UCLA’s weighty issues still center on Josh Smith

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(Too many puns in that headline?)

The last thing Ben Howland needs is another sub-par season at UCLA.

The Bruins missed the NCAA tournament in 2010 and shook off a rough start last season to get back to the Big Dance and finish second in the Pac-10. That was enough to silence any hot seat talk that popped up, but another slow start or Pac-12 issues in 2012 will create miffed fans in L.A.

An out-of-shape Joshua Smith won’t help, either.

Smith, the talented sophomore center who averaged 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game last season, has gained about 10 pounds this summer – when he probably should’ve lost 10 or 20. Howland apparently wasn’t too happy when he told that to CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish.

UCLA’s frontline will be its strength next season. Smith’s the most dynamic presence on that line and the key to the Bruins conference title hopes. When he’s on, he’s a force. But he’s 6-10 and 305 pounds (at least). Any heavier and he’ll lose effectiveness because of fatigue and no explosiveness.

Will he lose the weight by October? Maybe. It’s been an issue since before he arrived at UCLA and it’ll almost certainly be an issue when he’s in the NBA. He learned to control his temper and his fouls (somewhat) last year, which was a major factor in UCLA’s late surge.

But the weight is the big issue. And UCLA can’t afford it to be in 2011-12.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.