Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 11/16/11
I'm guessing UCLA center Joshua Smith learned his lesson and won't be tweeting out that the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders are a bunch of "bums," as he described the LMU squad after the Bruins lost to the Lions by double digits. The Raiders walked away from the Los Angeles Sports Arena with a 20-point victory over a UCLA squad that was the preseason pick to win the Pac-12 Conference. Instead of making good on that promise, the team is now 0-2 and earlier in the day saw their Sports Illustrated cover boy Reeves Nelson suspended indefinitely for "conduct unbecoming a member of the UCLA basketball team". Nelson, the team's MVP last year, an emotional player is certainly euphemizing his mental approach to the game, might have missed that single game, or his UCLA career could be completely over. Take the performance by the Bruins in their season opener and the suggestion from Travis Wear that he and the team were "just looking ahead to Maui," and you'd have to say Ben Howland certainly has left himself open to criticism. The coach didn't have his team ready to play, and they certainly weren't focused on defense, or fluid on offense against two teams that on paper looked to be outmatched. But of course, the game isn't played on paper, it's played on a hardwood floor, and out there, these two teams simply clowned the Bruins. Middle Tennessee was lights out from the floor, prompting Howland to say "I've never had a team allow another team to shoot 71 from the field. That's incredible." Instead of incredible I would say embarrassing. Not to take anything away from the Blue Raiders, they have a solid team with good players, but the Bruins defense stayed in Westwood while the human vessels that carry that defense showed up at the Sports Arena. The offense was atrocious, one missed jump shot after another for a 37 shooting night, and it was even worse from 3-point range, 20. But at least they made up for that debacle by attempting nearly a third of their shots from that distance. Because a football season is ruined by a single game, there is much more attention paid to a loss at Houston, or a drubbing at Utah. After the Bruins were humiliated on national TV by Arizona, the calls for a man's job came raining down. But basketball is different. Howland has one task he needs to fulfill. Win enough games to make the NCAA tournament and have a good showing. Understand this is not unfamiliar territory. If you look at last season, you'll remember the Bruins got stuck with a loss by Montana early on, and two nights before Christmas got a break with a one-point victory over UC Irvine in a game which they certainly were outplayed, both coming at Pauley Pavilion nonetheless. Still they rallied to win enough games in conference, made it into the brackets and once Howland notched that victory over Michigan State, he had his signature win for the season, a season not much was expected from and was able to relax in the offseason. That certainly wasn't the case in 2009 considering their 14-18 record. Howland wasn't able to squeeze his team into the postseason, which meant a whole summer went by where losses to local teams from Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State, not to mention the 30-point loss to the WCC visiting Portland were left to remember. This year the expectations are high, as evidenced by the preseason ranking. We got our first look at Jerime Anderson and it wasn't all that special, how could it be with a 20-point loss to show for the effort? Howland said they need to get "a" win, and that better come in the open of the Maui Invitational against D-II Chaminade before taking on the winner of the GeorgetownKansas game. Funny thing is, win two or three games over there and all of this is moot. It will be chalked up to early season discomfort from not playing on campus, from working in so many new guys, and all will be forgiven. But lose by 20 to the Hoyas, and certainly all those preseason celebrations will be a thing of the past and Howland will be feeling some of that heat that's been limited to the office that reads "Football Head Coach" down the hall.
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