UCLA Guards Pass Early Eye Test

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 17th, 2014

The game of basketball has evolved so much in recent years that it has become outdated to pigeonhole a player into the traditional role of his position. Big men routinely step out to the three-point line, with few true centers left to anchor the paint. Point guards are certainly not made like they once were, with more of a desire to distribute than produce baskets — now, it’s the combo guard, an offensive-minded “tweener” who has become the trendy mold.

Steve Alford Was More Than Pleased With His UCLA Backcourt In Friday Night's Opener. (UCLA Athletics)

Steve Alford Was More Than Pleased With His UCLA Backcourt In Friday Night’s Opener. (UCLA Athletics)

At UCLA, head coach Steve Alford has three such combo guards on his roster, and the trio had some questions to answer on Friday night at Pauley Pavilion. Although a bit out of control to start, senior Norman Powell and sophomores Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton set the tone early with an attacking, uptempo bravado in the Bruins’ 113-78 win over Montana State. From the tip, all three took a head-down, get-to-the-rim mindset that didn’t look like it would offer up much ball movement. As a result, there were not too many moments in the half-court offense that stood out, and there weren’t any possessions that went deep into the shot clock. Two nights later, an 84-71 win over Coastal Carolina wasn’t quite as easy as the first game, but there was still a lot to like from the trio of guards. While the jury is still out and team depth remains a question mark, one thing is for certain: Don’t let these Bruins get out and run.

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First Impressions From UCLA’s Opening Night

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 15th, 2014

The start may have been sluggish Friday night, but UCLA’s season-opening 113-78 win over Montana State at Pauley Pavilion was simply a matter of when things would start to click. Boy, did the Bruins roll once they found that rhythm. UCLA senior guard Norman Powell led all scorers with 25 points and point guard Bryce Alford notched his first career double-double with 18 points and 12 assists. In all, six Bruins scored in double figures. Keeping in mind it was just one game against an opponent that came in as a 23.5-point underdog, here is what stood out:

Norman Powell's Athletic Play Has His Draft Stock Rising (Associated Press)

Norman Powell Led All Scorers With 25 Points in UCLA’s 113-78 Win Over Montana State. (Associated Press)

Guards of same feather flock together: Coming into the season, the question was how UCLA would perform at the point guard position with a backcourt that makes you think of its scoring first. Powell, Alford and now-eligible Isaac Hamilton combined for 26 of the contest’s first 35 points and finished with 58 while converting 19-of-31 shots — including 8-of-14 3-pointers. Look for more on the backcourt in a separate post, but there was plenty to like as the game went on with the trio’s ability to pick their spots and not make it look like they were just taking turns. Head coach Steve Alford “loved how the ball moved,” and it started with his son’s play.

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One on One: A Pac-12 Preview With Jon Wilner

Posted by Walker Carey on November 7th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Pac-12, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Pac-12 expert in San Jose Mercury News college basketball scribe, Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline).

Rush the Court: Even with losing Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon from last season’s squad, Arizona is once again loaded. What makes the Wildcats so well rounded, and do you see them as one of the favorites to take home the national title?

Wilner: They certainly have to be in the very top tier of contenders for the national title. I that that their depth again is their biggest strength. They have so many good players that they are not just reliant on one or two guys. I think they are going to have more options to score this year. They should be a little bit better on offense. There might be a slight drop-off on the defensive end of the court, but it will not be enough to really hurt them. They should be right in the mix nationally. Sean Miller does a great job of getting his guys to play hard all the time. They have a huge homecourt advantage and they have a lot of experience of being able to go win on the road. A lot of success comes from the ability to go win on the road and this group has done just that.

Arizona (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Brings Back Enough Talent to Win a National Title This Year (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

RTC: Colorado brings back a lot of experience from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad. With key players Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson, and Askia Booker returning for the Buffaloes, can Tad Boyle make it three NCAA Tournaments in three years?

Wilner: I think so. I expect them to be an NCAA Tournament team. I think Colorado is the best bet to finish second behind Arizona in the conference standings. It might be three or four games behind Arizona, but second place is second place. Tad Boyle is a terrific coach. He is as good as there is in the league. I think the fact that they played so much of last season without Spencer Dinwiddie will help them now that he is officially gone. There is not going to be the transition that you would normally find with a team that loses its best player to the NBA because Colorado did not have Dinwiddie for the last couple months of last season.

