Separating Fact From Fiction in UCLA’s Five-Game Slide

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 8th, 2015

I touched on the disaster that is UCLA basketball this season in Tuesday’s quick spin around the conference. And, the thing is, so did just about every writer either interested in UCLA, the Pac-12 or — given that UCLA is one of our sports’ blue-blood programs — college basketball on a national level. Having listened to everyone else’s takes, there’s plenty to agree with and plenty to disagree with. Below we’ll take a look at some of these takes and try to determine their relative truthiness, ranking each statement on a scale of 1 – completely false – to 10 – right on the money.

With UCLA On A Five-Game Slide, The Alford Family Is Firmly In The Sights of UCLA Loyalists (AP Photo)

With UCLA On A Five-Game Slide, The Alford Family Is Firmly In The Sights of UCLA Loyalists (AP Photo)

Bryce Alford is the Problem

Last week’s Bryce Alford numbers we’re off-the-charts bad: 2-of-26 from the field and 0-of-13 from three, if you need a reminder. Some see the more damning part of this the fact that he continued to shoot the ball as the misses piled up. Shots continue to go up; other players stand around and watch; Alford doesn’t do a whole lot to make his teammates better. And, frankly, as the point guard, he’s got to take the bulk of the blame when the offense he is running is sputtering so badly. Since the Kentucky game, UCLA is scoring 0.7 points per possession, and on the year, the Bruins rank 134th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating.

Truthiness score: 5. Right in the middle. The younger Alford deserves some of the criticism, but, as we’ll get to in the next point, probably not the bulk of it.

Bryce Alford is UCLA’s Best Player, and That’s the Problem

This was Gary Parrish’s take in Monday’s CBS College Basketball podcast, and to paraphrase: “Alford didn’t play well this week, but you know what? He’s still the team’s best player and that’s a scary proposition for a program the quality of UCLA.” Let’s start with the first part of that point. Is Alford UCLA’s best player? Not just yes, but hell yes, of course, clearly to anyone with eyes, and probably to most people without. He is the only player on this team that can reliably go and get his own shot on a regular basis. He’s the team’s best shooter from range. He’s the best player on the team at creating shots for his teammates. Look at the KenPom numbers for starters. His 111.3 offensive rating is by far the best on the team; he’s been over 100.0 in that metric in 11 of UCLA’s 15 games (although clearly under it in the last three); he’s assisting on better than a third of all of his teammates’ hoops when he’s on the floor (good for 45th in the nation); and he’s drilling 32 percent of his shots from deep (even with that oh-fer last week) and 91 percent from the line. Make no mistake, Bryce Alford is a very good basketball player. But should he – a guy with no realistic NBA prospects – be the best player at UCLA? Probably not.

Truthiness score: 10. Parrish nails this one.

Bryce Is A Baller, But He Shouldn't Be UCLA's Best Player (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

Bryce Is A Baller, But He Shouldn’t Be UCLA’s Best Player (Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

Steve Alford is Giving His Son Preferential Treatment

Parrish and the CBS guys also touched on this one, with Parrish attributing a sentiment to a head coach on a team that UCLA has already faced: “I can’t believe that Steve [Alford] is running UCLA’s offense through his son.” It’s a tough spot for everybody to be in. Steve knows what’s up. He’s see his guys every day and he knows that Bryce is the most capable ball-handler and offensive threat on his squad. But at the same time, the leash that Bryce has been given is really quite astounding. Even when things are going well and shots are falling, there are times when even a “wow” jumper drops in off the bounce in a defender’s face is not necessarily a good shot. It contributes to the other four guys on the court standing around and watching the shot go up. But really, the elder Alford giving carte blanche to his best offensive player is no aberration, as guys like Kendall Williams, Darington Hobson, Tony Dandridge and J.R. Giddens at New Mexico will attest.

Truthiness score: 2. Bryce Alford has this type of role in this offense because Steve Alford knows he is his best player. Still, it’s probably doubtful that either guy is all that pleased with the situation.

Isaac Hamilton Should be the Point Guard

Truthiness score: 1. Bzzzzzt. Wrong. Not even going to toss this one around. Hamilton has shown no inclination to be anything other than a secondary ball-handler. His best role – at which he could become very good – is that of a spot-up shooter. This is not meant in any way as a knock on Hamilton; it’s simply a realistic accounting of his skill set.

UCLA Has One of the Best Starting Fives in the Country

Our own fearless leader and RTC podcaster tossed this one out on this week’s RTC Podcast and a month ago I might have bought into this. But there are some big holes here. Kevon Looney hasn’t shown any real scoring ability other than in transition or on the glass (although his upside is indeed massive). Tony Parker’s overall progress has inched along. Hamilton, as we’ve discussed, is a limited (and at present, inconsistent) player. And Norman Powell? He can stick the three a bit and is a holy terror in transition, but was really at his best last season as merely a complementary player. This starting five is capable of a lot of “wow”-inducing plays when they’re on their game, but they are far too inconsistent on the offensive end to merit such high praise. And we haven’t even discussed their defensive inadequacies.

