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UCLA Basketball: Notes on Improvement, Expectations, Elite-8 Open Thread

General thoughts on Steve Alford’s first (underwhelming) season in Westwood.

Jeff Gross

There has been a lot of talk about how Steve Alford in his first year at UCLA has the program in the right direction and put together a season which on paper is an improvement over Ben Howland's last season in Westwood.

Let's take a look at the numbers. Here are the regular season comparison between Howland's last year and Alford's first year in Westwood.

  • UCLA in 2012-13: 23-8 (13-5 in Pac-12) [Pac-12 regular season champions]
  • UCLA in 2013-14:  23-8 (12-6 in Pac-12) [Finished second during the regular season]

Note that the Bruins in Howland's last regular season swept the home and home series with Arizona. In Alford's first year we lost to Arizona at Pauley. The only "improvement" record wise here is that Alford in first year didn't have a humiliating out of conference loss like the one Howland had against Cal Poly at Pauley. However, Alford's team did have a disgraceful performance in Pullman when the Bruins got blown out by the worst team in the conference, which was about to fire the head coach.

Now the Bruins won the Pac-12 tournament in Alford's first year pushing their record up to 26-8. In Howland's last year - Bruins won 2 games in the tournament including a nail-biter against Arizona, which was just as thrilling as Alford's signature win against Arizona as well. But here is the catch. Against Alford's Bruins Arizona was playing without one of its best player Brendon Ashley who went down with a devastating injury few games earlier.

Arguably Howland's Bruins in their last year would have probably won the Pac-12 tournament as well if not for the unfortunate, freak injury to Jordan Adams in the closing seconds against the Wildcats. That cost the Bruins a conference tournament championship along with a higher seeding - most likely a 4 seed out in the West. So Howland's Bruins finished the conference tourney season with a record of 25-9, which wasn't all that different from Alford's 26-8.

Now of course Alford's team cruised to the Steve-16 by beating up heavy-hitters like Tulsa and Stephen F. Austin and Howland's Jordan Adam-less team got bounced by Minnesota in the first. So this year final 28-9 record isn't really all that special compared to 25-10 in Howland's last season at UCLA.  Sure the Bruins offense looked pretty against weak, overmatched opponents at times, but arguably result wise the Bruins didn't perform all that better compared to Howland's last year in Westwood.

Another note about expectations. Few have pointed to this post from DC Bruins in which he set contending for the Pac-12 and at least getting to the second week of the tournament season as baseline expectations for this season. However, number of us made clear in reaction to that post that given the talent Howland was leaving in the program,simply just getting to the Steve-16 wasn't going to be good enough for UCLA.

The question comes down to whether we believe UCLA as a team gave it's all in a consistent manner throughout the season (the proverbial "eye test" on BN). Given what we saw this team did routinely during second game of conference road-trips ... the answer is no. I am not going to hash over against the moral victory we had against Florida. Howland also had one against those guys after a tough first round win against Tom Izzo's Spartans three years. Plus Albany State played the Gators closer this year during the tournament ... in Orlando. So whatever.

So we are not exactly sure about the argument about the program being in better shape today than it was under Howland. Sure the recruiting outlook is not as toxic as it was in Howland's last year. But at the same time there is a massive donut hole at the PG spot, and that situation remains dicey given the LaVine fiasco we are going through now. I mean, even Chris Foster can sense the obvious:

If Adams also chooses to turn pro, the Bruins would lose a creative scorer and sneaky defender. He led the team in scoring (17.4) and steals (2.6). Adams is projected as a second-round pick.

UCLA could have five significant holes to fill if Anderson, LaVine and Adams all move on. The Bruins also lose twin brothers David and Travis Wear, both seniors.

Point guard is the linchpin spot. Bryce Alford spelled Anderson at the point this season but is not a natural at the position.

JICYMI - here is the note on Adams testing NBA waters (although I am guessing he is coming back because don't see him going to the first).

For now I will leave with this sentiment from Class of 66:

Feeling No Pain

From the moment we hired [Alford] I have been unable to make an emotional investment in UCLA Basketball. It's an odd feeling - I am such a rabid Bruin fan it scares my wife when I go nuts during games. But, sadly, I just don't care.

I love the players and will miss watching Kyle and feel cheated that I won't see Zach's second year (I think he would have had a Westbrook type break out year IF played properly).

But, today, life was normal. I didn't avoid the sports pages or radio shows (as I do when a team I care about loses). I feel cheated that I cannot suffer the loss. The lack of pain tells me that the limb is missing. Thanks, Strap On.

That's pretty much how many of us feel today.

It hurt after we lost to Stanford in football this past season. I felt the same way after the losses against Oregon and Arizona State. We felt crushed after the football team lost to the Trees in the Pac-12 conference championship two years ago.

The feeling on Friday felt nothing like that. Yes, life felt "normal" but it was more accepting the reality of more upcoming pain, frustrating and agony that will have us numb for at least three or four more years until we can see the end of sight of Alford's coaching regime in Westwood.

For now it's an ugly quagmire.  Enjoy the Elite-8 games if you are watching them this afternoon. Here is the schedule from ESPN. Watch the game today. You can ponder what would have happened if we had a competent and dynamic athletic director who could have recruited someone like Billy Donovan to lead the program in Westwood.