UCLA Basketball: Three reasons why the defense has struggled

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 21: Aaron Holiday
KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 21: Aaron Holiday /

Despite winning six out of their last seven games, UCLA basketball continues to struggle on defense. Here are three reasons why.

UCLA Basketball was bad on defense during the 2016-17 season. Opponents scored 75.5 points per game and the team ranked 259th out of 361 programs.

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However, that team was one of the most efficient offensive teams in college basketball history and was able to overcome their defensive issues.

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This year’s version of UCLA Basketball is somehow worse on both ends. The drop off in offense is understandable as UCLA lost a lot of talent to the NBA. On the other hand, the defense should be better because this team boasts explosiveness and athleticism. Why has the defense remained poor? Let us take a look at three contributing factors.

UCLA does not create turnovers

Opponent turnover percentage is a statistic that estimates the percentage of possessions that a team’s opponent throws the ball away. Typically, the higher the percentage, the better your team is doing on that front. UCLA Basketball’s opponents turn the ball over 13% of the time. In other words, if UCLA’s opponent are given 100 possessions, 13 of them will end in a turnover. This puts the team at 343rd out of 361 eligible schools.

This is not necessarily a bad thing as teams do not have to force turnovers to be good defensively. In fact, Michigan State is one of the best defensive teams in the country but rates low on turnover percentage as well. However, taken together with everything else that this team struggles with, it is problematic.

Opponents shoot a good percentage

UCLA Basketball tries to play at a fast pace. This means that the team gets more offensive opportunities but so do their opponents. Teams that play this way have to either be more efficient than their counterparts (see Lonzo Ball’s UCLA team), or force more turnovers to give themselves more chances.

UCLA is not doing enough of the former and are definitely not executing the latter. Instead, opponents get more shots while also shooting relatively well. Teams have an effective field goal percentage of 48.9% against the Bruins.

Individual defense has been lacking.

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Individual defense is hard to quantify. This is because it is difficult to separate out a defender’s performance from the rest of the team. However, defensive rating is a useful starting point.

Defensive rating is calculated by estimating the number of points that a player or team would allow if they defended for 100 possessions. After accounting for playing time, Thomas Welsh leads the team in this measure with a 100.3 defensive rating while Gyorgy Goloman is second with a104.1 defensive rating.

Prince Ali has not become the defensive stopper that UCLA fans had hoped and while Kris Wilkes  puts in a lot of effort, he is yet to become a solid defender. Jaylen Hands is a work in progress and Chris Smith is still too young.

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UCLA Basketball will not become a defensive juggernaut overnight. But a little more emphasis on that end will give UCLA’s offense a greater margin of error. With three tough road games left this season , the Bruins will need all the help they can get.