Fast Break: Upset a sign of trouble for UCLA?

Maybe it is time to ask, for about the 30th time in the last four years, what is up with UCLA basketball.

You have heard by now that the Bruins blew an 18-point second-half lead and lost to Cal Poly on Sunday. This game was played in front of 8,317 people in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, which holds 12,829. At the end of the game, after UCLA tied it, Norman Powell committed a foul on purpose with 11 seconds left. Come to find out, that was because he didn’t know what the score was.

“At the end we just gave up,” Shabazz Muhammad said.

That’s the good news. At least that’s what UCLA had better hope. The Bruins had better hope they didn’t blow an 18-point lead at home to Cal Poly while giving their best effort.

Because that would be trouble.

But that’s the micro-trouble. There is macro-trouble with UCLA, too, and it is more difficult to understand. Tyler Lamb, a junior guard who had started all but one game, just announced he’s leaving the program. He was concerned about his playing time. Wednesday, center Josh Smith left the Bruins too. And who could forget the calamity with Reeves Nelson, the talented forward the Bruins dismissed last year?

On their own, those are not particularly troubling stories. Players transfer all the time. Sometimes you have to kick a guy off the team. It doesn’t necessarily mean the program is in disarray.

But since appearing in three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08, UCLA has made the NCAA Tournament just twice, and not gotten out of the round of 32 either time. The Bruins’ record over the last four years? It’s 82-52, a winning percentage of 61.

Obviously this is not acceptable at a place with the tradition of UCLA. On the other hand, that tradition is starting to look as dated as Pauley Pavilion did before its renovation this year. Look at the last 30 years of UCLA basketball. It won a championship in 1995 under Jim Harrick, who went 192-62 (.756) in eight seasons. Every other coach at UCLA since Larry Brown left in 1981 is a combined 484-242 (.667).

This is 30 years we’re talking about. That’s long enough to draw some conclusions, and the conclusion here is that for whatever reason this is just the way it’s going to be at UCLA. The Bruins will always be OK, and every now and then they’ll be great, but ultimately the Bruins are going to win about two out of three.

And two out of three ain’t bad, but it ain’t John Wooden.

Duke on the other hand …

Look at the Blue Devils. Just look at them. They’ve beaten Kentucky and Louisville, already, which means they already have two wins over top-five teams.

They shoot 37 percent from the 3-point line, 79 percent at the foul line and they have a big white guy who’s averaging 20 and 10. It’s a classic Duke team, and one that appears good enough to win the national title. If the Blue Devils could quickly add a floor-slapping guard who took a lot of charges, you could just hand them the trophy right now.

I don’t want to throw fire on your already burning rage, but we could end up with a world in which Notre Dame and Duke simultaneously hold the national titles in football and basketball, respectively.

A quick word about the 138-point guy …

Grinnell’s Jack Taylor scored 138 points in a single game last week, and that made some people angry. Some people felt that he and Grinnell made a mockery of the game of basketball.

I disagree, but let’s say they did. So what? Is basketball sacred? Is there some kind of geopolitical or spiritual consequence for mocking it? Are you prepared to make a logical, cogent argument that even though scoring 138 points is possible, it shouldn’t be done? Let’s not act like this hasn’t been tried before. Anybody who remembers LaceDarius Dunn knows that guy went into every game thinking about scoring 100.

If you argue against Taylor, just know you’re going to sound exactly like one of those people who thought rock ‘n’ roll should be banished from the earth.

Telling stats

21 – Number of points scored by Jack Taylor in his first game after scoring 138. Taylor averages 51.5 points per game overall, but if you remove the record-breaking performance, he averages 22.7.

4 – Number of current ranked or receiving-votes teams Duke (6-0) has defeated already this season: No. 8 Kentucky, No. 21 Minnesota, No. 5 Louisville and VCU (RV). The Blue Devils play No. 4 Ohio State on Wednesday.

They said it

“We’re just not super athletic. We are long, we have good size, but with the exception of Larry and Norman, being out, stepping out beyond the 3-point line defensively for us is a struggle. Our lateral quickness is average from that point forward.” — UCLA coach Ben Howland after his team allowed Cal Poly to shoot 57 percent from the floor in the second half of UCLA’s 70-68 loss.

“We don’t have Tyler Hansbrough, we don’t have Sean May, we don’t have Tyler Zeller, we don’t have John Henson, guys that score around the basket. … It always tickled me the way people in the past would say, ‘Oh, the referees always call so many fouls for North Carolina. Well, their team was shooting 35 3s and we were shooting six. We were getting the ball inside.” — North Carolina coach Roy Williams on his team’s relative lack of free-throw attempts this season.

Player of the year watch

1. Trey Burke, Michigan
I’m placing Burke No. 1 because I feel there is a slight but persistent bias against guards when it comes to awards like this, and I refuse to be guilty of it.

2. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
He’s averaging 24 points and seven rebounds per game, and he takes over in this space for Cody Zeller, who has the misfortune of playing on a balanced team.

3.  Mason Plumlee, Duke

A big man that averages 20 and 10 for a top-five team is going to be a finalist for this award every single time.
Ups and Downs

Down: Baylor
The loss to Colorado was forgivable, because Colorado is one of the better teams in the Pac-12. But College of Charleston? Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: An opponent got really hot against Baylor. There’s a reason for this, and it isn’t dumb luck.  

Up: Michigan
The Wolverines beat Pitt and Kansas State the same week. Granted, the Wolverines should have beaten Pitt and Kansas State, but they still beat Pitt and Kansas State, and doing what you’re supposed to do counts for something.

Down: UNLV
The Rebels blew their first chance for a good win, losing to Oregon. A 12-point win over Iowa State proves nothing.

Up: Butler

Beating Marquette and North Carolina trumps losing to Illinois. Besides, did you SEE that shot Rotnei Clarke made?

Down: UCLA
… and I have a feeling UCLA is going to get even more down before it comes back up again.

Up: Duke
The Blue Devils are going to feel relieved when ACC play begins.

Conference power rankings

1. Big Ten
2. No selection
3. Big East
4. SEC
5. ACC
6. Pac-12
7. Big 12
Crystal ball

North Carolina never gets into one of its trademark runs at Indiana. The Hoosiers pound UNC on the glass en route to a comfortable win. Zeller scores 28.

A late offensive foul call against Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas helps Duke hold on for a 66-61 win.

Minnesota’s time in the Top 25 is brief, as it loses at Florida State in a “Big Ten Blowout” (i.e., by more than eight).