Pac-12 Burning Questions: Is UCLA Any Good?

Posted by Adam Butler on November 3rd, 2016

This is easily the most basic of any of our burning questions but it feels completely legitimate. UCLA finished 15-17 last season and we could stop right there to qualify the question. Steve Alford returns much of the roster that played selective defense last season and ultimately led the hand of its coach into a formal letter of apology. Sure, there might have been some injuries, but this is UCLA basketball – something fans have been squawking about since mid-to-late-Ben Howland – and as Steve Alford noted at Pac-12 Media Day, there are consequences in failing to uphold what it means to be a UCLA basketball player, coach or team. The nice thing about an offseason is that it allows you get healthy. The nicer thing about an offseason is it allows you to bring in new players. The nicest thing about an offseason is that your last season ends. The Bruins will welcome back their frontcourt depth with Gyorgy Goloman and Alex Olesinski being veteran returnees who will start the season (and hopefully finish it) healthy. They’ll also introduce Ike Anigbogu (hulking center) and TJ Leaf (skilled power forward) as freshmen. Of course, Thomas Welsh also returns his well-developed skill set to the starting center role.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Thomas Welch is UCLA’s top returning standout. Is he enough? (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

But as this is UCLA basketball and there’s much to like about Welsh’s offensive game, the Bruins’ question marks center around the defensive end. Does a team improve its defense with freshmen? Not usually. Furthermore, UCLA has spent the last few seasons masking their defensive flaws with an opportunistic zone that has been headed by some unique talents (if not bodies) in Kyle Anderson, Kevon Looney and Jonah Bolden (trying early departure from last year’s team). Each of these players was a lengthy forward with ball skills. This roster lacks that player. What this roster doesn’t lack is guards. Alford returns a veteran lot but it is also the same lot that didn’t play defense last year and a reminder of why the Bruins played zone defense. Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton are both very talented scorers, but will their senior campaigns lend itself to a defensive renaissance? Adding Lonzo Ball to the mix is something any coach would want to do but another talented passer and shooter isn’t necessarily what this team needs. Of course adding talent is never a bad thing, and to that extent the Bruins should absolutely be expected to improve (which, granted, is not hard to do from two games under .500).

What I see on this roster are improvements at positions that didn’t necessarily need improving. And while I can agree that the previous sentence is oxymoronic (when you’re sub-.500, you absolutely need to improve), I would prefer that this group show me why they’re a top 20 team in the preseason national polls. The depth chart over UCLA’s final five games last year (per KenPom) was Bryce Alford, Aaron Holiday, Isaac Hamilton, Jonah Bolden and Thomas Welsh. How much better can that group defend when you toss in some pups?

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Highlighted Quotes From Each Team at Pac-12 Media Day

Posted by Adam Butler on October 24th, 2016

Pac-12 Media Day, the annual effusing of excitement, promise and not caring for the media poll, was held on Friday at the conference’s network headquarters in San Francisco. There were no on-stage fireworks (there rarely are) but Allonzo Trier was replaced by Kadeem Allen as Arizona’s player representative the night before things got started. Sean Miller would not comment. There was Larry Scott’s now annual promotion of all things Pac-12 + China as well as no update on a DirecTV deal. Following each player/coach stage appearance, and wrapping the day up, was the conference’s top official, Bobby Dibler. Did you know that a Pac-12 referee (or rather a Western Officiating Consortium official) was a Naismith Men’s Basketball College Official of the Year? Quite an honor and something not held by a west coast official since 2011 or 2012 (according to Dibler). All-in-all, it was a reminder that basketball season is upon us, and that to this point, we’ve had nothing but our own opinions and perhaps some “insider” knowledge, to evaluate, predict, and feel about our favorite teams. If you’re a stat nerd, we don’t even have KenPom’s updated ratings (ed. note: KenPom released his ratings Sunday) or a Pac-12 preview from Hanner and Winn over at SI. But Media Day finally gave us some knowledge straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth! Let’s dive into some of the key quotes to come out of each team’s address:

Four years as leader of the nation's premier D1 West Coast athletic conference has earned Scott huge financial bonuses on top of an already sizable base salary (U.S. Presswire).

