The historical evidence
Between 1976 and 2013 (so, no one is being compared to John Wooden), UCLA’s program win rate is .706. To bring his UCLA Basketball career record up to a level where he’s not actively making the program less successful (again, this is solely post Wooden, Alford is only being held against the standard of Ben Howland, Steve Lavin, Jim Harrick, Hazzard, Larry Farmer, Larry Brown, Gary Cunningham, and Gene Bartow), Alford would have to go roughly 32-5, better than he did during the season in which he had both Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf.
Let’s talk conference play. Alford’s teams have the worst regular season conference win rate (.611) of any UCLA coach since Wilbur Johns (Wooden’s immediate predecessor), worse than Steve Lavin (.635) and Walt Hazzard (.653). If you include conference tournaments, Lavin’s rate dips just below Alford’s, but either way Alford is among the worst in-conference coaches that UCLA has ever had.
On the road in conference, Alford’s teams have a win rate of .422. I want to make sure that doesn’t slip by unnoticed; UCLA Basketball teams under Alford have lost more conference road games than they’ve won. That’s simply unheard of. No coach since 1948 has a win rate below .500. Every other coach since Johns has won more than they’ve lost on the road in conference.
Without Ball and Leaf, his teams have won only a third of their conference road games. This is Alford’s Achilles’ Heel. When Alford complains about poor seeding in the Pac-12 or NCAA Tournaments, this is why. His teams lose to inferior conference foes on the road at an alarming rate.
The Bruins finished 4th in the Pac-12 this year, giving Alford an average conference rank of 4.6 out of 12. No other coach since 1948 has averaged a lower conference finish, even adjusting for conference size. Additionally, Steve Alford has not won the conference in his first five years. The only other coach since 1948 not to win a conference title in his first five years was Larry Brown, who left after two years.
Let’s talk talent. I said earlier that I’m indebted to David Woods of Bruin Report Online for essentially all of the statistics presented in this article, well I’m going to roughly quote a Tweet thread of his from mid-January.
"Steve Alford has been at UCLA for five years, and the vast majority of his roster has come from six recruiting classes: the 2012 class (Anderson, Adams, etc.) to the 2017 class. UCLA’s completed basketball recruiting classes over the last six years average a national ranking of about 10th. For comparison, Arizona is about 5th, Duke is about 9th, Kansas is about 15th, and Oregon is about 25th. This doesn’t map this neatly, but you would expect a level of performance from UCLA somewhere between that of Duke and Kansas. But UCLA has not performed close to any of those teams on average. In terms of average national offensive efficiency ranks over the past five years, Arizona averages a rank of 14.8, Duke a rank of 3, Kansas a rank of 11.4, Oregon a rank of 24, and UCLA a rank of 27.8. So Alford consistently fails to get his teams to perform at a level commensurate with their talent in the phase of the game in which he supposedly excels. In terms of average defensive efficiency rank, the story is even bleaker. Arizona averages a defensive efficiency rank of 26.6, Duke a rank of 63.2, Kansas a rank of 19, Oregon a rank of 65.8, and UCLA a rank of 83.6. So UCLA, which has recruited the tenth best of anyone in the country, has had the 27th best offense and 84th best defense. No school in the country has recruited anywhere close to UCLA and underperformed that poorly without undergoing a coaching change."
This year’s team, drawing from a top 10 average recruiting class, UCLA Basketball has played as the 35th most efficient offense and the 101st most efficient defense. Now, many will note that the team lost three rotation players at the start of the year – all freshmen. Without LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill, UCLA Basketball’s 2017 class was still the 18th best in the nation.
Alford has pointed out that the team lost 8 players between March and November of 2017 and that no other team in the country has endured that level of roster turnover. That’s simply not true:
- Kentucky lost 8 players from last year, had fewer minutes of playing time carrying over, and is ranked 34 spots higher in Ken Pomeroy’s advanced rankings.
- Duke lost 7 players from last year but had fewer minutes of playing time carrying over, yet is ranked 49 spots higher in the same rankings.