32.8% from the field. Honestly, I should just end this article there and move on.
The UCLA Bruins held Stanford to 59 points on 18-50 shooting (36%), including 6-20 from deep. This is a Stanford team that has averaged over 80 points on the season and is coming off a 100-point effort against Arizona just this past Sunday. By all accounts, that should have been enough to get the Bruins a victory.
But as has become painfully obvious throughout this season, this UCLA team has some real problems when it comes to offense. Specifically, they are just not good enough at shooting to win games, as the Bruins shot 32.8% from the field (19-58) and only hit a measly 3 of their 13 three-point attempts - with two coming in the final 30 seconds thanks to Sebastian Mack - en route to a 59-53 loss. This isn’t a case where Stanford has a really good defense - the Cardinal have an adjusted defense ranked 76th according to KenPom, which is not bad but not exactly great - but UCLA just lacks any sort of consistent outside shooting, which makes the offense one-dimensional and makes it much easier to defend them.
I think at this point it is pretty clear that the roster construction for this particular squad is flawed. Specifically, there is a real lack of shooting across the board. To be sure, there is talent here, but too many of the players involved are slashers like Mack who are at their best going downhill at the basket. The Bruins lack a true knockdown shooter, instead relying on unreliable options who are either misevaluations or practice performers. I’m talking guys like Lazar Stefanovic, who has spent all season looking like a guy who should not be playing 10+ minutes a game, let alone the 30+ he is routinely playing, but the options behind him are even worse so he’s stuck playing a role he does not fit. Stefanovic ended with four points on 2-7 shooting and was routinely hunted on defense. A similar thing is happening with Dylan Andrews, who can be a serviceable point guard in time but saw little developmental time last year and is now leading to an up-and-down sophomore season. Andrews had a terrible outing here, only scoring four points on 2-13 shooting and had four turnovers to only two assists, and for as good as I thought he played on the Oregon trip, this was a huge step backward. Jan Vide got the most run he’s had in a month, but his 1-6 outing did not inspire much confidence despite what people say he does in practice.
The story about coach Mick Cronin before he arrived at UCLA was that he was a coach who did not develop offense and focused on defense over everything else. That narrative took a huge hit the past few years as Cronin guided the Bruins to a Final Four and two Sweet Sixteen berths while executing on a highly efficient offense, but the naysayers are starting to get loud again. While there is a chance this statement ages poorly, I feel good at the moment in saying that the roster construction this year was missed in pretty clear ways, especially in what skills were prioritized and how recruiting effort and NIL money were distributed. To be clear, some of this is not Cronin’s fault: despite all of the pomp and circumstance thrown about at tonight’s game regarding the Men of Westwood, the UCLA administration has never truly gotten behind any NIL collective and has actively hampered efforts to raise funds in that regard, leaving UCLA behind the eight-ball compared to other programs. But we can’t let Cronin off the hook with how his staff approached roster construction, with way too many developmental guys and not enough shooting threats that could play immediately.
If you’re looking for things to build on, start with the interior, specifically the play of Adem Bona and Berke Buyuktuncel. Bona is truly figuring things out now that we’re in Pac-12 play, and he was by far UCLA’s best player on both ends in this game. There’s a case to be made that UCLA is not getting the ball to him enough on offense considering their shooting woes, though I’m not sure that’s the case. As-is, I think Bona is maxed out as far as what he can give this team, as he’s still not at a point where he can completely take over a game on offense without a shooting threat to keep opposing defenses honest and not immediately throwing multiple defenders at him. Buyuktuncel, meanwhile, continues to improve as an offensive player, looking more and more comfortable with the college game. I think if he can do a better job of limiting his fouls similar to what Bona has learned to do in recent weeks, you’d have a good frontcourt that can at least get some things done on both ends of the court. Sebastian Mack, similarly, would be a very good offensive piece with some shooters surrounding him, as his ability to get into the paint and either finish or draw contact is UCLA’s best offensive plan of attack at the moment. His defense is still a work-in-progress, but that’s to be expected from a freshman.
At this point, I think it is fair to consider the season to be over pending a wild turnaround by the UCLA offense. In that vein, we need to look toward what, if any, developments take place this season with the roster in place, and what, if any, changes Cronin makes with his approach to roster construction going forward.
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Thank you for writing what I’m sure was a difficult article. Appreciate your honesty.