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UCLA’s Most Important Player: Isaac Hamilton

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 5th, 2014

The offseason in Westwood could have gone better — much better. The Bruins knew they were going to be woefully thin in the backcourt, and head coach Steve Alford was never going to completely replace point-forward Kyle Anderson, the 6’9” match-up nightmare with elite point guard skills. But then UCLA received word that Colorado State transfer Jon Octeus had been denied admission, nixing the Bruins’ best-laid plans to make him the starting point guard. There’s just not much depth available here at all, and this clearly puts additional pressure on the Bruins’ starters (although senior Norman Powell should have little issue so long as he remains in good health). Off the bench, UCLA may struggle beyond Noah Allen to find any realistic contributors under the height of 6’9”.

Isaac Hamilton, the No. 25 overall prospect, cited his relationship with UTEP head coach Tim Floyd as deciding factor

Sophomore guard Isaac Hamilton, who was forced to miss all of the 2013-14 season, will be needed at both backcourt positions at UCLA.

The void creates a big opportunity for combo guard Isaac Hamilton, and there may not be a more valuable player on the roster. The 6’4” sophomore missed the entire 2013-14 season after backing out of his initial commitment with UTEP. While Hamilton lost a year in the transition, he was able to practice with his teammates and digest the system, and that is where his true value will be revealed. The year away from action did wonders for T.J. McConnell at Arizona, where the point guard ran the scout team before becoming a valuable piece last season. Hamilton’s case is different because he doesn’t have previous Division I experience under his belt, but there’s something to be said about developing team chemistry and learning the tendencies of teammates in a practice setting.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: UCLA Bruins

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 3rd, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: UCLA.

UCLA Bruins

Strengths. There’s plenty of talent here, no doubt. Norman Powell, Bryce Alford and Tony Parker return as players who earned at least 40 percent of the team’s minutes last year and were all highly efficient offensive players on a high-powered offensive squad. They’ll be joined by freshmen Kevon Looney and Isaac Hamilton, both of whom are highly-regarded recruits expected to slip seamlessly into the starting lineup. Throw in guys like Wannah Bail and Noah Allen, who played bit parts efficiently last year, and another highly regarded freshman in Thomas Welsh (who may be more of a project than his classmates) and there is plenty of reason for excitement in Westwood. The Bruins once again should be a high-flying, entertaining ballclub.

Norman Powell's Athleticism On The Wing Will Be A Big Part Of UCLA's Offense (Harry How/Getty Images)

Norman Powell’s Athleticism On The Wing Will Be A Big Part Of UCLA’s Offense. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Weaknesses. Two immediately jump off the page: a lack of depth and defensive uncertainty. First, the depth thing is pretty clear. Freshman Jonah Bolden and senior transfer Jonathan Octeus were both supposed to play significant roles off the bench for the Bruins, but they ran into academic problems that will keep them out of UCLA uniforms this year (Octeus wound up at Purdue as a transfer after being denied admission). That leaves Bail, Allen and Welsh as the top three players off the bench. The Bruins could survive one well-placed and well-timed injury, but any significant health problems beyond that could lead to raw freshmen or even walk-ons playing big roles. Throw in the fact that Looney has battled injuries in early workouts already and this coiuld get scary. The second issue is on the defensive end. Powell is a fantastic defender, but just about everybody else on the roster has question marks. Alford is a terrific offensive player but he can get outquicked or overpowered by better athletes. Parker has a history of foul trouble. Hamilton and Looney are talents more known for their offensive abilities who still need to prove their defensive merits. On down the line, questions loom.

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Trick or Treat: Pac-12 Edition

Posted by Adam Butler on October 31st, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops.com is back for another go-round on his March to Vegas.

Trick or Treat? DaVonte Lacy, Pac-12 Player of the Year contender. As much as I’d like for us to be treated to this, I’m afraid the firepower just isn’t there. POYs often fill the stat sheet and Lacy can do that as well as anyone. Heck, Dan Hanner and Luke Winn think he’ll score at the fourth highest clip in the nation. Furthermore, these guys project that Lacy will have a 27 percent usage rate. He’s going to have the ball. But he’s not going to have the wins.