Truthiness score: 4. There is a lot of upside here, but just too many holes – so far.

The Team Has Lost Confidence

Against Oklahoma on the day before Thanksgiving, the Bruins were in the game until the final minutes when missed free throws and turnovers did them in. The next day against North Carolina, they gave up a big run to the Tar Heels to close the half, then forgot to show up after the break. And then Kentucky. The Wildcats started out with a 91.2 percent win probability and that thing shot up precipitously immediately and never fell. Since that 24-0 start against Kentucky, this team hasn’t had any fight in them. Even this week, Steve Alford pointed to an ongoing confidence problem in his weekly press conference.

Truthiness score: 10. All but certain; this team just doesn’t believe in itself right now.

After The Beatdown UCLA Took Against Kentucky, You Could Hardly Blame This Team For Losing Confidence (AP Photo)

After The Beatdown UCLA Took Against Kentucky, You Could Hardly Blame This Team For Losing Confidence (AP Photo)

There are Chemistry Problems

The other players resent Bryce Alford’s dominant role in the offense. Kevon Looney is already paying more attention to his NBA Draft stock than his current team’s record. Norman Powell’s got a serious case of senioritis. These are among the rumors floating around.

Truthiness score: 7. You never really know unless you are in the locker room, but how can there not be some amount of tension, drama and finger-pointing amid these highly competitive athletes in a pressure-packed program? And with every additional wild jumper that Bryce Alford bombs, you can see their shoulders slump a little more.

The Bench is a Disaster

Truthiness score: 10. Much like the Hamilton as point guard bullet, let’s not even debate this. In an ideal world, Thomas Welsh is earning the eight minutes per game that Gyorgy Goloman is currently getting; Goloman is wearing a redshirt as he works his way through the training table, weight room and practice in his first season in Westwood; and Noah Allen is trying to decide between Pacific, UC Davis and San Jose State for his next Division I stop. Instead, with Wannah Bail out for the season due to academic ineligibility, those are literally the only three viable options off the bench for UCLA. And their viability is in serious question. The group’s KenPom offensive ratings: Welsh — 91.9 (decent); Allen — 71.5 (abysmal); Goloman — 65.4 (I’m quite sure I can’t come up with a word worse than abysmal without including several curse words).

There is No Reason a Program Like UCLA Should Only Have Five Division I-Caliber Players

It’s UCLA, for crying out loud. Even if this is no longer the program that dominated the 1960s and 1970s, they’re still obviously at worst the second-best program in the Pac-12? How the hell does this team have Noah Allen as its second option off the bench?

Truthiness score: 8. This sentiment is mostly right, but there have been some extenuating circumstances. You can cry that UCLA should never have taken a chance on Bail, given his already sketchy academic history, but that’s beside the point. Following the transition from Ben Howland to Alford, the latter did nothing to adequately bulk up the Bruins’ depth before last season. After all, he had Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, and the Wear twins returning, along with Parker and Powell and a freshman class featuring Bryce Alford, Zach LaVine and Allen. Given that they had a four-man freshman class arriving along with transfer Isaac Hamilton and some scholarships to spare, the notion was that everything was fine. Then Anderson left early for the NBA Draft, a move everyone saw coming. LaVine followed, a bit of a surprise, but not outside the realm of possibility as his stock skyrocketed. Finally, at the 11th hour, Adams joined them. Over the summer, freshman forward Jonah Bolden was declared a partial qualifier and ruled ineligible for this season. Colorado State graduate transfer Jon Octeus was denied admission and wound up at Purdue instead. That’s a pretty healthy string of personnel bad luck, but here’s the thing: What is it going to look like next year? Powell’s a senior. Looney’s a lottery pick. Allen probably transfers out. Welsh and Goloman should be better, but neither is really going to be an impact player until they’re upperclassmen. Hamilton and Alford? Those guys are sort of what they are. Right now UCLA’s 2015 recruiting class consists of a pair of four-star guards in Prince Ali and Aaron Holiday. So, if nothing changes from here, their rotation is something like: Alford, Holiday, Ali and Hamilton in the backcourt; Parker, Bolden, Welsh, Goloman and maybe Bail up front. That’s a hell of a lot better than what they’ve got right now, but that is in no way an acceptable rotation for a UCLA team.

This is the Low Point in UCLA Basketball

Five-game losing streak. Two of those losses by more than 30. Inept offensive basketball. It couldn’t possibly get any worse for UCLA, could it?

Truthiness score: 2. How quickly (and rightly) we forget 2008-09, with a dreadful season-opening loss to Cal State Fullerton, a Thanksgiving weekend 27-point loss to Portland, a last-place finish in the 76 Classic, and 10 increasingly embarrassing conference losses, including a sweep at the hands of USC. Nikola Dragovic, Malcolm Lee, Michael Roll and Reeves Nelson were in the conversation for the team’s “best” player and Jerime Anderson was ostensibly the team’s point guard. Yes, Bruis fans. It could be worse. But still, this is pretty bad.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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