Last night, the sparsely populated/outdated Pauley Pavilion denizens were able to see the new Ben Howland, and a precursor to the
throwback showtime original brand of Bruin basketball that promises to be on display throughout the 2010-11 season. In a dominating 83-50 defeat of the defenseless Cal State Northridge Matadors, Howland’s Bruins pummeled the opposition with stifling, swarming, suffocating defense and – surprise! – a high-flying, potent offense.
Granted, this is ‘just’ CSUN, but the fact is in years past the Bruins haven’t exploded offensively much anywhere, against anybody. Scores of 53-49, 55-50 and 59-41 are generally the hallmark of the solid Bruin teams. . .which is generally nothing to complain about – unless you happen to be a college hoops mecca located minutes from Hollywood and a freeway jaunt from Showtime. The calls for Ben Howland’s firing were a bit egregious, but a tumultuous and underperforming season had Bruin fans clamoring for Steve Lavin. . .okay, that’s not quite the truth, but the Bruins 14-win season, coupled with transfers & dismissals of previously touted recruits (Morgan, Gooden) did not bode well for this year, as the Bruins were ranked only third in conference in the preseason coaches poll.
Bottom line? Howland had to ratchet up the tempo, not only to win ballgames. . .but to get back to winning recruits. One of THREE Bruin Tylers, Tyler Lamb and the monstrous frosh center Josh Smith – along with Laser-fast Juco transfer Lazeric Jones – formed one-third of Howland’s rotation and shot a combined 11-for-20 last night versus the Matadors, and all three displayed the attacking, almost-frenetic pace that may become commonplace for this year’s squad.
The team comes in with light expectations, and looks to be set to outpace all reasonable outlooks:
Malcolm Lee - clearly MUCH more comfortable as a shooting guard, was able to slash & drive his way to eight early points. Confidence is up, and should regain the All-American form that he was unable to feature during the Howland clampdown.
Tyler Honeycutt – reminds me of a more spindly Cedric Ceballos; not really a focus of designed plays but always finds the ball. . .and points. He’s barely carries 183 pounds on his 6’8″ frame, but can already shoot, pass & score like an All-Conference player.
Reeves Nelson – somewhere between Lorenzo Mata and Kevin Love – initially looked like it was heart, toughness & grit would be his hallmarks but a deft shooting touch and knack for scoring put this big man on the Pac-10 radar.
Brendan Lane – still a bit tentative in recovery from last year’s ankle injury, but he has a nice touch and is a good body down low; should further complement the stacked frontcourt for 2011-12 when the Wear twins gain eligibility.
Anthony Stover – very surprising toughness and touch. Going to be a very key player in Howland’s rotation, and a good addition to the frontcourt.
About the only negative from the ballgame was the further lack of progress from nice guy Jerime Anderson, who tallied one point less than Blake Arnet in a very forgettable 16 minutes of work. Anderson is in his third year and plans to be Howland’s ‘sixth man,’ but he needs to improve and regain the confidence he had coming out of high school.
The frontcourt is going to be a bit thin and a work in progress; though Jones & Lee form what is already a top NCAA duo, Lamb is still a freshman and Anderson needs to fill his role for the Bruins to really achieve this year.
That said, last night’s game augurs well for a huge season – the final score could easily have been about 96-35, and that’s how elite teams are supposed to stomp directional – or in this case, commuter – schools. Keep an eye on these Bruins, baby – Sweet 16 this year, championship caliber in 2011-2012.