The Last Defense of Alford
Yet here are those that still side with Alford with the most prevalent arguments being: “He made it to the tourney in four of his five seasons”, “he did not have his full roster this past season”, “he was successful with Lonzo”, and “Wooden did not win a title until his 14th season”.
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True, but there are things that one misses when presenting these defenses. The fact that he made the Big Dance in four out of his five seasons (one could argue it was only three as he did not win the chance to “play-in” to the tournament last week) is fine for a middle fo the road Power 5 Conference team or a mid-major, but not for UCLA (sorry for sounding elitist, but this could also be argued that UCLA fans just want their team to be competitive – see the above argument with Howland). Additionally, Alford has not made it past the Sweet 16 (with any program). With top 10 recruiting classes, UCLA should have accomplished this feat at least once in the last five years.
The argument that he did not have a full roster this past season is a laughable one simply because UCLA proved, on multiple occasions, that they could rise to the challenge and put up a damn good fight, fight, fight against several top teams, sans those three players that were suspended. Against the top three teams in the Pac-12, UCLA went 4-1 (at Arizona, vs/at USC and vs Utah with a loss in the SLC). The Bruins also defeated Kentucky, who is currently in the Sweet 16 and the highest ranking team in their region.
Continuing, the fact that he had success with Ball, Leaf and the rest of the gang during the 2016-17 season is fine as he turned a 15-17 team into a 31-5 (I often used this argument as an example of how he was turning the program around… that narrative has changed since the start of the 2017-18 season), but he did not win any hardware… and that was suppose to be the best roster he had assembled in his time at Westwood. That brings up another issue.
No Bruin fan expects a UCLA coach to repeat what Wooden did (okay, maybe one or two), they just want their team, that has become the epitome of college basketball success, to continue to be just that.
In five seasons, Alford’s best team could not win the conference or get past the Sweet 16. This is why, even though he is bringing in a great class next summer, there is not a lot of confidence that he will do anything with that team next winter.
I recently wrote Is the 2018-19 Pac-12 season UCLA’s for the taking?, citing that UCLA should be better next season and could win the conference, but only because the majority of the (already down) Pac-12 could be worse. If they do not win the conference, then that will speak volumes (and fly more anger-fueled banners over Westwood).
And the argument that Wooden did not win a title until his 14th season is a weak one because in his first five seasons, Wooden won two conference titles, which is also a sign of success. Alford only has a Pac-12 Tournament Championship to his name which came in his first season, meaning that the majority of the players on that team came from Ben Howland. Since then, Alford has not been able to get UCLA a single trophy and that is why UCLA (and indirectly, the athletic department) have failed to live up to the standard that John R. Wooden set so many years ago.