Coming off a determined overtime win over the WSU Cougars and a less-than ideal thumping at the hands of the UW Huskies, our young Bears head down to SoCal for one of the tougher Pac-10 road trips. Up first are Ben Howland's perplexing Bruins.
After a two-game losing streak where fans and writers alike decried their team for a lack of maturity, leadership, and consistency, the Bruins pulled it together and swept the Oregon schools on the road. Okay, so it's not exactly like knocking off two powerhouses, but every Pac-10 team is dangerous on any given night. Just ask the previously front-running USC Trojans who managed to get upset twice.
On paper, the Bruins look like a dangerous team. They have size, athleticism, shooting, and a proven coach. Ben Howland's best teams have always used tough-nosed, smothering defense as their calling card. Their guards and wings will pressure the ball while their bigs deny the post. If/when you are able to work the ball inside, they like to bring an array of double-teams forcing you to give it up and make the extra pass.
On offense, they control the tempo and play at a more deliberate pace. However, they will push it in transition off of turnovers forced by their defense.
Fortunately for us, this isn't one of Ben Howland's best teams. Without a senior on the roster, they're relying on three freshmen and three sophomores to play significant minutes.
If you're a stats/numbers guy, here's the link to kenpom's analysis:
The short version is that they're not a great free-throw or 3-pt shooting team, and have issues with turning the ball over. They are third in the league in assists per game, but are otherwise middle of the pack with regards to defense, rebounding, steals, and blocks.
Frosh Josh Smith (C) is The Mountain Who Walks. He has soft hands, decent feet, and does a nice job finishing in the paint. (10.2 ppg, 6.8 rebounds) As you might imagine, he can be a load on the boards, especially on the offensive end where he leads the league with 3.7 offensive rebounds per game. However, he continues to struggle with conditioning and maturity issues. He has a tendency to complain to the refs, has spouted off to the media...oh, and he decided to flip off some 'sc fans. I find it hard to fault him too much for that last bit - who among us hasn't wanted to do the exact same thing?
Reeves Nelson (PF) is that annoying guy on the other team that does a lot of things well. He has a bit of an outside shot to go with a post-game and is mobile enough to put it on the floor.(14.9 ppg, 8.1 rebounds) However, he's also reportedly had attitude and conditioning issues. Some of the Bruin fans have taken to calling him "Half" Nelson because he can only play hard for about half the game.
Tyler Honeycutt(SF) oozes potential and athleticism. He might be the toughest cover for our guys, especially when they go small and put him at the 4-spot.(14.3 ppg, 7.7 rebounds) He's the guy most like to have the tv announcers drooling about "upside," "NBA-ready," and having "all the tools in the toolbox." You've been forewarned. Please try not to hurl.
Malcolm Lee (G) is their best defender and resident tough guy. He's a streaky outside shooter, but also uses his quicks and strength to get inside.(12.2 ppg) At 6'5, he's the guy most likely to be assigned to slow down Allen Crabbe.
Lazuric Jones (G) is their steadiest player who leads them with assists. (10ppg, 3.3 apg) Although he was slowed by a finger injury earlier in the year, his return to form has really helped stabilize their backcourt. He's an efficient player is is one of the league leaders in assist to turnover ratio.
Jerime Anderson (G) struggled earlier in the year, but has been breaking out lately. Over the past few games, he has been their best outside shooter and has really benefited from being moved off the ball. Now that he doesn't have to worry about running the point, he's been making better decisions and knocking down open 3's.
The battle in the paint will go a long way towards determining how this one plays out. It will be strength on strength as Kamp and MSF try to keep Smith and the Bruin high-fliers from dominating the offensive glass.
Nelson, Smith, and Honeycutt aren't quite as proficient on the defensive end, but clearly have the height advantage. If Kamp/MSF are able to stay out of foul trouble and establish a low-post scoring presence, it'll go a long way towards making this one a contest. Some of our astute posters have predicted that Howland will have his bigs camp on MSF's right shoulder and over-play the lefty hook. (Cue angry MSF face!!!)
Howland also likes to aggressively double team the post. If so, it'll be important for Kamp and MSF to make good decisions and swing the ball crisply. The Bruin bigs can get sloppy with their rotations, so being patient with running the offense will be important.
As the undercard, it'll be interesting to see if Crabbe can continue his scoring onslaught when matched up against one of the league's better defenders. I'm a little worried about this one - Malcolm Lee is the one guy on their team who absolutely brings it all game and every game.
And last, the turnover battle will be important. Both teams are prone to get sloppy with the ball. Considering that both teams can struggle on offense at times, taking advantage of transition baskets could be pivotal.
Kenpom says that the Bruins should win this one. But I remember Monty Buckley leading a young Cal team down to Westwood and pulling off It really depends on which Bruin team shows up. If they come out motivated, energetic, and put forth a solid effort for 40 minutes, we're going to have a tough night. But the loss to Montana shows that this team is also capable of losing to anyone. Like many young teams, they can be inconsistent with their effort, particularly on the defensive end. And although talented, some of their key players are susceptible to mental and emotional lapses. (*Cough* Headcases. *Cough*)
If we can come out, hit them in the mouth, and get them frustrated, it'll go a long way towards negating their home crowd. I suspect Monty will start with a zone to limit their size advantage inside and to stop their athletic guards from driving on us. On offense, I'd expect to see some more high-low post sets, especially with Harper at the high post to take advantage of his passing skills and mobility. This would be a really nice time for Jorge to break out of his shooting slump, especially if Crabbe has trouble freeing himself up from Lee. We'll also need Smith to continue his run of steady play in the face of hostile crowd and an aggressive Bruin defense. It's a tall order to steal one on the road, but our guys certainly do not lack for heart nor toughness.