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UCLA Basketball: Week 2 Hoops Q&A -- Pre-B4A Edition

The Bruins made it to the eve of the Battle 4 Atlantis undefeated and at #22 in the AP poll. We look back at the last week and try to read the tea leaves for the B4A starting tomorrow.

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1) Looking back, the Bruins are 4-0. Same question as last week, expressed differently: how are they doing relative to your expectations?

chrissorr: I was a bit worried in the second half of Nicholls. I know some posters expressed that it was OK to take your foot off the accelerator after being up by 31 at halftime, but IMO, the coach shouldn't let an AAU game take place in Pauley, and even under those circumstances, they should dominate Nicholls.

LBST made me feel better. Beating them doesn't make UCLA a top 20 team, but we weren't undone by a good and deep group of guards.  If we hit our FT's, Tony doesn't get into foul trouble and Looney has an "average" game, then it's a blow-out albeit that's a lot of ifs.

I'm more down on the "other weakness" - the bench.

All-in-all, mission accomplished, and now it's on to the B4A without a Howland-esque meltdown.

DCBruins:  Our offense is in good shape.  Our guards can really score led by Norman Powell who is looking like a complete player.  (A great example of why you stay in school.  In his fourth year, he is doing it all.) Our offense is also doing a good job taking care of the ball and not making many turnovers.  Lastly UCLA has a legitimate offensive rebounding force in Kevon Looney for the first time in years. Our defense and bench though are reasons to worry.  There is a huge drop off in quality when the bench gets into the game.  UCLA's bench has struggled against some not that great competition.  The man to man defense has been horrid forcing UCLA to play a lot of zone.

2)  What does the bench rotation look like?

DCBruins:  I would say the depth chart looks like this, those in parenthesis is a secondary position.

PG Bryce Alford.  Backup (Isaac Hamilton)

SG Isaac Hamilton. Backup Noah Allen

Center: Tony Parker Backup Thomas Welsh

Power Forward: Kevon Looney Backup Wannah Bail

Small Forward Norman Powell Backup (Kevon Looney), (Noah Allen)

Obviously the backup three is the wide open one still with Steve Alford trying different combinations including Looney as a small forward paired with Bail.  He briefly played Allen at 3 but he has played more minutes at 2 and is really playing guard.  It is strange he does not put Norman on top on the zone in those spots and let the taller Allen play down low more.  Allen plays hard and hustles but his mechanics are a bit off and there are questions on his athletic ceiling.   In a sense Allen fits our need because he is the only guy on the bench that can passably play guard.

However, personally I like Bail the best.  Bail is an intimidating presence and very good athlete with a big upside.  He is a good defender and I think could be a good PAC 12 level player with minutes and if he continues to develop.  I guess what I am trying to say, is I would roll the dice and give Bail a lot more minutes in the hopes that he can really contribute significantly at the end of the season.

chrissorr: It was odd to see Powell in the back with Allen up front in a zone. Is that about Powell's athleticism? I agree with what you have. The winnowing has started. Golomon had one minute, and the other three were at or below their season lows. Welsh would have trouble getting in if Tony didn't need a blow or get in foul trouble. Noah is the most versatile, but I think he shouldn't be shooting 3's. I was less impressed with Bail than you were against LBST, but he's the best hope right now. Alford needs to be careful about the combinations on the court. He has to feather in the subs so that there's aren't three at once, and only certain combinations of two bench players. For example, it looks like it's tough to sit Bryce, and you need as much handle as you can get. Not sure you put in Welsh or Bail in when that's happening. Any tournament-type like B4A or the PAC-12 tourney where you play on consecutive days is going to be tough for this team. I haven't run the numbers, but I'd go at around 34 minutes on average for each starter every game. Bryce and Powell more, Hamilton and Parker less.

3) How is the PAC-12 doing - pre-conference? Who is your Freshman of the Year and POY thus far?

chrissorr: After a slow start, it was mainly a better week for the league. The biggest team story has to be Cal's win over Syracuse. Syracuse is markedly weaker this season, especially on offense, but still, it's not easy to take on Syracuse in New York.  Stanford did not get wiped-out by Duke -- he said with a backhanded compliment.  They lost 70-59 in Brooklyn, but played even-up in the second half.  Colorado did get blown out by Wyoming.

FOY is between three players: Looney, Arizona's Johnson and Utah's Poeltl. I give Looney the early lead - just on the box score.  I'll go with Stanford's Chasson Randle for POY.

DCBruins: The PAC 12 except Southern Cal is doing better than expectations in my mind with the exception of that Colorado loss.  Maybe college basketball is down.  Looney may have a better chance than Johnson at the freshman of the year award (who I think was the preseason favorite) because Arizona's Coach Sean Miller is a defense first coach and hurts the offensive numbers and production of his players.

4) On an individual level, let's talk about Bryce Alford.  How is the lightening rod Bryce Alford doing as a point guard?

DCBruins:   Bryce has given a lot of sustenance to his supporters and critics.  Bryce has handled some decent pressure from some good mid major guards and is third in the nation in assists after our Sunday night game.  He has done this while only turning the ball over 7 times.  He is shooting 47% from the field, 41% from three, and 91% from the line.   Bryce's value to the team can be shown as the offense has come to a complete halt when he is out of the game.

On the other hand, Bryce, the point guard, leads UCLA in shot attempts including some wild ones.  He has been rotten on defense forcing UCLA to play zone to hide him as some mid-major guards have destroyed him.  Overall, Bryce has passed the first exam as a point guard but has not exactly put the worries to bed with the bigger tests coming up.

chrissorr: You have to expend a lot of energy to hide him whether it's playing zone or figuring out who he can cover, forcing a crossover from offense to defense. I'm not sure his handle of the ball is as sure as it needs to be. Kentucky won't care, but if I was a PAC-12 team, and I had the horses, I would press him. That said, he's ahead of my expectations. If there was another point guard, he'd be a fine offensive 2.

5) Before we do an in-depth preview, what are your early thoughts on the B4A?

chrissorr: Oklahoma lost to Creighton. Apparently, they got nervous playing in front of 17,000 in Creighton's gym.  On the other hand, the NCAA declared Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas immediately eligible, so they just got unexpectedly better -- and I thought we might have the advantage in the front court. I expect Oklahoma to be the favorite, but I haven't seen the Bruins get rattled yet, so I think we have a shot (Kenpom apparently thinks so). The first game will be our best, and then they will get worn down playing every day.

DCBruins:  I am not sure you can play starters 30+ minutes a game for three games in three day tournament but I am not sure how much choice we have.  We can't score when Bryce sits and the bench as a whole is not ready.  I think 0-3 is more likely than 3-0 or even 2-1.  The field is stacked but that being said, I think we can win a game. The Oklahoma game will be the best game so far this year to see where we really stand.