Mar 26, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; UCLA Bruins head coach Steve Alford huddles with his players during practice for the south regional of the 2014 NCAA Mens Basketball Championship at FedEx Forum. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA Basketball, A Force To Be Reckoned With

UCLA basketball will have a completely different look next season. Off-season changes have both added and subtracted to the roster and in turn, the structure of the team. Can head coach Steve Alford continue the winning ways in his second season or this going to be a “rebuilding year”? In this writer’s opinion, UCLA will be very different, but will also be a Top 25 team and a force to be reckoned with. Here is why…

A Tall Group Of Young Men

The Bruins have four recruits coming to Westwood, the shortest being 6’8″ five-star PF Kevon Looney who averaged 27.9 points and 12.7 rebounds per game in high school last season and was named Wisconsin’s “Mr. Basketball”. The guys that stand at 6’9″ are four-star SF Jonah Bolden and three-star C Gyorgy Goloman. Bolden is Findlay Prep product out of Henderson, Nevada that put in 11.6 points and grabbed 7.4 rebounds a game. As a forward in a crowded front court, he could see time at SF and just imagine what kind of nightmare match-ups that will cause.

Goloman is a very active big man that moves well with the ball, although, getting time in the workout room will be essential if he wants to compete under the basket in Division1 basketball. He should see some time on the court as center, but will most likely be playing behind 7’0″ four-star C Thomas Welsh. This gem had an incredible boost in production last season is looking better than projected. With 15.3 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game, he should be a solid fixture in the Bruin’s game plan. It is incredible how well he handles the ball and is reminiscent of Kevin Love, though a slimmer version.

Welsh will see time on the court, but it will be behind the starting center, Tony Parker. As for Parker…

Tony Parker Will Be Huge

Mar 27, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; UCLA Bruins forward/center Tony Parker (23) drives to the basket against the Florida Gators during the second half in the semifinals of the south regional of the 2014 NCAA Mens Basketball Championship tournament at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Parker had a excellent jump in production from his freshmen to sophomore year. As the most dominant big man on the Bruin’s squad he had to take on a lot of the burden underneath, but the time spent was experience for him. That experience will pay off after an off-season of improvements and help from the four new big men.

Last season, Parker’s numbers all shot up. Imagine that as he was getting actual playing time. In his freshmen year, he averaged 6.3 minutes. Last season, averaging over time minutes more on the court boosted his points from 2.4 to 6.9, increased his rebounds from 1.2 to 4.4 and upped his field goal percentage from .541 to .602. Additionally, he had the highest FG% of any Bruins on the team. Now that he has help underneath the basket, he can worry less about the overall work at center and focus on his individual game.

Alford’s Second Half Changes

UCLA got better as they season progressed last year, which is fantastic when you realize it was also head coach Steve Alford’s first season. The Bruins had horrible outings at Missouri and against Duke at Madison Square Garden, it seemed to nullify their 8-0 start. But as the team continued to play together, they got better, especially in conference.

Bruin fans may be overly eager for UCLA basketball to return to elite status, but they should be safe in knowing that the Bruins are getting there. It takes time to build a champion. With one year under his belt, Steve Alford knows the demands of a top tier basketball program and has been setting the Bruins on the right direction, especially when it comes to making adjustments.

There were five games that the Bruins played in conference in which they were down at halftime and came back to win. Second-half adjustments pushed the Bruins and help them find a way to victory. They had a game against Oregon State that saw them down by nine at the half, only to come back and win by five. In a game against Utah, the Bruins had a 2 point edge at the half which they built to a 14 point win.

Do not forget that UCLA ran through the Pac-12 tournament and beat the top team in the conference, Arizona, for the Championship. That is improvement however you look at it. Now if Alford can figure out how to get a road sweep, the Bruins will be in good position to do a lot of damage this coming year.

A Changing Of The Guards

Mar 21, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Colorado State Rams guard Jon Octeus (5) dunks against Missouri Tigers guard Jabari Brown (32) in the second half during the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament at Rupp Arena. Colorado State defeated 84-72. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The Bruins would give anything to get back Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine, but as they move on to the NBA, UCLA must move on as well. Luckily, the Bruins have several talented guards that will try to make up for the lack of production. Bryce Alford, Noah Allen, Isaac Hamilton, Jon Octeus and Norman Powell will all be getting some time at the 1 and 2 spot. Each of them have their own skills that will help the Bruins throughout the year.

The main concern is that UCLA does not have a true point guard, although Alford and Hamilton were said to be getting the most time at the 1 by the head coach. The Bruins also got some insurance in fourth year transfer Octeus who had some time playing point at Colorado State. Sure there is no true PG, but there is a lot of experience playing PG.

Alford has the most and as an All-Pac-12 freshman team member last year, he looks to improve his game and take the reigns of this team. Hamilton could do the same, but he is yet to play a game of college ball. He has studied the Bruins game for the last year and knows what to expect. His speed and skills should only help UCLA’s up-tempo style. Last year at CSU, Octeus averaged 13.4 points, 2.3 assists and an incredible 4.7 rebounds. Imagine that, not only will the Bruins have help from the big men in rebounds, but now have a guard that could be in the mix to bring down boards. Incredible.

Norman Powell As The Senior Leader

Mar 26, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; UCLA Bruins guard Norman Powell (4) dunks during practice for the south regional of the 2014 NCAA Mens Basketball Championship at FedEx Forum. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most explosive players on the team last season has decided to stayed for another year (commence cheering now). Powell seemed to come out of no where as he thrived under HC Alford’s up-tempo style. Not only did he make Sports Center’s Top 10 over and over with his highlight dunks, but he was the best defender the Bruins had. In some games it appeared that he was the only defender UCLA had, but that will change this year with the presence of Parker, Looney and Welsh.

What that will do is take some of the pressure off of him to do too much. What he needs to focus on is being THE BRUIN. The “Man”, if you will. He may not be at the top of the stat sheet night in and night out, but he will be a heavy contributor. Not only has he done the most out of any Bruin on this squad, but he knows what is needed to have this team be great.

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