1) We didn't see six of the nine scholarship players before having to preview. Three games in (including the exhibition), it's still early, but what are the biggest surprises for you?
chrissorr: Thomas Welsh was my number one x-factor, so I'm disappointed there. I thought "hey -- he can run now, problem solved." It wasn't that simple. To me, it's not the strength and weight that's an issue, it's lack of mobility with the small space he's guarding -- he's getting beat to spots. That's not going to change overnight. I still have high hopes for him, but I've lowered my expectations for this year. The depth at the bigs isn't the problem for this team, but anything that could have been done to play with two guards instead of three more often would have been helpful.
Norman has been great, but I don't see that his shooting mechanics have improved -- perhaps at first, but then he relapsed. He's scoring points, including from 3, but he' more of a transition threat. I'd like to see him slash more; I'm not sure he can take his man off the dribble, but I'd like to see him try. Kyle fed him well last year -- this year thus far, not so much.
On Bryce, he's still a defensive liability, and he hasn't been challenged by a big, good guard, but he hasn't been out-of-control on the offensive end either. I was getting concerned in the first half of CCAR, but he had a good second half.
DCBruins: If I did not know and you would have asked me who the senior guard was after the first two "real games," I would have picked Isaac Hamilton. Powell and Alford have had fouling issues and forced things at times, while Hamilton has been steady on both ends of the court. Hamilton has shown effort on defense and has not taken a "bad" shot yet. Hamilton looks like a veteran going about his business.
2) The bench was foreseen as the number one or two problem for this team. What are your thoughts on bench minutes, and who is your sixth man thus far?
chrissorr: It looks like Golomon has been dropped out of the rotation. Noah had the most minutes in the first two games, and was solid. Bail, Allen and Welsh were equal in the CCAR game, although Bail was the bench leader while the game was still on the line. I suspect Noah, playing both 2 and 3, might be the sixth man early on, but long-term, I think Bail. He burned me on my forecast last year, so I hope I'm not making the same mistake. I've seen some good flashes -- even good body control going to the hoop. Still don't trust him away from the basket.
There will be more winnowing of the minutes -- I hope. You can't platoon with this group. I hope the starters can play big minutes -- DC pointed out that Looney may have tired late in the first half, and Tony certainly can't be out there all day.
DCBruins: Big worry and great point on platooning, there is a big drop-off and you can't play three of them at once. I think the people talking about Welsh and Parker at the same time are smoking something for non-medical purposes. Welsh is too easy to push around. A more realistic view is as Matt Garrido wrote: Welsh "is going to have huge gains from a year in the program to put on some weight." Goloman is also not about this year either. Which mean it is a battle between Bail and Allen. I think the next cupcake (Nicholls State) should be about which of these two can help and which lineup works. (Can Allen cover a guard? Can Bail cover a 3 or get around quick enough in the zone? Does Bail's athleticism trump Allen's shooting?)
3) Let's talk about a specific tactic. Alford has three defenses, man to man, 2-3 zone and 1-3-1 zone press with the four at the top. What do you think about the 1-3-1 defense?
DCBruins: I love and hate it. I hate it when Looney is on top. Looney is arguably the hardest guy to replace on the team. Being on top is tiring and drags our best rebounder away from the basket. On the other hand, it was fun to watch Bail on top. He is huge and reasonably quick. I am not sure it will work but the idea of a Bail trapping people is intriguing. It could work well take advantage of his size and athleticism.
chrissorr: I agree on Looney. Is he going to tire out (remember Kyle on the zone press?), and are you keeping him too far from the basket? It's been two plays at a time at most, so I won't get too excited. I think it's a zone to generate steals, and this is the time to try it out. The other side benefit was that it hid Bryce under the basket; though I'm not sure I want Norman there. In principle, I don't like the idea of hiding someone like that. I have no personal experience with a 1-3-1, but I did play 3-2 and really liked it. Same concept with the guy on top, and it gives more freedom to that guy to just waltz into the lane to grab a rebound while two bigs carry the boxing-out load. It's not a steal-generating zone, and that's probably what Alford is after.
4) After years of Lavin and Howland having poor starts in the non-conference season and being upset by someone whose team name no one knows, do you think that UCLA and its fans can finally rest easy in these games against mid-majors?
DCBruins: I really think that is one good thing about Steve Alford. It should not be a big deal as these games should be a given but really I think Alford has the team better prepared to start the season in these should-always-win games.
That said the crowd Sunday night was really troubling. It was church like quiet. I realize a major part of the problem is Alford and Dan Guerrero. One reason Alford was hired is to bring more exciting basketball to Westwood. Guerrero completely blew that in that it was supposed to be a program Bruin fans could be proud of after the personnel problems of Howland and the embarrassment of Lavin. As Nestor wrote: "You can bet attendance at these games wouldn't have been an issue If UCLA was to land a coach like Brad Stevens." A big\excited crowd would make these early games against mid-majors even easier.
chrissorr: We know Alford isn't shying away from competition (next year we're in Maui -- Indiana is also in the field). It's good to build up from extreme cupcake to cupcake to decent mid-major/good mid-major and then take on the top teams like Kentucky, Duke and Kansas. I think it turns out that losing to the blue bloods doesn't really hurt that much in the end, but those upset losses are demoralizing to everyone. I'll wait until Alford finishes the 2015 recruiting class to say problem-solved permanently.
5) Fire away with your general observations.
chrissorr: I think the PAC-12, as a whole, is slow to develop this year. Arizona has used its third different starting lineup. I fully expect them to win the league, but I'm not convinced they have top-end talent in the tier with Kentucky (who did struggle in its opener), Duke and Kansas. If Miller does win it all or at least make it to the Final Four, I'll have to applaud his coaching job this time. I do like Ashley, and I think Stanley Johnson will eventually dominate games.
Stanford struggled a couple of times (or 1.5x) and Colorado just doesn't seem that talented (I like our odds with them better now than I did before -- Looney can handle Scott). Utah is still the main competition for second place to me. They did look sloppy for about 20 minutes in their opener, but I still believe they're ready and on schedule. The freshman center, Poeltl, bothers me.
DCBruins: Its beat SUC week so let me just say I really enjoyed that Portland State beat SUC in their home opener. Portland State was beat twice last year by Montana State and just SC is just awful. At SUC games they better keep showing pictures of the coach's beautiful wife, because his team is ugly!