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UCLA Basketball: Season Preview Part 1: 6 Big Questions

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Chris has taken over as basketball lead for Bruinsnation and DCBruins is happy to pass the mantle on to Chris with his sympathies. Although we hope for the best, there are a lot of questions even for the beginning of the season. Chris and DC did a little back and forth below on a few of them.

UCLA's starting 4, Kevon Looney, can he also play 3 or guard?
UCLA's starting 4, Kevon Looney, can he also play 3 or guard?
Jonathan Daniel

Question 1.  DCBruins: For all the players leaving, the starting lineup seems set with Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton, Norman Powell, Kevon Looney and Tony Parker. But the question becomes who the heck is sixth man (most minutes off the bench) and how does the bench rotation work without a backup guard?

Chris: The tricky part to this question for me is forecasting the use of big, or otherwise trick lineups. If Looney/Parker/Welsh or Looney/Parker/Bail or Looney/Welsh/Bail works well as a rotation, the guard problem will be mitigated. Other than that, Noah Allen will rotate in at 2 or 3 (he has said 4 as well in an interview). I anticipate Powell/Hamilton/Alford in the 33-37 mpg range, so I still don't expect big minutes for Allen - around 10. Bail, though Alford said he improved, is a wild card to me. I guess 10 mpg for him as well, but I would love for him to allow Looney to move down to the three. I think Welsh gets the most minutes off the bench. I have more to say about him below, but I guess 15 mpg behind Parker without even blinking. That was approximately 160 starter minutes and 40 bench minutes (might be 5 for Goloman).

DCBruins: Agree on bigs being tricky but I don't see Parker as a 4 and not sure any of them can play three.  I guess we can try "trick lineups" but if anyone can play backup three he will get a lot of minutes.  I am honestly at a loss here.

Chris: The "3" will be another problem area besides point guard. Norman is not ideal there in the zone, I don't expect much from Noah, and Looney has to play 4 unless Bail or Parker can play the 4.

Question 2 Chris: We've been hearing the drumbeat on the fast tempo game again. Although, the Bruins managed to be uptempo with a couple of slow players, do you think this team us built to run? Why not emphasize the post game when you have two skilled, back-to-the-basket centers in Parker and Welsh?

DCBruins: Short answer no. Last year we had two good offensive players\wings off the bench in Zach Lavine and Bryce Alford.  We had a creative finisher in Jordan Adams and point guard in Kyle Anderson who could start the break with a defensive rebound. This year we have no guards at all off the bench, zero/zip/nada. We have two combo guards at the point, both of whom strengths is outside shooting.  It seems our offense will be best in the half court burning a team that extends its D by pounding it inside and Powell attacking. Against a team that packs it in burning them from the outside with some good three shooting from Isaac and Bryce.

Chris: Alford seems very motivated to run going so far as to call Looney a guard and drawing the Kyle comparisons -- what's Aflord's motivation?

DCBruins: Desperation. We don't have a three on the team and we need another guard.

Question 3 DCBruins: Steve Alford has said he does not know how much man and zone defense he will play this year. Can this team be good at man to man defense or will it have to play a lot of zone?

Chris: Alford actually threw out percents in an interview: zone will be (paraphrasing) 30-50% of the time and he said they are spending a lot of time in practice in the zone, so this tells me the coach has already thrown his hands up with respect to MTM.  With a few exceptions like Syracuse, no one really wants to play zone.  A zone can be great in college, but you really have to be committed.  Bryce (and Norman to a lesser extent) admitted in interviews that they didn't try hard enough in the zone last year.  I foresee a lot of zone. Whether its man or zone, I would keep it simple with this group: pack it in, avoid leaving open spaces or getting beat to the basket--don't count so much on help. BTW, I don't feel good having Norman in the back row of a zone,  It cries out for a 3-2, but I don't see this as a great-shooting league.

DCBruins:  I heard that too but I thought he was less definitive.  I hate Norman in the back of a zone but not sure the options.  With three guards playing 30+ minutes a game, do you think it will be a "lazy zone?"

Chris: In a way, dialing back the offense this year - by necessity since  there  were so  many personnel losses, will help the turn attention to the defensive end.  They really just have to keep it simple -- play a packed in zone and concentrate on being in the right position.

Question 4 Chris:. Steve Alford said this would be a year of "scoring by committee." A lot of points walked out the door last Match.  Who do you think will be the leading scorer this season, and what does that say about the team's style and success?

DCBruins: A guard.  It is too much to ask a freshman big not named Kevin Love to lead a team in scoring and Parker will still have some bad games.  It could be Bryce but the optics will be bad if our point guard/leader is taking that many shots.  Isaac is the wild card and certainly could lead the team in scoring. I think the opportunities will be there for Isaac to be the guy but at this point in the season I will play it safe and go with Norman. If Norman can make people play him honest with decent outside shooting, he will be very good. As far as what it says, we have no depth at guard so those three will get a lot of minutes and have a lot of opportunity to score.

Chris: Norman seems like the likely choice, but at the end of the day, if he's the team's scoring leader, then I have to be concerned that this team can't score. How many points per game do you predict, on average, for this team?

DCBruins: I think we will score.  75ish. More than an Arizona but less than others.

Question 5 DCBruins: Besides the point guard Bryce who is the X factor going into the season?

Chris: On a team that lost five heavy rotation players, its hard to know just how good the new guys actually are. Then there was the loss of Bolden and Octeus -- at least I was comfortable that there would be a defensive and rebounding theme for this team. So there are several unknowns for this team. If an x-factor is a player who may exceed expectations by a wide margin, and actually add unexpected wins to the record, I will say Thomas Welsh.  If he had the legs of even a Tony Parker, he would be a lottery pick next year -- he's that good from the waist up.  But not being able to run is a big thing, and most expect him to be behind Parker this year -- a three or four year player. I don't have high expectations for Parker.  If Coach Schilling performed his magic on Thomas over the summer, he can easily give Arizona's Tarczeskii a run for his money as the best center in the PAC-12.

DCBruins:  Welsh could certainly help a lot and could be a key.  After thinking about it to me it is Isaac Hamilton.  Can he play point or is Bryce the only "point?"  Can he play three or does Norman have to play out of position? Can he play man to man or do we have to play almost all zone to protect him and Bryce?

Chris: Isaac was my second choice but I  have high expectations for  him -- at least higher than I do for Welsh.  If Isaac should average anywhere near 18-20 ppg, that would be an incredible unexpected contribution.

Question 6 Chris: Will leadership be an issue for this team?  There's not an obvious "Kyle". Thus year to enforce discipline on the court or be a settle the team when the going gets rough -- and they may be often this season.

DCBruins: It will definitely be an issue for the fans and media.  The leader will be Bryce Alford.  Of the upperclassman Norman is quiet and Tony is . . . well a bit different/eccentric.  Bryce is cocky (not a bad thing for a shooter), loud, the point guard and an extension of his Dad on the floor.  It will be his team and that will be an issue if Bryce is a gunner that looks to shoot first (look for Isaac to do the same if this happens and the bigs will rarely touch the ball.)  Unlike Kyle, Bryce does not have to do it all, but also unlike Kyle Bryce has to know his limitations and play within them.

Chris:  I agree that it most likely will be Bryce -- he's the (or co-) point guard, and only Powell had more minutes last season. The fans, media and perhaps even the team will have issues with Bryce as the leader.  What's the likelihood of a team implosion this season?

DCBruins:  The $64,000 question.  The last time we had this many questions at point guard was 2009-10 and that did not end well.