1) Will the Bruins get into the NCAA Tournament?
chrissorr: It doesn't look good. They need to finish third in the PAC-12, and not get jumped by Stanford or Washington because their OOC is better.
DCBruins: No. They need to beat Utah at home and/or Arizona on the road for a quality win. They also need to avoid a bad loss, which means win every other game except at Stanford. There are two other ways. UCLA's schedule closes with three easier games at home, so if the avoid the bad loss during the season (and finish third), beat Arizona or Utah in the PAC 12 tournament, and get to the PAC 12 tournament final maybe the NCAA will let them sneak in as they are finishing strong. The last way is to win the PAC 12 tournament. I don't think any of this happens.
2) Glass half full. UCLA just won three games, isn't there anything optimistic you can say?
DCBruins: Yes. This team has talent as it has shown in the three games; actually very good talent in comparison to the rest of the PAC 12. Looney is an elite player who can take over a game for short periods as he did against Stanford. There are not many players that can do that. Norman Powell is a true basketball warrior. While he has moments of questionable decisions regarding fouls and shot selection, he can also dominate a game in the open court or against bad defenses. Tony Parker is one of the conference best posts and put him together with the threat of Hamilton (a very good set shooter) and Bryce outside, this could be a formidable offensive team. We saw a bit of that in the Cal game, the best game of the streak.
While a coach does not have much margin for error, this should be a dominant PAC 12 team this season. Also, unlike Stanford, Cal, and Colorado, we have not had a starter miss even a single game from injury.
chrissorr: Looney is an amazing rebounder, and showing signs of doing the other things - a few very nice body control efforts in the last two games. Parker might be the second or third best center in the PAC-12 - let's see at Arizona. There's still a lot to play for.
3) Did the defense get better?
chrissorr: This is a "yes, but." It's mainly man-to-man. Hard to believe the zone was so messy after all the claims of practice. I do think it's been incrementally better. The focus has been to clog the lane and rely on rim protection. If Looney or Parker are off or fouling, it looks terrible. Norman and Isaac are basically staying in front of their men and the three guards are jumping in the passing lanes, but not quite defending the perimeter. I think they are still hoping for misses from three like last year. I also see they are frequently rotating the three guards to cover a different guard every few possessions to cause confusion --I don't think that works.
There's a great Grantland article that talks about Virginia's Tony Bennett and the "pack-line defense." Arizona uses it too.
According to Grantland, college man-to-man defenses are basically "deny" or "gap." UCLA is a "deny." Last year they had Jordan Adams and Norman Powell in the passing lanes; this year it's just too risky.
DCBruins: Yes and agree on man a 100%. That said I have some concerns. Parker and Looney had been the keys to the defense and they stunk against Just SC. Hopefully they just took a game off. Isaac needs to work harder. He is the key to the perimeter defense as Norman gets fouls too easy. This is the easiest thing to see improve.
4) Glass half empty. What do you mean you don't agree with Bryce on "mission complete?" Why isn't the ship righted, yet?
DCBruins: The most frustrating statement of the sunshine pumpers is that we have not lost any games we should have won; we just lost a couple games we "should have" ugly. First off the Kentucky and even more so Utah losses were epically bad. Record setting. It is hard to erase the bad taste with two wins against bad teams and one win against a marginal/good PAC 12 team at home. Second off we did lose two games we should have won. We played Colorado without its best player. Colorado without Josh Scott is a "should have" won. Second, Alabama is another bad loss, the game before the UCLA game Alabama beat a now 5-10 Appalachian State by 1 point at home. Even if you can somehow forgive Kentucky and Utah as "we weren't going to win anyway", the Alabama and Colorado losses are unacceptable.
Second only one of the last three wins is satisfying in the rear view mirror. The Stanford win was incredible lucky and it took a miss by an 87% free throw shooter with the game on the line. Just SC is a terrible team that we let score on us inside and we started playing the guard first way which only works against cupcakes. Against mediocre or better teams that approach leads to disaster. So yeah, I am still very concerned.
chrissorr: Some of the sunshine pumpers forgot how we got here. You can't totally absolve Alford from the roster mismanagement by saying you can't control what happened to Bail, Bolden and Octeus not to mention recruiting misses, even minor ones, that would have a huge impact today on a team that is so thin. I will only give the staff that Bolden was a calculated risk. If Malcom Bunche can get into graduate school, and then conveniently flunk out four months later (albeit it wasn't the engineering program or wherever Octeus wanted to go), then I don't see why Octeus can't -- or at least have this figured out back in June and have a backup plan. Further, while limited in talent, not being ready to play on the road from the outset of the game, and the inability to stick to a game plan has made things worse than they needed to be.
5) Do you think Bill Walton will eventually come out against Steve Alford? He obviously doesn't think much of Bryce. What do you think of Bryce Alford now?
chrissorr: I didn't think so before, but he's getting more strident against our guards every game. He called them dummies last time. He won't say Bryce by name, but he's getting close. I could see it, but not yet - he seems too happy about life and the PAC-12 right now.
In an alternative universe he's be a good sixth man although he'd be more likely to go to a mid-major. The whole shtick is getting old. Probably shouldn't have written "mission accomplished" on the white board.
DCBruins: Walton went so hard after Howland I think he feels he has to be nice to Steve Alford for a while. I would guess "a while" is until sometime next season at the current pace.
Bryce is miscast as a point guard but he is the closest on the team. Bryce has to remember what his role is on this team and work on that first. It is easy to game plan against UCLA right now. Better coaches are doing that but fortunately the PAC 12 does not have too many good coaches. Bryce needs to remember Looney is the star and Parker is the number 1 or 2 option on offense. He too often forgets that and starts to play hero ball. Oregon State will be a test of his discipline.