To paraphrase Dennis Green, UCLA is not who we thought they were. As of this moment, this is what they are.
They are not a Final Four team. They are not a Pac-12 contender. They are not the best team in Southern California. They are a team with problems that need to be solved before they can be considered great, let alone elite. There’s no shame in losing to San Diego State, but the shame is seeing UCLA’s weaknesses continue to be exposed.
The biggest problems so far? Shabazz Muhammad isn’t in game shape. They can’t defend the perimeter against good teams. They’re still figuring out team chemistry and overseeing it is a coach who can’t manage the personalities or maximize the talent he has.
Muhammad’s problem will be solved in time as he continues to play. He may not be dominating, but he leaves his mark on the court and is good for 15-17 points a night. I’m not worried because by the time conference play starts, he’ll be ready to prove himself as one of the best freshmen in the country.
Chemistry will take time as well and it’ll be easier with only 7-8 guys playing big minutes. Yet Ben Howland needs to find a way to better utilize Kyle Anderson, because while he’s the team’s best rebounder, he’s being wasted as a facilitator and is shooting the ball poorly.
Perimeter defense, however, will not be easily solved. UCLA gave up big 3-pointers to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and 11 against San Diego State. It’s the result of the Bruins switching to a 2-3 zone that has hid some of their weaknesses, but the tradeoff is exposing more problems. What will happen when the Bruins face some of the Pac-12′s best scorers if they allowed 28 points to San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin?
It’s become a broken record to lament UCLA’s shortcomings. But as fans are getting more restless and the vice grip goes tighter around Howland, the Bruins need to show something against Texas on Saturday. Otherwise, waiting for the proverbial switch to flip once conference play is going to be even more disappointing.