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UCLA Basketball-- Week 4 Hoops Q&A: Pre-Gonzaga Edition

The Bruins have one more cupcake then the schedule takes a tough turn, and basically stays that way. The meek win over USD has us scratching our heads over strategy again. Can the Bruins be competitive with Gonzaga?

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1) Is Kevon Looney the best college rebounder in America?

chrissorr: He's in fifth as of Sunday morning, and the players in front of him are from low to mid- major schools. Kentucky has at least four rebounding studs (over two platoons) so that will be the ultimate test. If Looney stayed another year - which isn't happening - there would be no doubt in my mind that he would be far and away the best. He's one of those guys with a nose for the ball, technique and desire all rolled into one.

DCBruins: Not sure if he is best overall rebounder but I find it hard to believe there is a better offensive rebounder.  But what may keep him from winning the rebound title is the same thing helping get a few extra minutes, no bench.  In Looney's case the lack of a bench forces Looney to play a lot of three and do a lot of things he would not have to do on a better team where he could focus on rebounding.  Take the last game as an example.  Late in the game against USD Looney was bringing the ball up; at another point he was the high post and we were running the game through him; and he was on top of a 1-3-1 that featured three 6-9 or above guys as the middle three.  Looney willed the team to a win like you wrote in your review and that was not just with his rebounding.

He is the best freshman in the PAC 12.  Stanley Johnson, the preseason favorite for the award, is hurt by Arizona Sean Miller's defense first and offense as an afterthought approach.   He is a first team all PAC 12 player and the best freshman at UCLA since Kevin Love.

2) Would you ever consider slowing it down in part because of our short bench?

DCBruins:  Another way to combat a short bench is to slow things down and be patient on offense.  Not try to run as much.  I know that is not what Steve was hired to do but it seems like something worth trying a bit.  By that I mean I wish against UCR we tried to run the offense some and have Kevon and Tony touch the ball more.  I like Kevon as a high post.  I love Isaac for the open three that comes after multiple passes.  We can beat a UCR with Norman and Kevon just being more athletic but that is not always going to work.

Of course on the other side it helps to run a set offense to have a great point guard.  Still Steve Alford always says his offense does not need a point guard and I still think it could work and the starting five is a nice group on offense.  Bryce and Norman can score.  Hamilton is a very good set shooter. Tony is a good post.  Kevon can do it all except shoot outside and he is phenomenal on the offense boards.  If we are going to pull off an upset, it will likely because our set offense is clicking.

chrissorr: I think it will be the opposing team's strategy to slow us down with various tactics including sending players back early and using a lot of their clock. We should benefit on the boards.

Given the strength we have with Parker and especially Looney inside, we have to have an alternative game to the transition.

Frankly, I haven't seen much transition anyway except against the extreme cupcakes. Last year, we had Kyle, Jordan and Norman plus the Wear twins. They were better in transition than this team.

3) Bruins seem to be playing more man?  Do you agree, is it just practice against cupcakes, can it be sustained?

chrissorr: We'll see soon enough against Gonzaga this Saturday night. I think finally all will be revealed. The B4A still saw the old patterns, unless Alford thinks all is lost until the Colorado game, I don't see why he would hold back anything vs. Gonzaga at Pauley. Man-to-man is always going to be a better defense (and for rebounding) than the zone. If you don't have the personnel and, on top of that, you are short-benched and foul prone, you are forced to play zone.

It's turned out that three (or even four) starters can play man; I'd like to see the balance move from 40-60 man to 60-40. Defense is always going to be a weakness; it's just a matter of degree.

DCBruins: One nice thing that Steve Alford does is change defenses.  Against average teams or even good teams with bad offenses (Arizona) that can really help.   I like that he changes up with the starters and is now playing some man to man with the bench.  (Unlike last year when the bench always played zone.)  I actually think our starting interior defense is good, not great, but Looney and Parker do a good job inside helping in man.  Looney is a legitimate shot blocker and Parker is a space eater and has learned how to hedge.  I think we can play a lot of man as long as you can hide Bryce and keep Norman out of foul trouble.  (Hamilton is the x-factor in man, I have seen him look good and awful.  He could develop into a good defender and make a difference.)