As the Pac-12 gets ready for the new season, so does commissioner Larry Scott, who faced some of the same questions at Media Day that has been a hot topic league-wide. (U.S. Presswire)

Washington State, Ernie Kent and Josh Hawkinson

“If there was ever a time that a team needed a summer tournament, it was us, an opportunity to go overseas.”

This was Ernie Kent’s opening line and I’d have to agree. The benefit of these trips was expressed many times over throughout the day but when you consider it’s Year 3 at Wazzu and the Cougars went 1-17 in conference last year – yeah – they could use the extra practice. The Cougs do have some seniors, experienced big men like Josh Hawkinson and Conor Clifford, but they are seniors who have won just 11 conference games in their three previous efforts. It could be another long one in Pullman. Read the rest of this entry »

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When to Fire Your Head Coach?

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 15th, 2016

Mixed in here with the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason is another far less festive time of the college basketball season: firing season. Johnny Dawkins, Joe Scott, Trent Johnson, Donnie Jones, Bruiser Flint, and Kerry Keating are among the names that have already received pink slips, while fans in various locales across the country are hoping against hope that their current coach joins such the list sooner than later. Sure, it’s a pretty macabre pastime to speculate on the status of a person’s livelihood and hope that he suffers a terrible indignity in a very public fashion. But somehow, such a thing has become a fundamental part of the sports landscape. As sports have increased in ubiquity and attention across the country, the level of patience granted to head coaches in all sports has drastically shrunk.

John Wooden, UCLA

Given Today’s Standards, John Wooden May Have Been Fired A Full Decade Before His First National Title.

Need proof? Remember that John Wooden didn’t win his first NCAA title until his 16th season at UCLA and won just three conference titles in his first 13. Given today’s standards for coaches at the same institution, Wooden would have likely been fired in 1954 after a second straight year in which he didn’t even win the Pacific Coast Conference’s four-team southern division (the Bruins finished third of four teams in 1953 and second in 1954). Dean Smith? He didn’t win an ACC title until his sixth season at North Carolina and likely would have been fired in today’s environment after a 6-8 conference record in his third season. If he had somehow survived that, he certainly would have been crucified for making five Final Fours in the next 11 seasons but failing to win a single title; “can’t win the big one” would have been the lame complaint. Mike Krzyzewski? Duke’s head coach was very lucky to survive a bumpy start to his ACC career in which his second and third seasons resulted in combined records of 21-34 overall and 7-21 in conference play. He also came away empty in his first four Final Four appearances, and you probably know the rest.

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Reviewing Day One at the Pac-12 Tournament

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 10th, 2016

The Pac-12 Tournament got underway on Wednesday in Las Vegas. Four games; three total blowouts; one marginal blowout. Still, lots went down. Let’s dig in quickly below.

Washington 91, Stanford 68

Are Johnny Dawkins' Days At Stanford Numbered? (AP)

Are Johnny Dawkins’ Days At Stanford Numbered? (AP)

After losing six of its final eight games in conference play, Washington looked great on Wednesday in jumping out to an early lead, turning on a press against the point-guard-less Cardinal late in the first half and cruising to a rematch with Oregon (who just beat them by 13 in Eugene two weeks ago) in style. We’ll find out plenty more about the Huskies today, but the bigger story out of this game may be at Stanford, where Johnny Dawkins is again in trouble. The Cardinal finish the season on a three-game losing streak; with eight seasons now in the books for Dawkins in Palo Alto, there has still been just one NCAA Tournament appearance. If this is indeed the end for Dawkins, it’s hard to argue it was the wrong decision in light of that fact. The irony, though, is that Dawkins probably just turned in his best season-long coaching performance. This is a Stanford team that lost their only real point guard, Robert Cartwright, to a broken arm just a week before the start of the season. Power forward Reid Travis went down eith a stress fracture after playing just eight games this year. Finally, converted point guard Christian Sanders was suspended indefinitely a week ago for the dreaded “violation of team rules.” And yet still Dawkins, with what was arguably the second-worst roster in the league, got drastic improvement out of guys like Rosco Allen, Dorian Pickens and Michael Humphrey — enough to earn eight conference wins. After a year like this one, bringing Dawkins back for another year wouldn’t be insane. That being said, it’s also true that any recruiting momentum Dawkins once had has now stalled. It may be time to get a fresh start.

