FanPost

UCLA Basketball: Six Observations on The Washington Road Trip

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Bumped. GO BRUINS. - BN Eds.

1. It's easy for other coaches to game plan against the Bruins,

which may partly explain why the Bruins often play relatively poor first halves. Over the course of 40 minutes, UCLA's superior talent generally overtakes the strategic advantage opposing coaches have as a result of the predictability and inflexibility of Alford's substitution patterns and schemes.

What defense will the Bruins be playing at the 12 minute mark of the first half? Very probably a 2-3 zone. When in the first half will Alford sub in his only true post player? Between 5 and 8 minutes into the half. Does UCLA ever change their zone scheme? No. Worst of all, we all know that even if Norman Powell scores the first 15 points of the game, he'll still be benched after about 6 minutes for #Daddyball..

Predictability and inflexibility in game management are not attributes of a good coach. Where these flaws hit the hardest is in tournament games where the differences in talent grow smaller and the opposing coaches tend to be better. This may explain why Steve Alford has such a poor record in the NCAA tournament, with a winning percentage barely above 40%. And it may explain why the third-seeded, heavily favored Lobos lost to Harvard in the NCAA tournament last year. And how did Alford respond to his team falling behind and eventually losing?

New Mexico (30-5) trailed at halftime, but not by as much as the face of their coach indicated. Steve Alford, who received a 10-year extension Wednesday, stomped all around the sideline, arms folded, eyes rolling, face twisted into grimaces.

"We can’t shoot for them," Alford said when asked about all the missed shots. "We’ve had games like that. Several games."

So familiar. So predictable. Alford in a nutshell.

2. Alford's logic is circular.

With the suspensions of Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams for the Oregon game, Noah Allen got a rare opportunity to play. Allen's 11 minutes against the Ducks easily surpassed the total of 4 minutes of playing time he'd received in 14 previous Pac-12 games. After the game, Steve Alford had this to say about Noah Allen's performance:

Asked whether if Alford might give his reserves more time after the Oregon game, he talked about how much a newfound confidence in UCLA's bench players could be huge down the stretch.

Plenty of praise for Noah Allen, who played 11 minutes, and played really, really well, according to Alford: "We've got confidence now to be able to go to Noah as well."

So according to Steve Alford logic, for a player to earn playing time, Alford has to have "confidence" in the player, and that "confidence" is gained by playing well in games. Or more succinctly, by removing the baloney from Alford's logic sandwich, it boils down to this: playing time is earned through playing time.

To put it kindly, Alford's explanation amounts to gibberish. Why hasn't Wannah Bail played more than 5 minutes in any Pac-12 game? Because he hasn't proven he can play more than 5 minutes in a Pac-12 game. For those who enjoy logic, this is an example of a logical paradox known as "vicious circularity."

Does Alford even believe the nonsense he's spouting? Probably not. But the fact that Bandini Mountain grows higher every time Alford opens his mouth isn't a point in his favor.

3. Alford's infatuation with Bryce is taking the ball out of the hands of the Pac-12's best player.

The math is simple: in conference play, Bryce is averaging 24.1 minutes per game and Kyle is averaging 34.6 minutes per game. That means that over the course of our conference games, Kyle has been the main ball handler for less than 16 minutes a game. Of course, Kyle's incredible versatility allows Alford to get away with this, and the fact that Kyle contributes effectively in so many other ways helps to cover up the foolishness of taking the ball out of the hands of the team's best passer.

Alford tires to rationalize handing Bryce a large share of the point guard duties with the suggestion that Kyle needs to be kept rested and fresh. The problem with that explanation is that Steve Alford has been playing Kyle more minutes as the season has progressed:

Kyle_chart_medium

via s26.postimg.org

rom the chart, Kyle's MPG average has steadily increased since the start of Pac-12 games, and although it's hard to see from the chart, Kyle's increasing playing time has not come at the expense of playing time for the "backup" point guard. In fact, Bryce's MPG has also increased in Pac-12 games.

So what is Alford doing? He's not resting Kyle to keep him fresh for the conference and NCAA tournaments. In fact, he's merely moving Kyle to a role where he handles the ball less and has fewer opportunities to use his unique sill set to create easy baskets for his teammates.

Good coaches find ways to get the most from their players. Alford finds ways to give his son minutes.

4. A comparison of Zach's and Bryce's scoring reveals the influence of #Daddyball.

In the context of a discussion of Zach LaVine making himself available for the NBA draft at the end of the season, there was a comment in the last game thread that compared the scoring averages of Zach and Bryce in conference play. The claim was made that Bryce has a higher scoring average than Zach in Pac-12 games. Prior to the beginning of the game, that claim was correct, but only by the smallest of margins: Bryce had scored 146 points and Zach had scored 145. After the game, the claim was no longer correct (each player had scored 152), and at the point the comment was made, it's uncertain which player had scored more. However, my point here is not to quibble about what I believe is a statistically insignificant difference; instead, I want to look at the difference in the way each player is scoring.