4)  What do you think of Isaac Hamilton's play so far?

DCBruins: Isaac is not what is advertised in any way, shape, or form.  The rumors that he was selfish seem unfounded.  He passes and is not a gunner on offense (wish Bryce and Norman followed his lead more in this regard).  However, he is not a "point guard" as Steve Alford said before the season or even close.  He is probably the fourth best ball handler of the starters.  Part of the "bench" problem is he can't backup the point.  Then again, he may be the best shooter on the team when he has feet set.  Yet he is not good at creating his own shot.  On defense, he seems inconsistent.

chrissorr: I agree with everything you said. I'm disappointed, the team needs his offense. I don't know whether you can stop Bryce from shooting or not, but it would be better, when Bryce wasn't deliberately playing off the ball, that there was another shooter.

I'm pleased with his defense because I expected nothing before the season.

Isaac is still timid and nervous and is not coming out with UAB-like motivation every game. He disappears.

Next year is going to be interesting. On the surface, depth problem solved but in reality, Bryce and Isaac come back and likely start next year. Is that what we wanted?

5) Is there any chance in hell we beat Gonzaga?  Let me put it another way, what would be the way to forward to beating Gonzaga?

chrissorr:  First let me say that Kentucky would have to have six injuries, and then, depending on whom the injuries were to, we'd only be 5 point underdogs. Also, that USD game scared me.  It seemed like a step back from strategic changes that made a lot of sense.

I actually do see a way forward with both Gonzaga and Arizona. Unfortunately Arizona is going to be on the road.

Mind you, I'm not saying we are going to win either of those games, just saying there's a way to do it.

Arizona and Gonzaga are totally different except that they are both good defensively and they are both slow and deliberate. (Note to recruits: Miller is totally full of shit saying that Arizona is up-tempo). And yet, they cancelled each other out not only in the score, but most statistical categories. Arizona won for two reasons: they got ridiculous homer calls and the end, and shockingly, Few's Zags choked under pressure including Pangos. I say maybe three because Arizona stepped up the defense, and Hollis-Jefferson was magnificent - even covering Pangos on screens and also not on screens.

Arizona can't shoot (overstatement for emphasis), they don't give the ball to Tarczewski inside, and Johnson is hanging around the perimeter. I was starting to think Miller turned a coaching corner, but this is a combination of a bad job, no Nick Johnson imitator and recruits not being all they are cracked up to be.

Gonzaga is nowhere near as athletic as Arizona, but they are smart, careful and deliberate like you expect historically from the Zags.  Bigs are really big, but kind of soft.  Getting a serious crowd screaming at the top of their lungs will help (this is just about the only big-name home game for us, so there is a good shot at filling the tomb that is Pauley for once). The Bruins are actually more athletic than the Zags, but of course part of their game plan will be to cut-off the transition lanes. That will help defensive rebounding. Let's see how the "new "Bruin inside game" works against a decent interior. No doubt Isaac, Bryce and Norman will have to be on from the outside. On defense, you can hope that the Zags are cold again, allowing you to sit back in a zone, but I think this will be an m-t-m. Who does Norman cover - is it Pangos?

DCBruins: First, I half agree with you.  Unfortunately I agree on Arizona.  Arizona is horrible on offense and it is coaching that is to blame.  Miller is totally misusing Johnson and a number of players.  Miller is a very good defensive coach but I think it was Walton who said "you also need to practice offense."  If Powell and Bryce got really hot and play smart and Kevon and Tony could play big minutes, we would win.  Don't think it is likely, just possible.

On Gonzaga we have one of the things above in our favor, the SPTR, but even that would need a big crowd.  Gonzaga is a more complete team than Arizona.  Gonzaga is patient on offense and looks for the right thing.  They play well on both ends of the court.  They are a team whose only limitation is their athletic ability.  We are ahead of them athletically in three positions, after that it is at best pretty equal and their bench is better.  They also have more experience.  Hope I am wrong but just don't see it.

To beat Gonzaga, keep the all the starters not named Parker in the game for 35+ minutes and keep Tony in for at least 30.  Pass the ball well in the half court, hit free throws and have Bryce/Norman not force things.  Just don't see that happening but hope I am wrong.