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Pac-12 Bracketology: Non-Conference Season

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 9th, 2016

The heavy lifting for Pac-12 teams has just begun but the non-conference games each team is leaving behind won’t stay in the rear-view mirror very long. They make a dramatic reappearance in the next two months when some of those games played two and three months prior might be the difference between getting a coveted invitation to the Big Dance and being shut out. This means that the only consistent way to analyze how each team did in non-conference play is to evaluate each resume as if the teams were on the bubble. In general, Pac-12 teams did a lackluster job of scheduling legitimate competition (and beating it). Even with a seriously stretched definition of what counts as a “quality win,” it was still tough to get excited about the success of these teams. Let’s run through it.

Arizona – IN

Sean Miller's Team is Of Course Easily In, But How High? (USA Today Images)

Sean Miller’s Team is Of Course Easily In, But How High? (USA Today Images)

  • KenPom Non-Conference Strength of Schedule: #292
  • Quality Wins: at Gonzaga, UNLV, Boise State (2x)
  • Bad Losses: None

The Wildcats look like the class of the Pac so the team’s at-large candidacy likely won’t matter much because they’re in regardless. They didn’t exactly challenge themselves in the first half of their schedule, playing  what amounts to the easiest non-conference slate in the conference. But Arizona also didn’t lose to anyone unexpected and beat a few decent teams too. It is possible that the win in Spokane against Gonzaga will be the only one to stand up as a true quality win, but for now, wins over Boise State (twice) and UNLV build a solid foundation for an at-large resume.

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UCLA Preview: Low Ceiling, High Floor?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 5th, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today’s stop: Westwood.

UCLA Bruins

Steve Alford has been in Westwood for two seasons now and he’s got consecutive Sweet Sixteens under his belt. For the first time in his tenure, he’s got a complete roster that is balanced between the frontcourt and the backcourt. And he’s got the makings of terrific recruiting classes started for the next two seasons. And yet, somehow, if you were to listen to certain segments of the notoriously tough UCLA fan base, you would think that the sky was falling. There are very high standards when you’re the head coach of a program with 11 national titles already in the rafters, but given the recent (and by recent, the last 40 years) history of the program, Alford is far ahead of the game. Still, barring a shocking development, this particular Bruins’ team is not likely to bring home banner #12. At UCLA, that all too often qualifies as a disappointment.

This Pair Of Alfords Has Have Had A Strong First Two Seasons In Westwood (AP Photo)

This Pair Of Alfords Has Have Had A Strong First Two Seasons In Westwood. (AP Photo)

Strengths. The Bruins’ biggest positives this season, especially compared with Alford’s previous two years, are two things: stability and depth. In Alford’s first year, there were the common questions associated with a new regime coupled with questions about frontcourt depth and the ability of freshmen to earn big minutes. Last season there was life without Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams and a short bench that forced players like Gyorgy Goloman, Thomas Welsh and Noah Allen into roles they weren’t ready for. This year? The Bruins have the same three returning starters — Bryce Alford, Tony Parker, Isaac Hamilton — that they planned to have all along, plus the guys who got bonus minutes last year. Throw in a pair of highly-regarded freshmen guards and combo forward Jonah Bolden making his debut after a year as a partial qualifier and you’ve got a deep UCLA team without many obvious holes in the lineup. Read the rest of this entry »

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West Coast Bias: Pac-12 Media Day Happenings

Posted by Adam Butler on October 16th, 2015

They say the media doesn’t pay attention to anything that happens out West, but no such claim could be made yesterday. Here is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2015 edition of Pac-12 Media Day, in order of their appearance.

USC Trojans

You only take the podium first if you’re the commissioner or the last place team in the conference. Andy Enfield isn’t Larry Scott. His squad is the latter. Andy Enfield is interesting to me in that Enfield “won the presser.” He was the flashy hire meant to breathe life into a stale program. And then he spouted off about UCLA! Of course those remarks were “off the record” and not meant to be disseminated anywhere beyond his practice. Two years ago we thought he was every bit the flashy hire Pat Haden promised. They’ve won six conference games since and Enfield really hasn’t had a ton to say. This year, however, he seemed to receive more questions and have more to say. It was a refreshing change from the previous platitudes. And while he didn’t say much – and distinctly promised nothing – there seems to be optimism inside this program. They’re older, wiser, stronger, and presumably better. Enfield has a talented roster: How will it translate?

