Bumped. GO BRUINS. - BN Eds.
Yet another Bruin basketball season has come to a close and as has been the case all too often of late, the end came earlier than it needed to. As we turn our attention to baseball and continue to look forward to football, there will likely be plenty of armchair quarterbacking and other general venting about this basketball season and the state of our basketball program. And in the grand spirit of the internet . . . I want in. I've been listening to far too many people talk about what a good "coach" Alford is (great offensive "system", Sweet 16, etc.) and I just can't take it anymore.
A quick disclaimer: I will focus this post on Alford the coach, and not Alford the man. Much has been written on BN about the character-flaws of Coach Howland's Successor and I really can't articulate it any better than has already been said. For the record, my opinion is that he does not deserve to wear the mantle of Steve Lavin's program, much less Coach's program, and I see little point in spending any more time discussing it.
So here are my observations about Alford as a coach:
- Man Offense: Without a true post player (though I would have loved to see more of Kyle in the low-post), the Bruins relied on a perimeter-oriented offense with motion principles. Theoretically, this was the right move for us as 7 of our 8 primary rotation guys could shoot the 3 and with our bigs drawing opponent bigs away from the basket, that should create driving lines to attack the rim. In my opinion, however, there was never enough motion in our offense. A good motion offense always has two guys moving off-ball, typically away from the ball-handler to screen for two other guys - in other words, there should always be at least two people moving at anytime, not counting the ball-handler. Furthermore, that motion should continue all the way until a shot goes up and not stop after the first few passes. From my amateur point of view, I rarely saw multiple Bruins in motion at once and I rarely saw motion past the first few passes in a possession. Thank God for Kyle Anderson - he was able to bail out UCLA repeatedly this year by creating his own offense off isolation when the system failed to generate good shots. The problem is that when Kyle wasn't in the game, particularly against good defensive teams, there was no one who could control the game through isolation like he could. As a coach, you can always tell that your system really works when it can generate good shots when your best players aren't in the game. If your "system" relies on exceptional individual talent to work . . . then you don't really have a system at all. I suppose the real measure of Alford's "system" will be next year when Kyle, and maybe Jordan, aren't around. Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to be pretty. I was very unimpressed with Alford's man offense.
- Zone Offense: Alford actually scores well with me here. Unlike Howland before him, Alford actually has a pretty good idea about how to attack a zone using spacing, ball movement, and most importantly, the high post. Our zone offense this year was much improved but was rarely tested in key moments. Given the number of good shooters in our rotation, good teams always played man against us when it counted.
- Transition Offense: Yes, we pushed the ball well in transition and piled up lots of fast break points. This does not impress me at all, however. Try and find kids out of high school who DON'T want to run and gun. Alford merely did the obvious and took off the parking brake. Again, we'll see how this looks next year without Kyle to set the table.
- Defense: Ugh, where to begin? OK, we don't have a roster full of defensive stoppers (outside of Norman Powell and maybe Tony Parker if he keeps working on his lower body) but there are ways around that. In man-to-man defense, what we lacked in intensity and foot speed, we made up for with versatility and length. So if you're going to play man-to-man, you have to take advantage of that and SWITCH EVERYTHING. We had problems with the pick-and-roll this year (and particularly against Florida tonight in a brutal stretch) and our guys lack the speed and the toughness to either get through the pick or hedge. So you SWITCH EVERYTHING, at least with your starting five. All that takes is some intelligence in terms of timing the switches and communication for calling them out. But we had problems with that all year, particularly when we went to the bench.
- Defense part 2: Now, I don't have a problem with hiding a defensive liability in exchange for offense. Go watch old Laker film from the 80s - Magic Johnson routinely guarded the weakest offensive player on the court and the Lakers did everything they could to hide him defensively. If you're name is Magic Johnson, then we're fine and there's no argument. But if you're name is Bryce Alford?? I'm sorry, but it's seriously sad that a Division I basketball team has to entirely change its defensive scheme to hide the backup point guard. So what do you do when you can only get by with man-to-man because your starters can switch everything but your bench can't? Alford's solution was to play a vanilla 2-3 zone mixed with the occasional token zone press. What I believe to be the correct solution, however, is to accept that if you can't fully stop someone, you should at least confuse them. I believe we should have been running a mix of defenses that would include basic man-to-man, man presses, zone presses, 2-3 zone, 1-3-1 zone, 3-2 zone, and match-up zone. A misconception about basketball is that offense controls the game because the offense controls the ball. I believe that, in truth, defense controls the game because the offense calls their plays based on the defense. Imagine a scenario where an opposing offense was facing a different defense every time or two down the court. Sure, there's the risk that we would confuse ourselves and suffer the occasional breakdown but more often than not, we'd confuse the other guys. That scenario sure seems better to me than the horribly predictable scheme that involved man-to-man for the first 6-7 minutes of the half and the switch to the zone that occurred once Bryce entered the game (which I'm sure was just a coincidence).
When you put all of that together, my own personal "eye" test suggests that Alford is a mediocre coach at best who lacks a good offensive system and the ability to put together a comprehensive defensive game plan. Yes, we scored a lot of points and we won a lot of games this year. But against good teams where the talent level is more of a wash, coaching wins games. Those of you who still think Alford is a "good" coach, can you please tell me of a game we won this year because of Alford? Can you tell me of a game where you thought to yourself, "Alford is outcoaching _________", or "We're winning this game because Alford's system is generating open shots" or "Gosh, Alford's adjustments are making all the difference right now"?? (I didn't even touch on game management in this post - that's a whole other dissertation unto itself!)
I'm sorry, he's just not a good coach. This is as good as we're ever going to be under Alford - losing in the Sweet 16 to a better-coached team. That's not good enough for UCLA. That's certainly not good enough to justify the contract he snagged.
Time to fire Guerrero and then find a basketball coach who's worthy of carrying on the tradition of the four letters.