It IS that time of year again! Conference Time! It is time to see how college basketball teams across the nation really stack up against their competition. Non-Conference schedules are for hippies, who needs them? Well, a few coaches and teams do. Which begs the question, especially at UCLA, how has new head coach, Steve Alford, done so far?
The UCLA Bruins are 11-2 heading into their conference opener against crosstown rival, USC. That is a good 11-2, as well as a bad 11-2. It is good because, for the majority of their games, UCLA has blown out their opponents. It is bad because majority of those games were against nobodies, but UCLA does currently have an RPI of 50, which is decent. Now you can go both ways when it comes to this team, they are good or bad because, this or that, blah, blah, blah. First off, let us break down what is and what is not working:
-First ever coach to go 8-0 in his first year
-9-0 to start at home
-85.5 points per game (13th in nation)
-18.4 assists per game (5th)
-Field goal percentage of .522 (2nd)
-10.7 steals per game (2nd)
-Kyle Anderson is thriving in this up-tempo offense
-Jordan Adams is getting nearly 20 points a game
-Defense is (almost) non-existent
-None of the four big men are averaging more rebounds than Anderson
-Not yet up to speed with the likes of Duke and Missouri
-Lack of second-half adjustments
This team is full of fast, athletic individuals and Alford is taking advantage of that, especially with a floor general like Anderson, who is getting 14.5 points, 6.7 assists and 8.7 rebounds per game. With the freedom to move around and get to the basket as soon as an opportunity opens up, rather than wear the clock down, is bringing out the best in Anderson. It is not the point to compare his gameplay to the old regime, but you can see how this offense is more beneficial.
Alford’s change in offense has also allowed others to perform at the top of their game. Adams is also doing a bang-up job of getting points for the Bruins. Along with freshman phenom Zach LaVine, who has had a spotlight on his young career early into this season, offense is coming easy and often to the Bruins.
The Bruin’s defense, which we will get into soon enough, is not completely atrocious. The Bruins are second in the nation in steals, which fuels a lot of UCLA’s transition game. The Bruin’s game plan is all good…until their opponents figure out how to breakdown their offense. Now when they do, that is a bad day for the Bruins, especially when they already have a few glaring deficiencies. And here they are now…
For having four big guys above 6’9” (not counting Anderson as he is the main PG), they are horrible at getting to the rim for rebounds. Boxing out is something these guys do not have in their toolbox. For being a “defensive minded” coach, there has not been a lot Alford can hang his hat on. Other than a recent scoring surge by Tony Parker, there has not been much else from Wanaah Bail, David Wear and Travis Wear.
Pac-12 play is next and the Bruins will be thrust into the throes of similarly-talented teams and if the Bruins are not ready for the likes of, oh, lets say, Arizona, then they will have a very long conference schedule. And it is not just their defensive weaknesses.
One of the more obvious deficiencies is the fact that UCLA appears to do the exact same thing in the second half as they do in the first. There are no halftime adjustments what so ever. Against Missouri and Duke, UCLA had good first halves. After the break, unlike their opponents, the Bruins would go out and try to force the same game. Elite coaching could see through this and in both games, UCLA was shutdown in the second half. So is finishing a game a problem for Alford and the Bruins?
If you just look at the games against Missouri and Duke, you might have a case. If you look at their victories, especially the last one against Alabama, you have a case for the opposite. In their wins, UCLA has defeated their opponent by an average of 21.7 points (least: 8 vs. Alabama, most: 41 vs. Chattanooga). In those games, UCLA has outplayed their opponents, so finishing a game was not something they had done…until Alabama rolled into town.
The reason this game, in particular, is a focal point, is because of the way the Bruins played. The Crimson Tide came in to Pauley Pavilion trying to steal a win from the cupcake-filled Bruins, who were the most formidable opponent UCLA has had at Pauley so far this season. The Tide lead 34-33 at halftime, but you know what? The Bruins came out in the second-half with a noticeably improved effort. The result: they finished the game and won.
Pesky Alabama would not go away, but in the final five minutes, UCLA toughened up and was controlling the end of the game. The Bruins actually changed things up by intensifying their plan of attack, which got them the win. This was something they did not do against Missouri and Duke, which leads us to believe that UCLA is learning.
If that is true, than the Bruins should have some momentum taking them into the game against the Trojans. If not, like it was stated previously, it will be a long conference schedule.