Washington Huskies

Another program with the allusion of optimism, but I maintain it’s going to be a long one in Seattle. They’re bringing in a top recruiting class and return a senior point guard, but the Huskies feel another year away to me. Which of course is not the seat you want to sit in when you’ve had four progressively worse seasons. It’s the seat of a team predicted to finish 11th by the media. But let’s talk about the important stuff: #Globalization. The PAC is sending its Dawgs to China for the first ever regular season game – collegiate or professional – in China. LoRo’s squad will square off against Shaka Smart’s first Longhorn team in an overseas battle. The Huskies, in fact, are taking classes in prep for this trip. Fact: Andrew Andrews seamlessly spoke Mandarin during Pac-12 Media Day. Fact: Malik Dime is bilingual and the best Mandarin speaker on the team (according to Andrews). And while these are all admirable things, they might not be enough to create a particularly good basketball team.

Lorenzo Romar's Team Will Begin A Do-Or-Die Season For Their Coach In China Against Texas (Photo: Seattle Times)

Lorenzo Romar Will Begin A Do-Or-Die Season In China Against Texas (Photo: Seattle Times)

Colorado Buffaloes

Tad walked in all smiles and I loved it. At Media Day, while there isn’t anything particularly stressful, it isn’t everyone’s favorite day. There are logistics, entrances, platitudes, smiles for the camera, and a lot of ‘hey howya doings.’ Media Day is polite. But Tad Boyle waltzed onto the stage with his senior leader, Josh Scott, and a genuine grin on his face. He said, “I was just sitting down with Josh in the waiting room right there, and I’m not sure I have a lot to say. I’m just ready to play.” And doesn’t that make sense? Colorado closed last season in joyless fashion, watching a plethora of players transfer and a senior – Askia Booker – decline an invitation to play in the CBI. About five months ago, there was little to smile about surrounding Colorado basketball. “Looking at last year, I think me and my teammates kind of had to evaluate where we went wrong as a group, and in looking at it, we were afraid to call each other out,” Scott said. Now winning doesn’t necessarily demand a bunch of guys telling each other they’re out of position or screwing up, but it doesn’t hurt to have the kind of trust where teammates work together towards a common goal. The Buffs might not be great this year, but it seems they might be working towards cohesion. And that’s got Tad smiling.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Gonzaga 74, #11 UCLA 62

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 27th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Przemek Karnowski Was The Key Figure In Gonzaga's Sweet 16 Victory Over UCLA

Przemek Karnowski Was The Key Figure In Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 Victory Over UCLA

  1. NRG Stadium Problems. Two normally explosive offensive teams struggled to put the ball in the basket for much of this game, particularly in the first 20 minutes of action. Neither team managed even 40 percent field goal shooting for the opening half, and they combined to miss 12 of 14 three-point attempts in advance of intermission. For the game, the two teams combined to shoot under 40 percent from the field and a meager 19 percent from long-range, making just six total three-point field goals all night. Among onlookers, cavernous NRG Stadium seemed to receive much of the blame for the shooting woes. We’re not ready to chalk the struggles up solely to the lack of a backdrop for shooters in the dome (and lets revisit this after Duke and Utah torch the nets later tonight), but the setup did feel clumsy and uncomfortable. Given that Gonzaga had made 41 percent of three-point attempts on the year and UCLA 37 percent, it does seem likely that the NRG Stadium layout had something to do with the errant efforts tonight.
  2. Alford and Alford. Father-son duos were all the rage this March, but unfortunately for those who enjoy a good family narrative, those storylines are now closed for the season. Both father and son failed to do their part tonight for the Bruins: Bryce didn’t make a three-point field goal in the first 37 minutes of the game, finishing with just eight points on 3-of-11 field goal shooting; Steve’s failure was less salient, but the Bruins never showed the preparedness and energy necessary to stop the prolific Gonzaga offense. If last weekend was the Alfords at their best; tonight caught father and son at their near-worst.
  3. Few, Zags Break Through. It’s hard to believe, but this will be Mark Few’s first trip to the Elite Eight. America first became acquainted with Gonzaga when the Zags made the national quarterfinals in 1999 under Dan Monson, but Few had been 0-4 in Sweet Sixteen games before this evening. Most notable among those losses was the 2006 defeat at the hands of these very Bruins, which famously ended in a jersey-full of Adam Morrison tears. There is another significant milestone available for Few’s team on Sunday afternoon, but the closing-seconds elation on the Gonzaga bench hinted at a team – and a coach – who had finally chucked a monkey off the back.

