ball-handling department. In fact, UCLA started just one – one! – freshman from that vaunted 2012 recruiting class, opting to go with Drew II at the point, Norman Powell at the 2, Shabazz Muhammad at the small forward spot and David and Travis Wear at the 4 and the pivot, respectively.
Of course, this reeks of Howland’s tendency to entirely ignore the freshman talent at his disposal in favor of incumbent players and upperclassmen, actual performance be damned.
Should Norman Powell really get more minutes than Jordan Adams? Against Cal Poly, Ben Howland gave Powell ten more minutes than was given to UCLA’s leading scorer (and the fourth-best scorer among college freshmen in the nation), and Powell earns, on average, four more minutes than Adams does, while Adams is superior statistically in every way possible.
Meanwhile, UCLA’s most efficient big men are coming off the bench and are somehow buried in the rotation. Josh Smith and Tony Parker lead the team in field goal percentage, yet both average a combined 23 minutes per game, one more minute than David Wear and eight less minutes than Travis Wear.
And, as we’ve found out over and over again, those Wear twins can’t play on the court at the same time, since it leaves UCLA deficient on the defensive side of the ball. Indeed, Josh Smith and Kyle Anderson lead the team in defensive rating — the amount of points allowed per 100 possessions — and Travis/David Wear trail significantly. Meanwhile, both are subpar rebounders, a serious issue this season for the Bruins. Both rebound at lesser rates than Kyle Anderson and Josh Smith — essentially, Anderson plays better as a big than either Wear twin does — all while Josh Smith leads the team in block percentage, with Travis Wear coming in second and David Wear a lowly seventh on the team (behind, yes, Jordan Adams).
Larry Drew II’s ball-handling duties are excusable — he’s done a decent job of distributing the ball, although his court vision leaves something to be desired, and he is often more aggressive than Norman Powell, Travis Wear and David Wear — but Kyle Anderson has largely been underutilized, since his role seems to be that of a hybrid 3/4 playing either strictly on the perimeter or interior, but almost always off the ball.
All while fans have made similar cries to Howland to employ a zone defense in order to offset the opponents’ offense, which has torched this squad on the interior by forcing poor rotations out to the three-point line.
In summation, Ben Howland can’t seem to figure out how to creatively use the talent at his disposal, and that’s led to losses against Cal Poly and Georgetown, as well as close wins against Georgia and UCI.
That’s why Howland is on the hot seat, and it’s why you shouldn’t be surprised if the UCLA coach is dismissed midseason.
And why shouldn’t he be? What was supposed to be a special season is far from irreparable, but if Ben Howland continues to make these mistakes, it very well could be.