Listening to Cronin's presser, he truthfully set out all of the teams flaws--can't shoot, unforced turnovers (even though the other team packed in under the paint and did not pressure the ball), fouls and at one point said something about not being very smart (stupid), and of course nobody able to hit the three. He also said that some/all of these things are not on him, it is on the players. When asked about improvement going forward, he said something like other teams adjust but his players can not adjust "on the fly" so his team does not improve. The sound on the presser was not good so I may not have heard some of the things he said properly. Bottom line, my opinion is that Cronin has given up on this team and it will continue to go down hill. Side note, I have tickets from my good U$C friend to see UCLA play U$C at Galen and I cringe to think watching UCLA in another terrible performance sitting next to my U$C friends.
Telling it like it is, thanks, Dmitri!
It would be nice if Bona learned when to anticipate an inside dish.
DD had a thoughtful column earlier on the "process over results," to manage our expectations and to ask for patience in this non-Tournament year.
But what if the process is all wrong?
The wrong starters, questionable substitutions, mismatched players on the court, poor end of game clock management.
But overall it's the offense, and this is nothing new. He has a long track record of this criticism, it was the knock on him when he came to Westwood ("Negative recruiting!," complained CMC), and it's true now. Excerpts from a Bearcats fansite nearly 5 years ago (emphasis added mine) still apply:
"...the offense...has been Cronin’s weakness for OVER a decade now. When he first started at Cincinnati, he had to focus on defense because that was his philosophy and his first few recruiting classes greatly lacked offensive prowess due to the status of the program at the time. The great equalizer for those early teams was their gritty defense and affinity for grinding out games. This led to wins in games they probably should not have won.
"...Mick Cronin has the SAME flaws as a coach that he had TEN years ago. Some fans go way too far and call Cronin a bad coach which he isn’t. You don’t make it to the tournament eight seasons in a row (soon to be nine) being a bad coach. Cronin just has very defined limitations and they stem from recruiting and his invasive coaching style.
"Cronin’s recruits all virtually have the same basketball DNA. High 3-star, low 4-star recruit, plays good on-ball defense, but needs work on the offensive end...Cronin is not a good offensive coach. [players] did not or will not develop into dynamic offensive options over their college careers because Mick refuses to focus on developing players’ offensive skill sets.
"Couple this with the fact that officiating rules have changed in favor of faster and more offensive-oriented basketball and the Cincinnati Bearcats look like they are PLAYING IN THE STONE AGES..."
"..... At some point, you have to hit shots. You can beat the dregs of the AMERICAN with these numbers but you are not going to consistently beat the best teams in the conference, let alone the country, by consistently shooting under forty percent from the field. And the worst part is that this IS NOT NEW in the Cronin era."
"... Cronin is a MICROMANAGER during a game. He yells at his point guards and tells them which play to run on almost every trip down the floor and he is quick to pull out any and everybody that makes a mistake. This is probably Cronin’s worst trait as a basketball coach. You cannot take players out each and every time they make a mistake because they will lose their confidence and rhythm when you initially take them and when they realize the pattern, they will only focus on not making mistakes so they aren’t taken out instead of just trying to win the game. How many times have you seen a Bearcat player turn the ball over or commit a foul and then look over to the bench to see if they are coming out? That should never be the case. Players should not play in fear of making mistake because then the focus isn’t on the game itself. This causes players to play tight and they do not let the game come to them.
"...he recruited those players and the amount of guys that provide no outside shooting threat is staggering...That type of recruiting is simply not paying attention to the CHANGING BASKETBALL LANDSCAPE.
"...Again, Mick Cronin is not a bad coach. He just has severe limitations that will keep him from making a deep run in the tournament..."
Motivation is a good thing. Calling your young players lacking of aptitude, as Ben Bolch headlined his article in the LA Times yesterday, is not motivation--it is bullying and humiliation. Tom Knight type "motivation" aka intimidation. Coach felt that Knight was a great X and O man but not a very good human being. Is this where our current coach is headed? His antics on the bench during the game--quick pulls and a face of total anger--does not bode well.
One more comment...
Mick stating that freshman don't or can't get better as the season progresses is yet another indictment of his coaching. He uses the excuse that opposing teams know how to play the freshman as the season progresses so apparently he never watched Toby Bailey or JR Henderson or Amari Baily play...