DaVonte Lacy Will Be Awesome, But Can He Overcome His Team's Struggles To Win POY (credit: Dean Hare)

DaVonte Lacy Will Be Awesome, But Can He Overcome His Team’s Struggles To Win POY (credit: Dean Hare)

Trick or Treat? Colorado got a jump-start on this season following the Spencer Dinwiddie injury. Big fat trick. But that’s what Tad Boyle is calling it and while he’s smarter than me, he also has to lead a team to believe (trick them if you will) that they’re not a 9-10 group with a 96 Offensive Rating. I appreciate the leadership. But I don’t think it was a jump-start because at the same time the Buffs lost Tre’Shaun Fletcher. He’d been one of their more productive freshmen before busting his own knee. He’ll likely see significant court time, improving what already projects to be a substantial frontcourt. The Colorado narrative centers around Josh Scott and Askia Booker, but Fletcher could be a big part of jump-starting this season.

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Pac-12 Media Day Roundup: Part Two

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on October 24th, 2014

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops.com is back for another go-round on his March to Vegas. He covered the Pac-12 Media Day on Thursday. Part I of this two-part series, which covered USC, Washington State, Oregon State, California, Washington and Utah, is located here.

Arizona State

Senior Jonathan Gilling Had Head Coach Herb Sendek Speaking In Glowing Terms (Pac-12 Conference)

Senior Jonathan Gilling Had Head Coach Herb Sendek Speaking In Glowing Terms (Pac-12 Conference)

If nothing else, you have to love Herb Sendek’s enthusiasm. He’s a very positive dude and, at Media Day, has so many great things to say about everything. This year in particular he came out, positivity guns-a-blazing, about his senior wing, Jonathan Gilling. “He basically has been a four-year starter except for the fact last year he discovered he loves to come off the bench. He’s our best sixth man… I think he’s had the best offseason and preseason since he’s been at Arizona State.” Jon Gilling, as it were, seems to be killing it, perhaps even Gilling it, if you’ll allow me. But with the level of turnover and the new faces in Tempe, it’s going to take a lot more than a sixth man’s effort for the Devils to be successful. Fear not, positive Herb would have you know! Newcomers like Willie Atwood, Gerry Blakes, and Roosevelt Scott will be providing wing skills and combo-guard talents that will greatly help Arizona State. Tra Holder, their freshman point guard, will be distributing to these wings and the three-raining Gilling. The Devils can maintain their year-over-year emphasis on tempo with this personnel. This isn’t your Jahii Carson or James Harden Sun Devils, but it just might be a collective effort that leads this group beyond expectations. Particularly considering Sendek’s thoughts on how the conference’s final standings could – literally – shake out: “You could probably put everybody in a hat, shake it up, have just as good a chance at predicting the order of finish as we are able to do sitting here today… So how anybody short of Nostradamus could sit here today and predict like there really is a difference between ninth and tenth or eighth and ninth just is unreasonable.” Here’s a hat, Herb, shake it up.

Stanford

For the first time in his six seasons at Stanford, Johnny Dawkins took the podium as an NCAA Tournament coach. That’s huge. Had that not been the case it’s very likely that he wouldn’t have been joining us at Media Day. Nevertheless, that wasn’t the case and he wasn’t going to miss his opportunity. JD gave the longest and most insightful opening remarks of any of the coaches. He touched on last season and the experience they had as well as whom they lost. Dawkins transitioned into his excitement for this season and the schedule they’ve pieced together, its challenges. He praised his stage-mate, Chasson Randle, and noted that the Cardinal’s game in Chicago is an opportunity for Chasson to return home. Johnny Dawkins was excited to be here just as I imagine he was excited to have made last year’s Sweet Sixteen. I asked him about it and loved what he had to say: “It’s about standards, you know. Last year we were able to set the bar… You have to have standards to meet or exceed what you’ve accomplished.” These were some of my favorite quotes of the day and certainly the most encouraging I’ve heard from Dawkins before. Last year he told me his 9-9 conference team, returning almost completely intact, was going to “Think about things differently.” I wasn’t sold and they managed 10-8. But now that bar has been set. The hurdle has been jumped and the program knows that it can make the Tournament. And be loud there. The experience of Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic is not just games played but actual NCAA Tournament wins. That speaks volumes to the newcomers filling the gaps left by Josh Huestis, Dwight Powell, and John Gage. Collectively, this group doesn’t just believe, they don’t think about doing it anymore. They now know.