Star of the Game. Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga. The biggest man on the floor was the best player in this game. Karnowski physically dominated Tony Parker, Kevon Looney and a fairly well-regarded UCLA frontcourt, scoring 18 points and grabbing nine rebounds on the evening. But Karnowski’s contributions went beyond his work near his offensive rim, as he blocked two shots and dished out a pair of no-look passes to Domantas Sabonis, both of which ended in dunks. On a night where Gonzaga’s perimeter shots were not falling (3-of-19 from three-point range), a big effort from their big man was much needed in getting them past UCLA and into the Elite Eight.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Friday

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

The Sweet Sixteen continues with four more compelling games tonight in Houston and Syracuse. Here are this evening’s previews.

#2 Gonzaga vs. #11 UCLA – South Region Sweet Sixteen (at Houston, TX) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

A new year brings new players like Kyle Wiltjer, who no doubt will play a huge role in Friday's matchup. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

A new year brings new players like Kyle Wiltjer, who no doubt will play a huge role in Friday’s matchup. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Nobody forgets the tears. Nine years and three days ago, UCLA induced a very public display of emotion from Adam Morrison. The circumstances that led to the devastation were far from ordinary – the Bruins erased a 17-point second half deficit and scored the final 11 points to down the Zags and advance to the Elite Eight – but it’s the singular image of Morrison, keeled over on the floor with blue Gonzaga jersey pulled over his face, that has persisted longest in the memory banks of March. Now, almost a decade later, the two teams renew March pleasantries for the first time since Morrison’s college career came to that tearful end. The differences between this matchup and the last are too numerous to list, but there is one key similarity: Gonzaga again has a team widely perceived to be capable of winning a national title.

Mark Few’s team has made just one Sweet Sixteen since 2006, and that team (in 2009) needed only to beat a #12 and a #13 to get there. Needless to say, Gonzaga Final Four prospects haven’t been this bright since Morrison was in uniform. This Bulldog team is nearly as explosive as the ’06 bunch (emphasis on nearly: that team was #1 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency), but points now originate from a wider variety of sources. Six Zags average at least eight points a game, and every Gonzaga regular owns an offensive rating in excess of 110. In the first two rounds, Gonzaga averaged 86.5 points per game and posted points per possession marks of 1.23 and 1.30 against North Dakota State and Iowa, respectively. Unlike in past years, the Zags we see this March look remarkably similar to the ones we watched all season. Good news for Mark Few; bad news for UCLA. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Three-Pac of Teams in the Sweet Sixteen Party

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 25th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Four of our friends were invited to this party last weekend along with a bunch of other people. It’s been a crazy, crazy time. If I told you about everything that went down, it would probably burn off both your ears. We’ve got some stories we’ll tell the next time this group gets together, but for now, three of our crowd are still going strong. And the way things are going, there’s a chance at least one of this cast of characters closes this party down. Before we get to those party animals, let’s pay tribute to the one we lost along the way.

Oregon Is The Only Pac-12 Team To Leave The Party Early (USA Today)

Oregon is the Only Pac-12 Team To Leave The Party Early. (USA Today)

Oregon came into the year a complete mess. The offseason was literally scandalous. There was a whole new group of players to meet. Expectations were low. The whole thing could have gone off the rails at any time. Instead, chalk up a Pac-12 Player of the Year award, a Pac-12 Coach of the Year award, a second-place conference finish, an NCAA Tournament win and another chance to throw one hell of a scare into Wisconsin before fading late. By any reasonable measure, this season in Eugene will go down as a resounding success. Joseph Young’s trailblazing two years came to an end, but a fine young group of talented players remain in his stead. And frankly, a changing of the guard could be the breath of fresh air the program needs. Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks will headline a group of talented sophomores, while Snoop Dogg Dwayne Benjamin will be the scrappy play-making veteran he established himself as this year. As long as Dana Altman returns along the sideline (which, given that previous scandal, is not exactly a 100 percent sure thing), there’s no reason to expect anything less than another strong upper-division finish next year from the Ducks. Read the rest of this entry »

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