A few charts reveal a lot:

Bryce_chart_medium

via s26.postimg.org

Zach_chart_medium

via s26.postimg.org

As the first chart shows, Bryce is scoring an amazing 33.5% of his points from the free throw line, which is the fifth highest mark in the conference. But Bryce isn't necessarily earning those foul shots as a result of drawing fouls in the act of shooting; a sizeable fraction of those foul shots are generated by the fact that Steve Alford puts his son on the court at the end of games to be a ball handler. That observation isn't meant to take anything away from Bryce's excellent free throw shooting, but it does show that Bryce's scoring isn't simply a function of his offensive prowess.

The difference between Zach's and Bryce's scoring abilities is also apparent in shooting percentages:

Player FG% 3FG%
BAlford 35.5% 36.1%
LaVine 39.7% 40.7%

These statistics show that Zach is a significantly better shooter, and a better scorer within the offensive framework. So let's not have any more comparisons between Zach and Bryce that don't account for the special role that Alford has created for his son.

5. Jordan Adams for Pac-12 Player of the Year?

If it wasn't for the fact that no collegiate player fills a box score quite like Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams would get more recognition for the breadth of his contributions. Consider his résumé:

Pac-12 Rank
PPG 6th
RPG 22nd
APG 24th
A/T 18th
SPG 1st
+/- Avg 3rd
Roland Avg 2nd

Kyle Anderson deserves to be Pac-12 Player of the Year, but Jordan Adams deserves to be part of the conversation.

6. Steve Alford should practice what he preaches.

Every team in every sport I've played since I was 10 had a set of team rules. In some cases the list of rules was short and stuck to the basics; in other cases the list of rules was extensive and included items like details of pregame rituals to which we were expected to adhere. My high school basketball coach gave each player a notebook filled with 48 pages of rules that we were expected to know and follow throughout the season. It included a strict dress code for away games, detailed rules for addressing and interacting with game officials and opposing coaches and players, guidelines for our responsibilities to teachers, teammates and coaches, and even a set of rules relating to care of school equipment. It was a manual for navigating the basketball season. If you broke a rule, you were punished. It was that simple.

After completing the terms of any punishment for a rules violation, my coach required the offending player to apologize to the team and to any other individual (teacher, ref, coach, parent) that was the subject of the rules violation. And there was also a meeting with the coach to discuss "the bigger picture" of why he created his book of rules and why he enforced them the way he did. I know this because I sat through one (and only one!) of those meetings. I broke a rule; I was late for practice.

At the time, I was hoping that the fact that I was only 5 minutes late for practice would be a mitigating factor. As soon as I got to practice, I immediately apologized to my coach, and in response, he simply nodded. I thought I'd escaped punishment but at the end of practice, when the team huddled, my coach announced my suspension and told me that we needed to meet before the next practice. I was nervous that the impending lecture would be worse than the suspension. In fact, as it turned out, the lecture softened the blow of the suspension.

As my coach explained, the reason for the rules was not meant as an exercise to assert power. He wanted his players to respect him as a teacher and obey the team rules out of respect for him and teammates. Punishment was not meant to establish his authority but rather to teach responsibility. The rules were of course intended to instill discipline, but more than that, they were put in place to teach life lessons about accepting the responsibilities that come with commitment, and learning to acknowledge and accept responsibility for missteps. This is why, he explained, I needed to formally apologize to my teammates and coaches. And he emphasized that I had to show that I understood my mistake and that I was sincere in my apology.

The point of my long-winded story is a reminder about what Coach's program stands for. Coach considered himself a teacher, and crucially, the most important things he taught his players were life lessons. When Coach said "Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability," he wasn't just talking basketball. Coach taught lessons in teamwork, discipline, respect and responsibility as well as basketball.

When Steve Alford was hired, he claimed to be embracing Coach's program. This is not the program of Bobby Knight, where coaches fling chairs and throw tantrums like a displaying chimp in order to assert authority. If the point of punishing players for rules violations is to teach responsibility, then Steve Alford set a very poor example at his introductory press conference when asked about Pierre Pierce:

"That was an incident that happened years ago at the University of Iowa and all I can tell you with that situation is I followed everything that the University of Iowa, the administration, the lawyers that were hired, I did everything I was supposed to do at the University of Iowa in that situation. I followed everything that I was told to do."

If Alford refused to take responsibility for his misdeeds, what example did that set for his players? And when outrage at Alford's refusal to accept responsibility for his actions finally led to a forced, insincere apology, Dan Guerrero chimed in with this:

I expect all of our coaches to serve as an example to our student-athletes and the entire Bruin family, displaying true character and strong values.

In summary, Dan Guerrero hired a man who for over ten years had steadfastly refused to acknowledge or accept responsibility for his mistakes in the Pierre Pierce incident, and yet claims to want coaches that display "true character and strong values." And Steve Alford claims to embrace the principles of Coach but simply can't be bothered to live by those principles.

Steve Alford's mentor is Bobby Knight. When the Bruins aren't playing well, Alford screams. When the Bruins lose, Alford blames the players. And when Alford suspends players for rules violations, it's not a teaching moment, it's an exercise in enforcing authority because, to be honest, it's pretty difficult to expect players to learn a lesson that their coach still hasn't managed to learn.

Steve Alford isn't fit to lead Coach's program because he doesn't understand Coach's philosophy and he doesn't embody the character and values that Coach spent a lifetime teaching.

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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