Tonight is the second exhibition game against San Marcos, this time on "real TV "on the Pac 12 network at 7:30 pm. However, since this is just exhibition season let me set this preview up a bit different.
Unlike last year at this time the news off the court last week was encouraging. After the last couple years of concerns about Josh Smith's weight and Shabazz Muhammad's status it is really nice to hear about the Kevon Looney recruitment. Looney is the real deal and by all accounts a "good kid." He helps immediately solve UCLA number 2 recruiting need of bigs who can immediately play next year at a time when we will lose Kyle Anderson (whose Dad says he is leaving) and the Wear twins.
It is also brings up an interesting point. Looney is a national recruit. As we criticized Alford for going after too many national recruits that we thought him unlikely to land, we must now eat a helping of crow. If he can deliver on some other national recruits such as Texan Justise Winslow, he will not only prove us wrong but may be able to pull off something Ben Howland could not do even after three final fours: make UCLA into a national recruiting force. Before you say, but what about Howland's last class? Remember that was the exception and had a number of unique reasons such as the friendships of the players and the hiring of an assistant coach. More typical was Howland's search for a national point guard. He was never able to recruit a point guard starter and arguably his biggest miss was Ray MacCullum. UCLA had years of transfers, JC players, and Jerime Anderson as a result at the point. Sometimes like Larry Drew II, it worked. Other times, like when UCLA was forced to start Jerime Anderson at point, it resulted in twice missing the NCAA tournament.
Can Alford make a national recruiting strategy work? The jury is still out but unlike last week it is now a debatable question. Of course the age old counter to the national strategy is why?, UCLA is not Lawrence Kansas where there just are not many good local players. Why pursue a national strategy when there are so many good local players? Which brings us to the 2015 class. Elite recruits like Aaron Holiday and Stephen Zimmerman Jr. are kids that have strong family connections to UCLA and want to come to UCLA. Zimmerman is either the best or second best player in the 2015 class. These are local kids (yes I consider Vegas local) that Alford and UCLA must obtain. Zimmerman had a good visit this weekend:
Zimmerman is almost a must get. Holiday is as well. (His brother Jrue and the Holiday family love UCLA. They feel the opposite toward Ben Howland.)
So, I guess if he can keep the 2014 recruiting going nationally and deliver on the biggest "local" kids in 2015, then he will be well on his way to be a great recruiter. It seems like a tough act, but we never thought Looney would come.
Of course, there still is that problem of no point guard next year.
Alford has a seemingly unique answer to that as well; his offense does not require a point guard. Again, we are dubious of that. Let me just pull a quote from the coach Jeff Oliver of the first exhibition game opponent Cal State San Bernardino stated (emphasis mine):
It's going to be difficult [having Anderson play point guard on offense but not defend the position on defense]. From what I've seen, he won't be able to guard Pac-12 guards at all. He'll have to guard small forwards most of the year. They're going to get caught up in some cross switches in transition sometimes. I like Anderson. I don't know if the point is his spot to be honest with you. He does a lot of really good things. He's a tremendous passer and rebounder. But I think they get up the floor in transition faster when other guards handle the ball. But he does have good vision and he can get the ball up the floor to those athletes, so if that's what they choose to do, I think they'll be fine.
In other words, even if Alford's offense does not need a point guard, it seems his defense would need someone who could cover a quick point guard.
On the other points, as we have been saying all year in Anderson, Alford has a truly unique player whose talents he needs to maximize. Personally I think Anderson is going to lead UCLA in assists and rebounding this year, something last done by Bill Walton. Not bad company.
Two more comments on Kyle and what to watch tonight. Kyle has one advantage over most point guards: unlike every other point guard, he does not always have to wait for the ball from the big who rebounded it because often that big is Kyle. (Last year against San Marcos he had 16 rebounds.)
