It's a bit of a mixed bag without Gordon. While he was the Bruins' best shot blocker, he did it more often coming from the weakside. He often did a good job coming across to help and defend the rim, resulting in blocked shots or altered shots, but he was not the best on ball defender. I think Reeves Nelson is better on the ball than Gordon was so on direct passes to the center, which requires on ball defending, the Bruins are better than they were, but on slashes and drives to the basket, they are not nearly as good as they were. Overall, I'd say UCLA isn't as good defending the paint.
2. How has Tyler Honeycutt's absence in the earlier part of the year hurt the Bruins? Do you think his insertion into the starting lineup will have drastic effects on the way they play?
Having him inserted into the starting lineup should give the Bruins a better defensive team because Jerime Anderson was struggling to stay in front of players and Honeycutt's length can prove effective if the Bruins go to zone. Offensively, Honeycutt gives the Bruins another player who moves the ball well and can get cheap baskets off of offensive rebounds, but the one drawback could be that Malcolm Lee becomes too much of a distributor as the point guard and UCLA loses their best perimeter scorer.
3. Does Malcolm Lee playing point guard appeal to you? How do you feel he matches up against Jerome Randle?
As mentioned above, the biggest concern I have about Malcolm Lee the point guard is that he tries to be too much of a distributor and as a result, we lose the player who is probably our best pure scorer. The other concern I have is that it forces Michael Roll to play shooting guard and he has enough trouble staying in front of small forwards. That said, I think it is a positive for the team. Point guards have broke down the UCLA defense far too often and Lee is the Bruins' best defender so having him guarding point guards should help in that respect. Lee also does a better job getting to the paint than Anderson so the Bruins have the chance to cause chaos for the opposing defense, which hasn't been the case with Anderson.
Lee matches up with Randle better than Anderson would. At 6'3'' and long, Lee will be able to close out and challenge Randle's shot better than most so while Randle is still a fantastic shooter, Lee should at least make it tough on him. Lee is also stronger than most point guards so unless the referees call the game very tight, Lee should be able to muscle Randle around at times to spots on the floor where help is available and it could also frustrate Randle. On the other side of the floor, the height advantage Lee has should allow him to make passes relatively easily and shoot over Randle, although high pressure could force Lee to give the ball up early and take a key to UCLA's offense out of the possession early on. While Randle is an exceptional player, Lee certainly matches up with him better than Anderson so UCLA at least has a fighting chance in that match up.
Frankly, there isn't much Howland could do at this point. I know a lot of UCLA fans point to adjustments on both sides of the floor, changing the rotation and a variety of other things, but at the heart of all UCLA's struggles this season is a team that lacks talent. While most of UCLA's players were highly ranked by recruiting outlets, they have not proven to be as athletic as need be and their attitudes have come into question. This is a team that lacks talent so playing like previous years' teams is out of the question. Coaching can only take a team with very limited talent so far. Getting into the right direction though is a possibility and it starts with an attitude adjustment. Too often we have seen a UCLA team that looks disinterested. The effort and focus exhibited versus Kansas, the first half of Notre Dame and first half of Arizona St. was commendable and leaves most to wonder why that hasn't been more regular. To many UCLA fans, the frustration comes not from the losing, but how this team has lost and it has been a lack of effort and focus, specifically defensively.
There's a definite split among UCLA fans. There is a group of UCLA fans who I would call delusional and can't find joy in anything less than a national title. They cannot come to grips with the fact that the world of college basketball has changed and no coach, not even Coach Wooden, could be as dominant as UCLA basketball once has. There is also a group of UCLA fans who will blindly follow Howland and trust anything he will do. Take away the two groups I've mentioned and I think we'll find the majority of UCLA fans, all of whom are concerned, but not near the stage where Howland is on the hot seat. I don't think there is any doubt that Howland has taken some wrong turns and most of that goes back to recruiting, but in my mind, it's more scouting.
UCLA gets a majority of the recruits it goes after so a roster so devoid of talent goes back to scouting, in my opinion. The downtown in recruiting can be traced to the departure of Kerry Keating and Ernie Ziegler, two assistant coaches who left UCLA to become head coaches elsewhere. How Howland adjusts to this clear trouble will determine where the hearts of UCLA fans lie with regards to his stewardship of the basketball program. Most have no doubt that this season is disappointing and is not acceptable at UCLA, but they have faith in his ability to turn the program around. They are aware of the program's deficiencies though and demand to see those issues addressed by next season. If next season is as poor as this one, they will have no problem throwing Howland on the very hot seat after next season.