Pac-12 Post-Mortems: UCLAPosted 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.
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.
No question – Kyle Anderson. Not only was he the best player on these Bruins, but he was a very deserving candidate (along with Arizona’s Nick Johnson) for Pac-12 Player of the Year. His ability to find teammates for open looks with spectacular passes was already well-known, but his overall floor game was more than just dropping dimes. He would unselfishly kick the ball ahead to jump start a fast break; he would slow the game down when the Bruins needed to regain their composure; he was more than capable of getting his own shot when the opportunity presented itself; and he was terrific at finding shooters like Jordan Adams, Zach LaVine and the Wear twins exactly where they wanted it. And – gasp! – he actually turned into a pretty good defender and one of the conference’s best defensive rebounders in his time.
Anderson’s dad came out and said it before the season even began – this was always going to be Slo-Mo’s final season in Westwood. He’s off to the NBA and a promising future awaits him there. Joining him in the NBA Draft is the freshman LaVine, who was lights-out early in non-conference play and mostly abysmal from late January on. Still, he’s got enough promise (good size, great athleticism, good shooter) despite glaring weaknesses (no game off the bounce, poor handle, bad defense) to warrant first round consideration, and he will not be returning to Westwood. Meanwhile, Norman Powell is also considering a leap to the NBA, although he is more likely to return than depart, while Adams has already confirmed his decision to return for his junior year. And then there are the Wear twins, who used up their remaining collegiate eligibility this season.
Players Coming In
Luckily for Alford, plenty of reinforcements arrive, mostly in the frontcourt. Highlighting the list is 6’8” combo forward Kevon Looney, a McDonald’s All-American who is an inside-outside threat with a professional future. Thomas Welsh, a 6’11” center out of Los Angeles, joined Looney at that McDonald’s game, and he will join him in Westwood next fall. Welsh is an improving big man who may take some time to fully develop, but he will likely be pressed into plenty of early minutes. Rounding out the classes’ frontcourt recruits are 6’8” Aussie power forward Jonah Bolden and 6’10” Euro stretch-center G.G. Golomon. But perhaps the most important member of the new Bruins will be one who has been in the program for a year already – 6’5” guard Isaac Hamilton. A 2013 McDonald’s All-American, he originally committed to UTEP before backing out and winding up at UCLA. He had to sit out this season, but he’s been practicing with the team, and will be a vital piece for Alford next year given the shallow backcourt situation. He’ll likely share time at the point with Bryce Alford, while also being counted on to become a reliable perimeter scorer. Meanwhile, UCLA will continue to monitor the recruiting trail for another potential backcourt prospect.
Reason for Hope
After one season under the new regime, UCLA basketball became fun again. It took some time for Bruins fans to come around, but a thrilling Pac-12 Tournament final win over Arizona may have cemented their newly regained support. With three new McDonald’s All-Americans locked in for next year, Adams returning as the team’s go-to scorer, and with Alford beginning to really get after it on the recruiting trail, you can expect the level of talent in Westwood to skyrocket.
Reason For Concern
However, one piddly little Sweet Sixteen appearance is not enough of a foundation for a coach about whom there have been many questions. Alford needs to sustain the momentum this team built, and there is a chance that he’ll have to do that next year with only Alford and Hamilton in the backcourt. Even if both Adams and Powell return, the 2014-15 Bruins will be counting on a lot of young players to play a lot of big roles.
B. The program’s first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2008 is something to be proud of, and the way this team accomplished that – with a fun and exciting brand of basketball – will pay dividends going forward. But, let’s be honest — anything short of a Final Four doesn’t even warrant consideration for any higher of a grade than a B around Pauley Pavilion.