2016-17 Pac-12 Preview: #5 UCLA Bruins

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UCLA Bruins


Head Coach:
Steve Alford
Overall Record: 15-17
Conference Record: 6-12 (10th in the Pac-12)
2015-16 Pomeroy Rating: #69 (9th in the Pac-12)
2015-16 Sagarin Rating: #70 (9th in the Pac-12)
Overall Off. Adj. Efficiency: #51
Overall Def. Adj. Efficiency: #119
Overall Scoring Average: 71.9 ppg (10th)
Overall Scoring Defense: 76.7 ppg (10th)
Conference Scoring Average: 76.8 ppg (5th)
Conference Scoring Defense: 77.4 ppg (8th)

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Summary:

After back to back Sweet 16 appearances in his first two seasons at UCLA, and the loss of two key starters, Steve Alford’s Bruins were picked to finish 5th in last season’s media poll.  We all know the results: a 17-loss season (tying UCLA’s 3rd worst ever), a tenth place finish (UCLA’s worst ever), and three losses to USC in one season for the first time since the early 1950s.  It was ugly.

And yet, one Top 3 recruiting class later, and UCLA is picked to best even last season’s prediction.  The addition of Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf have made the Bruins a trendy pick around the country.  But they certainly aren’t the only talented players on the roster.  Even with the summer loss of Jonah Bolden, UCLA still has some quality returning players:

The question for Alford is an obvious: will these star blue chippers (Ball, Leaf and Ike Anigbogu) be enough to transform UCLA, particularly on defense, so that the Bruins can not only compete with, but beat, the better teams in the country?

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The Back Court:

Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton are two of the more interesting senior guards in the country.  It’s not often that a team has two starting guards who have averaged double figures in scoring the prior two seasons, let alone two that are as maligned as UCLA’s duo.  The story of Bryce Alford is well-known.  Bryce has averaged 15+ points per game each of the past two seasons, but has done so while playing 36 minutes per game and shooting under 40% from the field.  Hamilton’s shooting has markedly improved, but still faces issues with turnovers.  Both have a terrible reputation for playing defense.

UCLA’s best returning basketball player is probably Aaron Holiday, the shortest of the NBA Holiday brothers to make it to big time college ball. Holiday is everything Alford is not: quick on defense, feisty for the ball, patient on offense. Holiday also improved his outside shooting as the year went. The same cannot be said of UCLA’s other blue chip back court recruit from 2015, Prince Ali, who struggled with his shooting throughout the season.

The big name in the back court is, however, is none of these guys, but prized freshman recruit Lonzo Ball, who turned in one of the great seasons even in the history of California high school basketball in leading Chino Hills to an undefeated State Championship season. Ball, who was named California high school player of the year and a McDonald’s All-American, is most often compared to Jason Kidd in style and ability.

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The Front Court:

UCLA’s front court is deep with blue chip recruits, but has concerns. UCLA’s loss of Tony Parker to graduation was no surprise, but the loss of Jonah Bolden to academic issues over the summer was a shock, and could be a big problem for a team that struggled to guard the rim. UCLA has plenty of meat along the front line, but Bolden was unique in athleticism and wingspan. With him gone, the obvious candidate for defensive stopper became blue chip freshman recruit Ike Anigbogu. But now Anigbogu has a torn meniscus and may be out until December. That leaves UCLA thin on defensive stoppers.

The starters are clear: Thomas Welsh, who shot nearly 60% in conference games and has a great outside touch up to 15 feet, will start at center; McDonald’s All-American TJ Leaf will start at power forward.  Leaf can score in bunches and from all over the court; he moves like a wing with size like a center; if given the opportunity, he could be one of the leading freshmen scorers in the conference.

Gyorgy Goloman and Alex Olesinski give UCLA some added bulk with skill along the front line. Neither is particularly athletic, but both can hit outside shots if left open.

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Conclusion:

So there you have it: on paper, a team that many pundits are picking in their Top 15 and as high as 2nd in the Pac-12. But it’s also a team that presents far more questions than answers. Are Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton going to play 70 minutes per game again while playing little defense? Can Anigbogu take over defensive rim protection when he heels? And what kind of impact will Lonzo Ball have? Enough to transform the program?

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Projected Lineup:

G Lonzo Ball
G Bryce Alford
G Isaac Hamilton
F TJ Leaf
C Thomas Welsh

 

LINK: Back to 2016-17 Pre-season Pac-12 Preview & Projections

 

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