UCLA has played a tough non-conference schedule and acquitted itself well. Going 2-2 with the big four on that schedule and only one ugly blowout. (Personally I think the North Carolina game was closer than the final score but the Kansas game was not as close.) It is fair to say that they have exceeded expectations. Even the lesser teams on the schedule that we lost to (Monmouth) or beat (Long Beach State) are solid to good teams.
Which brings us to tomorrow night's game against McNeese State. McNeese is not good. They're awful. They are our first cupcake of the season. This is the dessert for the hard work before the PAC 12 starts.
How bad is McNeese? Kempom ranks them 316. They shoot under 40% from the field and under 30% from three. They average more turnovers (14 per game) than assists (11 per game). They are 2-7 and their two wins by a total of 6 points are over NAIA schools. If you think UCLA has depth issues, McNeese backup point guard shoots under 20% in 14 minutes and 4 attempts per game.
I think a Wooden Center All Star pick up team could beat these guys. There is no point in a detailed review. This is one of the worst teams UCLA has played in years and the Bruins will win tonight.
So what should Steve Alford do tomorrow night for a game that is a glorified scrimmage? I would suggest working on the bench.
I was at the North Carolina game in New York City. We were dominating the game until one thing happen, Alex Olesinski came in the game. I like Alex in that he is one player on this team that I have no doubt gives maximum effort all the time. I also think Alex looked nervous, outclassed and over-matched as a McNeese State player against North Carolina. I think UCLA matched up well with North Carolina on players one through six. I also think Prince Ali being injured and out hurt UCLA.
However, while North Carolina seventh man was scoring 12 points (on 5-6 shooting), Alex Oleniski was turning the ball over and getting destroyed on defense. It was so bad that Steve Alford felt it was better to have Tony Parker on the floor not playing defense in fear of getting his fifth foul over Alex playing at all. To be clear the referees were not unfair, they were calling the game very close both ways, but that forced UCLA to use its bench which resulted in the game changing.
Noah Allen is in the same boat. To be clear this was not a fluke. The same thing happen the game before against University of Louisiana-Lafayette. UCLA was on the way to a blowout but with an even shorter bench (Welsh and Ali being out), UCLA struggled and the game was close.
This is why to me the key to the season is Jonah Bolden and Prince Ali. I thought Bolden looked terrible in his first game or two. However, those two have contributed immeasurably in our three biggest wins. Bolden was the defensive game changer against UNLV and stopped Kyle Wiltjer against Gonzaga. Prince Ali had the play of the game against Kentucky that sent the crowd to the next level and ensured a big home court advantage. They are both raw and at times out of control but UCLA is better athletically and on defense when those two come in the game.
However, there is no upside after them on the bench. The question becomes is a tired starter better than the end of the bench. Now there is some ability to coach them up which should be the focus tonight.
Jonah Bolden, work on his low post game. Bolden has shown flashes of being a good post player and a great passer out of the post.
Prince Ali, decision making. Ali seems to have two moves, shoot an open three or drive to the hoop. How about moving without the ball to get open, dishing on a drive, etc. Note, I am not sure he plays tonight.
Alex. Working on taking what is given him and rebounding inside. Alex is not GG. He is not a finesse player. He needs to dominate the Boards inside and learn his role as a fifth option.
Noah Allen. Noah should play the best guard on defense when he is in. He should focus on his defense and rebounding. UCLA needs its guards to rebound. On offense Noah should look to pass first but also go to the basket when the other team ignores him. Again take what is given him.
Ike Okwarabizie just to work on a feel of the game. Using his height and athletic ability.
Alford did better than we thought they would in non-conference, let's see how it plays out during the PAC 12. For tonight though, the players should enjoy their cupcake.