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Morning Five: 10.06.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 6th, 2014

morning5

  1. If you ever wondered what it would look like if a team played with hockey shifts, John Calipari may have your answer when he discussed the possibility that Kentucky might be deep enough to support two starting lineups. While this is something that people have speculated about for years with various teams this is the first time we have seen a coach come out and say that he would try to do it. According to Calipari this year’s Kentucky team has the depth at various positions to support using two five-man units. Whether this actually turns into the Wildcats substituting their entire team en masse is unclear, but it will be interesting to watch.
  2. Speaking of watching Kentucky, they will have their October 10th NBA combine broadcast on ESPNU, which will also serve as a nationally televised recruiting pitch for the school. According to Calipari all 30 teams will have scouts there and with 10 potential draft picks on Kentucky’s roster we can certainly understand why they would want to be there. We aren’t sure how riveting the telecast will be since it will involve individual and team drills, including a 3-on-3 and a 5-on-5 scrimmage, which might not be that interesting for the general public, but then again, this isn’t for the general public–if it was it would be on ESPN or ESPN2–it’s for the recruits who are looking at Kentucky.
  3. We aren’t sure why the mainstream media is not making a bigger deal of all the issues with Oregon basketball. Maybe it is because they are in the Northwest far away from the East Coast media microscope or maybe it is because it is Oregon basketball, but it certainly seems like Dana Altman  has lost control of his program. Normally, we would be willing to overlook the latest black mark–two players getting arrested for shoplifting–but in light of Oregon’s more recent and serious problems–three players getting kicked out for rape charges that were subsequently dropped, but with questions around how the school handled the timing of its punishment–we have to wonder who if anybody is in control in Eugene. According to the school, the two players–Elgin Cook and Jalil Abdul-Bassit–are being “disciplined internally”. We have no idea what that really means but we hope Altman gets control of his program soon.
  4. On Friday, UCLA announced that it had signed Steve Alford to a contract extension that will run through 2021. We would consider this a bigger deal except it was just a one-year extension of his previous contract that had six more years remaining. We aren’t sports agents or university administrators, but we fail to see the reason why the school would feel the need to offer an extension to someone who went 28-9 in his first season at one of the most storied programs in the sport. In the same way, we aren’t sure what extra security Alford gets out of this new deal.
  5. ESPN gets a lot of criticism for many things that they do, but the one thing of theirs that we have never seen criticized is their acclaimed 30 for 30 series. With that in mind we are looking forward to their latest installment–Playing for the Mob”–which is set to air tomorrow night at 9. The film will look at the Boston College point-shaving scandal that took place during the 1978-79 season. There have been a handful of other point-shaving scandals in the sport since then, but none of this magnitude both in terms of number of games or caliber of the program. Outside of the CCNY point-shaving scandal of 1950–51 we can’t think of anything else that comes close in the sport.
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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: UCLA

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 23rd, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, UCLA.

What Went Right

Although it took some time to get there, this Bruins team coalesced nicely as the season wore on. Kyle Anderson turned into an All-American talent while the pieces around him were, by and large, rock solid. Team chemistry was light years better than under the previous administration, and eventually Steve Alford’s first team in Westwood won over a wary fan base. While a Sweet Sixteen appearance is not going to earn accolades from the most jaded fans, the first year of the Alford era was definitely a step forward for the program.

Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams Were Vital To UCLA's Success (Don Liebig/ASUCLA Photography)

Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams Were Vital To UCLA’s Success (Don Liebig/ASUCLA Photography)

What Went Wrong

Honestly, for this program and with this team, a loss in the Sweet Sixteen to a #1 seed isn’t exactly an underachievement. Sure, maybe a better performance by the Bruins’ frontcourt against Florida could have extended their season, and maybe Alford made some substitution errors in dealing with some minor foul trouble in that game. Certainly there were some defensive breakdowns too (how does Michael Frazier get that wide open that often?). But all told, Alford got about what he should have gotten out of this season’s UCLA club.

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Disappointing Endings For Arizona, UCLA, and Stanford, But The Future Is Bright

Posted by AMurawa on March 31st, 2014

Six NCAA Tournament teams, three Sweet Sixteen seasons, one Elite Eight appearance and yet when the final quartet of teams still standing show up at the Final Four next weekend in North Texas, there will not be a Pac-12 team among them. This will now mark the sixth consecutive season (dating back to the last of UCLA’s three straight last decade) where college basketball’s premier weekend will dance away without a Pac-12 partner. So, yeah, Pac-12 fans, in a year where the hope was that the Pac was back, you’re right to feel some disappointment.

