UCLA 2016-7 Basketball season opens with an exhibition tomorrow/tonight at 2 am Pacific time. Streaming details are here. This will be the first game of the Lonzo Ball era. It is important to note this is the best team on paper of the Steve Alford era. It features:
- a freshman phenomenon and future first round pick (Lonzo Ball),
- a senior shooting guard who has hit the big shots (Bryce Alford)
- the senior wing who won the defender award his sophomore year and was leading scorer his junior year (Isaac Hamilton)
- the power forward who is allegedly more polished as a freshman than most upperclassman (TJ Leaf)
- the McDonald's All American Center who beat Kentucky and keeps improving (Thomas Welsh)
- the sixth man is the best defender on the team and a better shooter from three by percentage than either starting wings (Aaron Holiday)
- the raw but athletic true five who could give UCLA the first intimating shot blocker since Antony Stover (Ike Anigbogu)
- the high basketball IQ upperclassman who understands his role (Gyorgy Goloman)
This is a team with a great mixture of experience and talent that should bode well to make a run for the PAC 12 title and deep into the NCAA tourney. Our first look at it will be tonight/tomorrow.
The opponent tomorrow should not give much of a test. The University of Sidney lost by 21 to UW and were out rebounded by 18. Looking at this UW highlight clip it looks like this is a team that will be easy to dominate inside.
Really this Australia tour will be the first look if Steve Alford can get this team to play to its potential or much like the last time UCLA had a similar top recruiting class, should be fired after the season as Ben Howland was in 2012-13.
A few questions or things to watch that will get an idea of the answer in the next few games.
1. How will Steve Alford's offense look with a true point guard? I loved Kyle Anderson but he was a unique point forward, lacking speed and unable to play defense on opposing points. Bryce Alford was more of a combo guard trying to be point. Lonzo Ball is a true point and hopefully Steve Alford will give him the chance to shine.
2. How the heck is Aaron Holiday going to be used? Last season Holiday was a bit of a surprise when he beat out Ali to win a spot in the starting lineup. It will be strange for him to be off the bench. He remains the best defender. How many minutes will he get? Will he run point when Ball is out? Or will Bryce slide over? It will be interesting and important that Alford take full advantage of Holiday.
3. Is the 1-2-2 or 3-2 dead? One of the many great traits of coach Wooden is he adapted to his personnel. For the first time in his UCLA tenure, Steve Alford lacks a player suited to play the top in the 3-2. This gimmick defense depends on an athletic four at the top to be able to slide down to the middle. Kyle Anderson had a high basketball IQ and was very good at reaching in for the steal as well as being a great rebounder. Kevon Looney was also good at it as he was an athletic and relatively quick four. Jonah Bolden was best at it and even singlehandedly won a game with the defense when UNLV took over half a game to figure out the defense. This year, both TJ Leaf and GG are ill-suited for this defense.
Will Steve Alford scrap it? Will he come up with another gimmick? The Australia exhibition will be the first time to see how stubborn or adaptive Steve Alford is to this team needs.
4. How raw is Ike Anigbogu? Along with Aaron, Ike is the other player who could really help UCLA on defense. Is Ike ready to play low post? Can Ike defend a four or is he strictly a five on defense? Is Ike ready to play help defense? Ike is the guy to watch.
5. How is Steve Alford going to make this team reach its potential? This team has four guys who can legitimately lead the team in scoring on any given night with the fifth guy being the point guard making it happen. But defense. . . How is Alford going to make this team satisfactory on defense? The easiest solution, benching the worst defender Bryce Alford for the best Aaron Holiday, seems unlikely. No matter, Steve Alford is paid the big bucks to make this work. The team has been potential to be elite and if Alford fails he will be joining Bryce in leaving UCLA.
Australia kicks off not only the UCLA basketball season, but the Lonzo Ball era.