I had a chance to ask Jeffrey Poirier, the new editor at Go Joe Bruin, the Fansided site covering UCLA, a few questions regarding tonight’s 6pm road game against the Bruins. He has also asked me some questions, which will be posted on his site as well.
Q: Washington will carry a 13-9 record into tomorrow’s game, but whilethat’s three fewer wins than UCLA’s 16-6 record, due to vast differences in preseason expectations, it seems that the Bruins have had a much more disappointing season thus far. Would you agree with that? In your eyes, what would that record need to look like at this point in the year to have satisfied those sky-high expectations?
A: For UCLA, it really isn’t the number of losses that’s so frustrating, it’s the type of losses they were. I honestly am not too surprised that the Bruins have lost six games up to this point, mostly because they have only eight scholarship players, four of whom are true freshmen. But, like I said, the way UCLA loses is unacceptable.
The Bruins should never lose to Cal Poly, let alone at Pauley Pavilion. And losing to USC in basketball is like pulling teeth for UCLA fans. Similarly, following up a huge win over then-No. 6 Arizona with an embarrassing showing against ASU speaks to a lack of motivation and drive (and a glaring absence of interior big men).
So overall, I would say UCLA’s season is equally disappointing as Washington’s thus far, despite the three game difference in the loss column.
Q: Shabazz Muhammad started slow, but now he’s averaging over 18 points a game on solid 46.9% shooting. Would you say that he is now beginning to reach expectations? Where do you see him going in the NBA Draft after this year?
A: Shabazz has been an offensive monster since he first stepped on the court for UCLA. Sure, he has improved dramatically since his debut, but his offense was never really in question. He will find his shots, and he will get his points.
What’s more concerning for me, as far as Muhammad’s NBA Draft stock, is his performance in other aspects of the game. He has shown flashes of defensive prowess, but his effort and concentration on that end of the floor is inconsistent. He has also shown an ability to be a productive rebounder, but he doesn’t crash the boards like he should (especially on the defensive end because he is always running out in transition).
Assuming Shabazz bolts for the NBA (which is generally accepted that he will), I think he is undoubtedly a lottery pick based solely on his upside and offensive skill set. But if he can round out his game and progress in other aspects, he has the highest ceiling in the country.
Q: Which Washington player do you think is the biggest danger to UCLA?
A: The UW player with the best chance to frustrate UCLA is 7’0” center Aziz N’Diaye. As evidenced in the Arizona State and USC games, the Bruins do not have a formidable post presence. The Wear twins are both 6’10”, but they lack the physicality to bang in the paint. Freshman Tony Parker has a big body, but he gets into foul trouble way too quickly once teams start attacking him.
N’Diaye has the potential to dominate UCLA on the glass, while also getting high-percentage looks and tallying some blocks. All in all, he could have a really big night at Pauley this evening.
Q: UCLA is coming off of a bad road loss to Arizona State and an overtime loss to USC at Pauley Pavilion, while Washington just beat ASU at home to stop a four-game losing streak. Who would you say needs this win more? Would you categorize it as a “must win” for UCLA?
A: Frankly, I think both teams desperately need a win tonight. But if I had to choose, I would say it is a bigger game for UCLA, making it a “must-win” sort of situation. The first reason is because it’s in LA, and the Bruins can ill afford to drop another home game. Second, UCLA still has a glimmer of hope in the Pac-12 title race, but a sweep this weekend is almost a necessity to stay alive. And finally, if the Bruins hope to remain in the conversation for a respectable NCAA Tournament seed, they need to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat…which includes 13-9 Washington.
Q: If you could fire Howland right now, who would be your dream coach to take his place?
A: Personally, I am against midseason firings unless the team is literally falling apart. But for argument’s sake, let’s say Howland gets the axe after losing to UW and WSU this weekend. If that were the case, my ideal coach would probably come from an elite program back East. After all, this is UCLA basketball we’re talking about, so the allure is there. I’m thinking either Bill Self from Kansas, or Thad Matta from Ohio State. Another possible name would be Mark Few from Gonzaga. He has the West coast ties, and has taken the Zags from mid-major Cinderella to legitimate contenders.