On the other side, it was great to see Alford have Kyle post up a couple times early a smaller guy. Of course, the problem was it did not work. Kyle needs to make the little guys on him pay by posting them up. (Personally I would love to see the old Wooden high post offense of the Walton era with Kyle in the Walton role. Not going to happen although Howland tried it against Minnesota in the tournament and it did not work.) Which sums up the issue for the very unique Kyle Anderson, can he score?
So tonight I will be watching Kyle the scorer. Defenses are going to want to make Kyle shoot. Will he be able to make them pay?
Speaking of shooting. One of the more encouraging events of the last game from a returning player may have been something that did not happen. As liggphys noted: "noticeable lack of Wear 19.5 ft specials." David Wear is not Travis, nor is he a guy this team needs to turn to for points. David played inside and had a very nice 13 rebounds in 29 minutes. While David is limited in his game, if he plays within himself he has a role because he is the team's second best rebounder. This would be a major improvement over Coach Howland who thought David could be a three and gave him a green light to shoot anytime from anywhere.
This brings us to the most worrisome fact not Steve Alford's fault as the Coach Oliver stated:
"[Tony Parker] still has to develop a back-to-the-basket post game. We weren't going to double him last night. We were going to have them beat us in the post instead of on the perimeter. You've got to pick your poison. "
While Parker's numbers, except free throws, don't look bad you do have to think that Parker needs to make teams pay as they are going to focus on shutting down the star of the team Jordan Adams and the other perimeter players.
Jordan Adams was the best player on the floor in the first exhibition game which was to be expected. The good news was the other perimeter players. Norman Powell looked like the player we had been hoping to see and only 2 of his 10 shots were from three. He was one of the best defenders as well. Norman seemed to be wasted by Howland as a kid ordered to hang on the perimeter. It was great to see Norman set free.
Will Norman keep attacking?
Next is the guy who has UCLA basketball junkies like me salivating, Zach Lavine. Again as Oliver stated:
I thought Lavine was a tremendous player, a great athlete who can shoot the ball from the perimeter and has an intermediate game too. I was really impressed with him.
What to watch on Lavine is how many minutes does Alford play him? He really needs to be on the floor as much as possible.
We have the makings of a really good team and by not being Howland, Alford should be in good shape against the PAC 12 except maybe Arizona. Which brings us to the next player who debuted last week: Bryce Alford. There is a lot to say on Bryce depending on your perspective. His first play was a nice steal and breakaway layup. He also led UCLA in turnovers with 4, including a couple of the "mustard's off the hot dog" variety. He hustled and had 6 rebounds as well.
I guess I would say two things on Bryce: (1) he looked like a raw freshman who was playing hard and (2) he is not in the same league as Zach LaVine.
How much does Bryce play in relation to Zach is what is going to interest me.
I will close with talking about Cal State San Marcos. Cal State San Marcos should be named Cal State Division 1 transfer. Cal State San Marcos will be led by Jason Johnson who scored 27 against San Diego State Friday night including five makes from three.
Next player of interest is De'End Parker, yes the same one who briefly played for UCLA before transferring as a possible causality of the Reeves Nelson madness. De'End is also deadly from three shooting 44.6 percent last season for San Francisco. De'End Parker was the leader in rebounds and assists against San Diego State and it will be interesting if Kyle Anderson is matched up against him.
Quincy Lawson, an LMU transfer, is the 6'6" power forward who does his damage inside shooting 59%. He never cracked the LMU lineup which may be why he transferred.
Niagara University transfer Malcolm Lemons is a starting wing. He left when he was benched his junior year at Niagara.
The last starter is University of Northern Arizona and Biola transfer Zack Zaragoza. Zack is another inside player at 6'5". 5'11" Bobby Macias may also see action.
So basically Cal State San Marcos is a short team which UCLA collectively should be able to dominate. However, De'End Parker should present some interesting match-up issues that could be fun to watch. It will be interesting to see if Tony Parker can take advantage inside.