The two major topics from this afternoon's presser with Steve Alford were tomorrow night's game with Arizona State and Norman Powell's progress during his four years -- a rarity these days --at UCLA.
Alford compared ASU to Oregon. According to Alford, the keys to this game are to defend the transition and protect against dribble penetration. Because it's a road game, it will be important for the Bruins to hit their shots. The big difference between Oregon and ASU is that the Sun Devils have a "legit" center. He's referring to Eric Jacobsen (read the preview).
I can see the comparison. Both teams are height -challenged, but athletic. They played a close game in Tempe where Oregon won 68-67 in OT, but the comparison isn't that deep. Oregon is fast, ranking second in the conference in possessions per game at 68 while ASU is eighth at 66. Oregon is third in 3FG% at 38% while ASU is sixth at 35%. My eye test says that ASU DOES indeed focus on penetration, but is not a transition or shot-happy team. Little Oregon fouled Jacobsen out of the game, so I expect Tony Parker to handle him well.
Ryan Kartje's theme of the week was getting to the line; he asked everyone he could find about it. I think he read somewhere (here) that the Bruins go to the line a lot, ranking first in the conference, and at the same time, they foul the least. Alford said they were attacking more. This is certainly true of Norman. It's still debatable whether they are making the entry pass enough.
It's interesting that Alford mentioned their pick-and-roll offense. For those of you who saw "The Drive" last week, Alford also mentioned their triangle offense (correct me if I'm wrong on that one -- he may have been speaking in the context of the defense, but it was hard to tell). If the offense looked prettier, I would give Alford credit for mixing things up. The triangle is a form of motion offense -- a read-and-react scheme with the triangle being the low post, a guard in the corner, and a forward on the wing. Is that Tony, Bryce/Isaac and Norman with Looney on the weak-side elbow (I'll have to look for this)?
The Bruins are definitely using the pick-and-roll. It's usually Bryce and Tony or Bryce and Thomas Welsh. Bryce, of course, is hesitant to make the tough roll pass to Tony, and he sure as hell isn't passing it to Thomas, who is often wide-open rolling down the lane.
The other interesting note on X's and O's is Alford's supposed focus on contesting shots without fouling during their film sessions. This would be great if they took it to heart. In the last Oregon game, Abdul -Bassit hit five uncontested threes in the first half. Ostensibly, the reason was the help on Joseph Young. In the second half, de-emphasizing the help, the close-outs started to happen.
Alford spend a good chunk of the session talking about the growth of Norman Powell. As a sophomore, he probably wasn't on any draft board. As a junior, he started to look like a bubble, late second-rounder. Now he's considered a bubble first-rounder.
It turns out that the feedback you get from NBA draft committee of 18 scouts is non-specific. It's a consensus vote about where you'd wind up in the draft (e.g., lottery, mid-first round, second round, bubble or not drafted). Norman wanted to know what he could do to improve for the next step, and the staff surveyed their contacts to give Norman more specific advice -- like on his shooting form.
Alford sees Norman as a big, physical guard in the NBA. He elaborated; by big he meant a strong and physical guard who will be a defensive specialist. That's definitely a roll in the NBA, but the problem will be that Norman is 6'3'/6'4". In the NBA, you usually don't have that cross-over, a 2 covering a 1. Heights are always exaggerated, so perhaps Norman will fit in. Best wishes, Norman!
The first question the beat reporters asked Norman Powell was about Zach LaVine. He said he knew Zach would win the dunk contest, and he didn't bite on who was the better dunker. Oh, by the way, Norman was number one on Sportscenter early Saturday evening.