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UCLA Basketball: Were Expectations Met?

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We look back at Bruins Nation's expectations for the 2014-15 UCLA basketball season. Did Steve Alford's team meet our reasonable expectations?

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Before the start of the 2014-15 campaign, chrissorr detailed reasonable expectations for Steve Alford and the Bruins in part 4 of his terrific season preview series. With basketball season in the rearview mirror now, it's time to revisit his analysis to see how the Bruins fared relative to Bruins Nation's expectations for the season.

Let's start by reviewing chrissorr's evaluation of the Pac-12 title contenders and UCLA's position relative to the competition (emphasis added):

The PAC-12 Media Poll had the Bruins behind 1.Arizona 2. Utah 3. Colorado and Stanford behind at #5. They were conservative. They went with what they know -- Arizona is beyond obvious for #1, Utah and Colorado brought back their entire starting lineups - never mind that the talent is not even Mount West Champion caliber, UCLA had an avalanche of bad news and Stanford, like UCLA, lost their best players and will rely on some new, though heralded, faces.

Many PAC-12 previews said that UCLA is their surprise or upside team. After Arizona, they have the most talent (I say this objectively based on recruiting class rankings). ESPN's Dino Gaudia put it nicely in his video preview: UCLA is his surprise pick (though somehow Utah is still #2) and Kevon Looney will be the newcomer of the year (of course Stanley Johnson, who may very well be the POY, would debate that).

I said it Preview Part 2, we can reasonably debate second through fifth places. My view is that if most analysts see your team as having the most upside and your team's ultimate performance depends on the new faces meeting expectations, the situation calls for the coach to "coach up" from fourth to second. Steve Alford, you'd better do your job --you make $2.6 million per year and have job security built into your contract for at least the next three seasons (the recent extension has the buyout at $10.4 million prior to April 30, 2017).

The Bruins should finish in second in the PAC-12 and make the Sweet 16 again.

You can re-read chrissorr's complete breakdown of the Bruins' regular season schedule, and if you do, you'll see that he was able to foresee many of the problems that UCLA experienced in late December and early January. His analysis is thorough and realistic; he allowed for the likelihood of letdown games, and accounted for the challenge of winning conference road games.

A comparison of Bruins Nation's expectations to the 2014-15 season results is straightforward.

Pac-12 Finish Pac-12 Record Regular Season Record NCAA Tournament Record
2014-15 Expectation Second 13-5 22-9 2-1
2014-15 Result Fourth 11-7 19-12 2-1

As the table shows, the 2014-15 UCLA men's basketball team met Bruins Nation's expectations in only one category (NCAA tournament record) while falling short in the other three categories. Overall, the team did not meet the reasonable expectations that chrissorr mapped out at the start of the season.

Other Bruins Nation writers shared their thoughts in the comments section. DCBruins weighed in with this:

Agree on expectations. You make a great point on the weak Pac 12 and us getting a big break only playing the one strong team once.

Matt Garrido wrote:

I end up with about the same record as you, but I think we steal a game on the conference opening road trip (most likely Colorado) and drop a game somewhere in the middle of the 11 game win streak you have.

This team should finish 2nd in the conference, but any injury issues to the front court would torpedo that.

My expectations for the team were slightly lower:

I'm probably more skeptical than most about Alford's ability to manage and coach, so I'm anticipating a 20-11 finish for the team, 12-6 in a weak Pac-12, and 1-2 at the Battle for Atlantis. And frankly, I think I was being generous in my assessment, but I think that we have enough elite talent to finish with 20 wins in spite of Alford.

(Please remember that the stated expectations for overall record apply to regular season games only.)

Let me add that Ken Pomeroy also projected the Bruins to finish second in the Pac-12. His preseason projections slotted the Bruins in at #13 nationally.

So what went wrong? Why did the Bruins fall short of expectations?

For the most part, it was UCLA's inexplicable inability to play well on the road against inferior competition that sealed their fourth-place Pac-12 finish, five games behind Arizona. A couple of the losses were particularly disappointing. The Bruins' failure to beat a fairly weak Cal Golden Bears squad in Berkeley stands out, as does UCLA's defeat by Arizona State in Tempe in what was widely considered a must-win late season game.

It's worth noting that both DCBruins and chrissorr anticipated the possibility of a significant losing streak at the beginning of the conference schedule and its potential to demoralize the team. DC was explicit on this point:

[H]ow do we bounce back if we lose three right before the PAC 12 starts and then the first two in the PAC 12? That is an easy point for a team to come apart. Especially if the team leader and coach's son is over-matched. I worry about free fall for any college team that loses five in a row in any sport.

It is Steve's job to right the ship if that happens but let's just say I am a bit worried. (The Alabama game may be huge. We win that one and we have some momentum for the PAC 12.)

When UCLA lost three straight heading into the opening week of Pac-12 games, and then lost against both Colorado and Utah, Steve Alford managed to right the ship, and he deserves credit for that. He held the team together, and the Bruins won their next three games.

However, as we saw in the Bruins Sweet Sixteen run this year, the difference between success and failure can be determined by the thinnest of margins. In the tournament, the Bruins' first successful step to the Sweet Sixteen hinged crucially on a late goaltending call; if the Bruins had lost that game, many people would perceive the season quite differently. Similarly, if Chasson Randle--a 87.7% free throw shooter this season--makes a free throw at the end of regulation in the double overtime victory that ended the Bruins' five game losing streak, it's possible that the Bruins might not have recovered.

The fact that this season teetered on disaster has to be considered too. The losses to Kentucky and Utah weren't just bad losses; they were embarrassments. Does the roller coaster ride of a season indicate that Steve Alford did a poor coaching job with an incredibly talented group of players, or did he do a masterful job of transforming the "Bad News Bruins" into a tough, cohesive group that overcame adversity? The answer certainly lies somewhere between those two extremes, but precisely where it lies is a matter of opinion--opinion which reflects expectations as much as perceptions.

Before I turn the conversation over to the Bruins Nation community, let me share a final thought. As most of you have noticed, discussions of UCLA basketball have become contentious lately. Or perhaps I should say that they've become more contentious than usual. As with discussions of politics and religion, it's unlikely that conversations about Steve Alford and UCLA basketball will end in agreement. Therefore, before you add your opinion, and in particular, before you reply to a fellow Bruin's opinion, please remember that we all love UCLA and our men's basketball program. Let's all renew our commitment to civil discourse (as outlined in the Community Guidelines) and be respectful in our disagreements.

Go BRUINS!