This may be the wildest ending to a basketball season in a long time. UCLA could still win* the Pac-12 basketball regular season and they could still miss the NCAA tournament. They could win it if UCLA finishes third behind Southern Cal and Arizona and if NCAA voids some or all of those schools wins.
First, let’s discuss Arizona. Arizona has some credible ammo to fight back against the ESPN report, but there is so much out that there it is hard to believe that there is not some fire behind all the smoke. (And, keep in mind, regardless, they will be without star player Alonzo Trier, as Arizona Desert Swarm explains experts doubt Allonzo Trier’s explanation for PED suspension. As Dimitri details Arizona’s loss has already been UCLA’s gain. Here is a video of Shareef O’Neal from Overtime practicing at UCLA a month ago.
In my personal opinion, Arizona would be insane to let Miller coach another game. Even if the ESPN’s $100,000 report is BS the other stuff is really bad. And, it is not like Arizona has a shot to go far without Trier.
By comparison, Southern Cal had small payments made to Chimezie Metu that are seemingly on much sounder footing as far as proof goes. Yet the groin-punching Metu is still playing for Southern Cal. I’m really not sure they care about basketball as long as it does not impact football.
The NCAA is slow in reacting and is likely going to wait for the FBI to finish to see the scope of what they uncover, but I have to believe Arizona and Southern Cal will take a hit.
Which brings me to UCLA and what this should and should not mean for UCLA’s program. UCLA has its own problems to worry about before it can take true advantage of Arizona’s problems.
First, the facts.
- For the third time in four years UCLA is in danger of missing the tournament.
- Alford has still not swept a Pac-12 road trip in a season without Lonzo Ball.
- For the fifth time, or his entire UCLA career, Alford has failed to win the Pac-12 regular season title.
- Southern Cal will finish ahead of UCLA in the Pac-12 standings.
And, Alford’s response to all this:
Steve Alford on big picture:"I don’t really look at it where we are at Year 2, 3, 4, 5; it’s just, are we doing everything we can with what we have & I feel like the staff has worked extremely hard, I think the players have worked extremely hard & now hopefully we can finish well— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) February 28, 2018
Those facts are the key. Matt G will argue with me endlessly how UCLA can/will/might make the tournament this year. And, to be fair, Matt has a fair argument on that narrow point.
But I think all UCLA fans (even Matt) will agree the facts above are troubling and not fitting for a UCLA coach in his fifth season.
Which brings me to another point. Forget Miller, what about Alford’s status? Bruin Report Online has a story behind their paywall entitled: What’s Steve Alford’s Status With UCLA? Their subtitle reads: “How warm is the temperature of Steve Alford’s seat at UCLA? There are sources on both sides of the debate -- some saying he’s going to be fired and others saying he won’t...”
Without discussing the rest of the story out of respect for their paywall, I still say that if we miss the tournament Alford is in serious trouble. I will add that losing to Southern Cal to definitely get knocked out of the tournament will increase the likelihood of Alford being fired. From big donor season ticket holders to fans like me on the other side of the country, nothing is worse than losing to Southern Cal, expect maybe losing to Southern Cal and being knocked out of the tournament.
That said, nothing is definite. The more likely scenario is that Alford is more likely to be coaching another season if we scrape by the hair of our chin to get into the NCAA Tournament .
But that is not what it SHOULD be. Some real quick reasons against giving him one more chance argument:
The Great Recruiting Class
The last time we gave a coach one more year because of a great recruiting class, we fired Ben Howland at the end of the year.
Also, please keep in mind many of these players are coming because it is UCLA, not because of Steve Alford. Remember, Alford kept Zach LaVine and Noah Allen who were Howland recruits. We will keep most or all of the class. It is not a reason to keep Alford.
The Program is Clean
I hear people say Alford’s “clean program” is a reason to keep him. To me, this is stupid. That is part of the minimum requirements of the job. A “clean program” is not a reason to maintain a coach, but, rather, a dirty program is a reason to be fired.
Then, there are a couple outside the box subjective reasons to fire Alford.
Alford made excuses for his defense today.
Steve Alford continued on the defense: "A lot of new players but it’s not because our guys aren’t trying, it’s not because we haven’t put [the effort in]. We put three times more energy in practice at the defensive end than what we have at the offensive end."— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) February 28, 2018
For years Alford has used the excuse of new players or a young team for losses and slow development. Next year team’s will really be young. The experienced players likely to start (assuming they come back) will be Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands. UCLA will likely start a team of all underclassman for the first time of Alford’s career with a majority of freshman. By comparison, Alford has started:
2017-18 2 Seniors, 1 Junior
2016-17 2 Seniors, 1 Junior
2015-16 1 Senior, 2 Juniors
2014-15 1 Senior, 1 Junior
2013-14 2 Seniors, 1 Junior
Alford with two sophomores and three freshmen as starters is a nightmare on defense. Does anyone really think such a team will win Alford’s first Pac-12 regular season or get further than the Sweet 16?
The opportunity repeats
When Southern Cal was on probation on football, Jim Mora wasted an opportunity and ended up getting fired.
Arizona likely will be on probation when this is all said and done. Arizona has dominated the Pac-12 during Alford’s tenure. This is a great opportunity for UCLA. Alford’s inability to win on the road has led Oregon to pass UCLA (and this year Southern Cal). This is unacceptable. Now is the time for a new coach.
Miller will likely be gone. Arizona fans should not be in denial. Alford should be gone. UCLA fans should not settle for never winning the Pac-12 regular season title or always spending March worried if they are going to make the NCAA Tournament.
Go Bruins! Beat the Trojans!