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UCLA Basketball: Out-Of-Conference Assessment

I have to start coming clean. No excuses. I didn't think it was going to be good, but this is worse than I thought. Can the season be salvaged, or will it just be rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

I give myself a C. I'll wait until the Stanford/Berkeley home stand before I say F. My one defense is that the previews were written before the exhibition game -- that's when I first saw Hamilton and Welsh on a college floor. The season does now have the feel of being on the Titanic.

The PAC-12 Media Poll had the UCLA at fourth, and I had them second. The media logic, and not just the PAC-12 media, seemed to be to go with the safe picks: Arizona was the obvious choice for first, and Utah and Colorado were bringing back their entire starting lineups. At the same time, the analysts were saying that UCLA probably had the second most talent in the conference.

In my role, I need to set expectations. I didn't go with the safe choices. I said UCLA should be second, and it's up to Alford to coach them up. There's my mistake.

BTW, I think they were wrong about Colorado, and somewhat about Utah. The experience in Colorado is not enough to make up for the lack of talent. Utah is better -- no one was talking about 7'0" freshman center Jakob Poeltl at the time. Once I saw Utah and Poeltl, I downgraded the Bruins to third. Though Washington is a surprise (the luster perhaps may be fading with the loss at home to Stony Brook), I'm still very much underwhelmed by the conference after Arizona and Utah.

I had the Bruins at 8-4 and this point. The difference is the Oklahoma game in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Bruins were up in that game by 8 with about nine minutes left, but lost. At that point, the problem simply looked to be foul trouble and the bench along with poor free throw shooting. UCLA was destroyed by North Carolina the next day. Looking back, was Oklahoma the turning point? The Bruins of the first half of the UNC game are the Bruins of today -- the Bruins of Kentucky 24-0.

Oklahoma is 8-3 as I write this with no marquis wins and a loss to Washington.

What were my biggest preview mistakes?

1)      Isaac Hamilton: I'm reminded of my childhood and the Brooklyn playgrounds. There were so many great players who can't do s**t in front of a crowd, with referees, and a disciplined opposing team. I saw Isaac in practice last year, and I liked him. That was practice. Considering he has one brother in the NBA and another starting for Connecticut, it's mystifying that he can't get it together in a real game.

I said that he was probably being asked to do too much with the departures of LaVine and Adams, but that one thing, scoring, he's not doing when it counts. This season, that means in the first half.

I still see something in Isaac -- unlike most other analysts. I saw him play good defense in that practice, and I still see it now although very he's inconsistent and particularly bad in the zone.  He's got the help and recover thing unlike the rest of the Bruins, and he can hit shots from the three. He showed fire and pride against UAB, but he can't maintain that passion level -- he's too chill.

2)      Thomas Welsh: he was my number one x-factor. I've written about him often -- since his recruitment. My biggest issue was his stride -- he was clumsy. He overcame that, but he has light years to go in terms of lateral quickness and strength.  Further, like Isaac, he has an ongoing issue with performance jitters.

From the Azusa Pacific game, I saw immediately that he let small players inside him. Against Alabama, the tiniest shove from Jimmie Taylor, someone who is only there to protect the defensive rim, knocked Welsh out of the way, and resulted in a rebound and dunk with no one within two feet of him.

3)      Norman Powell: I said he looks to be one of three PAC-12 POY candidates. That's not happening. A combination of things is going wrong for Norman: he's not the leader-type, taking on the burden of number one option at the beginning of the season was too much and playing with Isaac and Bryce in the back court is a mission impossible. Who knows what else is going on? One of the biggest casualties of this is that Norman has not been a lock-down defender.

4)      The Offense: there isn't any. I talked about achieving balance between a post-up game and a transition game. I had the right idea with the exception that Looney has proven more to be a face-up player who can be at the high post, corner or elbow. In fact there is an identity crisis on offense. The schemes perhaps last for the first five plays of each half plus one after a timeout, and then degenerate into individual games. It's on the coaches, mainly Alford, but I'm beginning to question the highly-touted drill-master/X's and O's specialist Ed Schilling as well. The guards have to get some blame as well. They're playing me-first as if losing doesn't mean so much -- let me get stats, there's always another game.

5)      The Defense: I said the defense would be stouter. This subject would take a long magazine article by itself. My main premise was that it had nowhere to go but up from 2013-14, and you had three players, Powell, Looney and Hamilton, who were willing to play defense. UCR and Gonzaga actually went at Looney successfully, Powell is not focusing on defense, and Hamilton has been inconsistent.

This sounds more like an attack on the players, but I'm calling it as I see it. I had expectations for some of these players, and the expectations weren't met. I'm telling you why. That said, there's been no "coaching up." I don't see control at this point. If there are coaching instructions, then I find it bizarre that the players don't follow the instructions for more than a couple of minutes, and then the free-for-all starts up again.

I'm not optimistic for a tournament appearance this year, but I'm not 100% ready to say it is totally downhill from here. This weekend's road trip to Colorado and Utah is tough, but I do think Colorado is winnable -- this game may be eerily similar to the Alabama game. The weekend after brings Stanford and Berkeley to Pauley. I know, I may be holding on too much, but that's the write-off point for me (specifically, on the season). What can be done? At this point it seems like rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic, but criticize and advise is what we do.