Worse yet, along with outgoing seniors like Roberto Nelson and Justin Cobbs and Mike Moser and C.J. Wilcox, the conference has also seen the last of guys like Kyle Anderson and Aaron Gordon and Jahii Carson and Zach LaVine with guys like Nick Johnson, Jordan Adams, Joseph Young, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson still weighing their options. But you know what? These are good things. It hurts to see guys like these go, but such is the nature of the beast. And in the long run, a program like Arizona providing an appealing and welcoming temporary landing spot for a player the caliber of Gordon will make it more likely that future Aaron Gordons will wind up playing for Sean Miller as well. And, in the great circle of life that is college athletics, out goes Gordon, in comes Stanley Johnson; rinse and repeat.

While Aaron Gordon's Time In Tucson Is Short, His Success Will Pay Dividends For the Arizona Program

While Aaron Gordon’s Time In Tucson Is Short, His Success Will Pay Dividends For the Arizona Program

Below, three quick thoughts on the status of the three Pac-12 schools whose seasons ended this past weekend in the NCAA Tournament.

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Zach LaVine: One-And-Done at UCLA

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 28th, 2014

Not only did UCLA fall to Florida on Thursday night, but Friday morning the news broke that freshman guard Zach LaVine would be joining sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson in leaving school early. Anderson was a lock to leave all along, as he had a spectacular season and is in the discussion for a lottery pick in this June’s NBA Draft. LaVine, however, was more of a borderline case. He’s clearly not ready to make an immediate impact in the NBA, but his length, athleticism and deep shooting range have intrigued scouts since November when he made a big splash early in the season. He’ll need to get stronger, develop a game off the bounce, and improve his defense, and these things will likely require time in the NBA’s Developmental League. But you can bet that LaVine’s upside will earn the attention of somebody at some point in the first round of this year’s draft, meaning a guaranteed contract and time to develop. Sure, selfishly, we would have liked to see LaVine’s high-flying game take the next step at the collegiate level, but that became a pipe dream over the course of the year.

Zach LaVine's Athleticism And Shooting Accuracy Have NBA Scouts Intrigued

Zach LaVine’s Athleticism And Shooting Accuracy Have NBA Scouts Intrigued

LaVine’s departure leaves some big questions for UCLA. First, with Anderson and LaVine both gone and with Jordan Adams potentially mulling a similar jump to the NBA, a deep and impactful Bruins backcourt could turn into a weakness next season. Norman Powell will be back for his senior season, and he’s definitely developed into a fine asset for UCLA. Bryce Alford appears to be the point guard in waiting, and he’s a fine player with plenty of upside even if he appears further and further from winning over the UCLA fan base with every game. And four-star combo guard Isaac Hamilton will be eligible next season and figures to have the ball in his hands a lot. Even if Adams doesn’t return, that group of three is solid, even if the Bruins will likely need to go sign another guard for depth. But clearly, the strength of the team will need to shift to the frontcourt, where Tony Parker will return for his junior season and be joined by four incoming freshmen, highlighted by five-star power forward Kevon Looney and a pair of four-star bigs (Thomas Welsh and Jonah Bolden).

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Assessing the Steve Alford Era at UCLA Almost One Year In

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 26th, 2014

It was a year ago this week that the change was made at UCLA. Ben Howland was dismissed after an opening round NCAA loss to Minnesota, and the following week, on Saturday morning of the Elite Eight to be precise, UCLA announced that it would hire New Mexico head coach Steve Alford – who had just recently agreed to a lengthy contract extension with that school after its own untimely exit from the NCAA Tournament – as the 13th head coach in the storied program’s history.

Steve Alford, UCLA

The Steve Alford Era Had A Bumpy Start, But Has Settled Into A Nice Groove (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Suffice it to say that the beginning of the Alford era in Westwood did not begin smoothly. The hire was greeted with anywhere from an outright disdain for the choice to a more wait-and-see approach, but few if any saw the hire as a home run. (Here, we called it a solid line-drive single, and our response was probably one of the more favorable ones you may have read). From those initial reactions, the temperature dipped dramatically over the next week after an unreceptive opening press conference delved into his handling of a sexual assault case at Iowa 11 years earlier and went downhill from there. A week later Alford finally apologized for his handling of that case and an uneasy truce with the local media began.

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