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UCLA Men's Basketball Midseason Roundtable

The writers and editors of Bruins Nation discuss the state of UCLA basketball midway through the 2015-16 season.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Most if not all of us predicted that UCLA would finish ahead of USC in the Pac-12 this season. Have you changed your mind about that prediction after the Trojans' 89-75 win at Pauley Pavilion? If so, does that say more about your sense of the direction of Steve Alford's program or Andy Enfield's program?

Mexibruin ~ I would have to say it does. At the very least, they are fast tracked to beat us twice this year, since the next game is at Galen. I think it says more about Enfield's program. I had all but forgotten him in his two years in South Central. Alford; well, I expect him to let me down a few times a year.

Joe Piechowski: I have to admit, I didn't make any basketball predictions this year. But, if I had, I would have predicted us to beat the Trojans twice. Now, I'm not sure if we will beat them once. I think it probably speaks more to my sense of direction of Alford's program. Alford continually disappoints me.

gbruin: I've changed my mind. I am surprised by both cases. Southern Cal looks more legit and we look more inconsistent than I expected for either program. I haven't ever expected a consistent top ten team from Alford, but I didn't think we'd ever allow that sort of flop, particularly on our home floor. It's very disappointing and it doesn't build much faith in the direction of the program.

beer&math: First, I have to comment on Mexibruin's flare by bucking the trend of the colon and going with the tilde; it's the handlebar mustache of typography :) Back to basketball. I'm surprised Enfield is fielding a competent looking team and it looks very athletic. I don't expect anything out of Alford's UCLA team so the surprises (aka UK, Az, Gonzaga) were nice but I knew all along they were not sustainable. The team is just inconsistent and unwatchable. I watch but mostly out of duty to BN. With SAlford as the coach, it is just not fun basketball.

Bruinette88: I have to admit that I've changed my mind. If I remember correctly, I predicted that UCLA would finish fourth and the Trojans would finish sixth. I'm inclined to flip that prediction now, but not just because of one game. Frankly, the Trojans have just looked stronger and more consistent than the Bruins in the first three weeks of the Pac-12 season.

It's difficult to say anything meaningful about the direction of Andy Enfield's program since USC basketball was a joke during the first two years with Enfield in charge. After all, considering how dreadful the Trojans have been for the past two seasons, finishing as the second worst team in the conference would qualify as improvement. On the other hand, the direction of UCLA basketball with Steve Alford in charge has been undeniably downward. In Alford's first season, the Bruins finished second in the Pac-12, down from a first place finish the previous year. In Alford's second season, the Bruins finished fourth in the conference, and UCLA is currently seventh in the Pac-12 in Alford's third season. I'm not optimistic about Alford reversing that trend this year.

The Bruins are in Oregon this week for games against Oregon State and Oregon, and in February, there are road games against USC, Arizona, Arizona State, California and Stanford. Against which opponent do you expect UCLA to pick up its first Pac-12 road win?

Mexibruin ~ Oregon State. I have no hard metrics to back that up. But, we tend to play better after a loss (just like we play worse after a big win) and Oregon State is the next lowly team we'll play. Coincidentally, it's after a big loss. So, it's a hunch kind of thing.

Joe Piechowski: I'm going to agree with Mexi here. I think the OSU game is now a must-win. If they can't beat OSU this week, I'm not sure they will win a Pac-12 road game this season.

gbruin: I agree that Oregon State is our best chance, but I wouldn't totally count us out against ASU, either. Of course, speaking to that issue of inconsistency, we could literally lose them all or win them all. Who knows.

beer&math: That tilde is killing me!! :) Okay, back to basketball. Most likely has to OSU but, of course, Alford can't coach his team to get up for games against "lowly" teams so we'll probably lose. So, I expect the Bruins to beat OSU but do I predict it? Shudders.

Bruinette88: Oregon State. If the Bruins don't win at least one of their Oregon road games this week, I think it's unlikely that UCLA will qualify for the 2016 NCAA Tournament. There's a lot at stake this week.

At the beginning of the season, Steve Alford boasted about UCLA's versatility and depth this season, yet against the Trojans, all but one of the Bruins' starters played 35 minutes or more, leaving just 24 minutes of playing time for three bench players: Jonah Bolden (11 minutes), Prince Ali (11 minutes), and Gyorgy Goloman (2 minutes). Why does Alford continue to have his starters log so many minutes? Was he wrong about the talent on his bench, or has he failed to develop it?

Mexibruin ~ Boy, I could write a book on this subject. But, I'll try and keep this short. Alford plays favorites. And, I don't mean Daddyball. I mean that Alford is the kind of coach that if he were a kid playing on his Playstation, he would pick the same teams over and over again. Or, he uses the same plays in combination with his favorite players. Somebody said in the comments recently "You live by the 3; you die by the 3" And, this is basically what they mean. I knew a guy at UCLA who loved to play Madden in his room, and would invite us into play. He always played one particular team. He always had his audibles pre set to plays he knew were going to be there. And, he always played as the home team. He was very hard to beat. But, if you took him out of that setting, he became quite beatable. He had his favorites, and his go to plays, but not much else and Alford is the same kind of guy.

Joe Piechowski: Old habits die hard. Alford appears to have become as predictable as an offensive series called by Noel Mazzone. It doesn't matter what talent he has on the bench. He only seems inclined to use it sparingly. I've been shocked and amazed after each game when I continue to see so little production out of the bench. Last year, I got it. The bench was very, very thin. This year, I'm just shaking my head.

gbruin: This speaks to me about Alford's inability to adjust more than the quality of the bench. As Joe said, he stuck with a short rotation previously, which we assumed was due to a lack of quality depth or talent on the bench, but maybe that's just really his style. I wonder why we ever considered that he'd change his philosophy with what seems to be a deeper and more talented bench than he's had before.

beer&math: The lack of bench time and development really grinds my gears. Alford doesn't have the ability to see any that isn't right in front of him. That's a shame and why he's a sham. There's really no reason to not let his bench play more minutes (say 20 min for Ali, Bolden).

Bruinette88: I think the lesson here is to be skeptical of everything that Steve Alford says. Whether he's talking about what a great defender Bryce is or about how Alex Olesinski is a stretch four, it's mostly gibberish. That's not to say that there is a shortage of talented players on the bench. Bolden and Ali have plenty of potential, but frankly, Alford hasn't done an adequate job of developing them. Alford has also failed to define specific, limited roles for players like Alex Olesinski and Noah Allen so that they can make positive contributions when called upon.

This is a subject I've been talking about since Alford was hired. He uses circular logic to justify not developing his bench players. Alford's argument is that he can't trust his bench players to play a significant role until they prove that they can play significant role. Furthermore, because Alford doesn't seem to recognize that his best lineup isn't necessarily his best five players, his rotations rarely make sense from a tactical standpoint.

If Steve Alford can't trust any of his bench players to play more than 11 minutes against USC, then he has only himself to blame for failing to develop them.

After missing the first 17 games of the season, Goloman played 2 minutes against USC, and will apparently compete with Bolden and Alex Olesinski for limited minutes off the bench. Do you expect GG to be a significant role player for the Bruins this season or should he have redshirted?

Mexibruin ~ I don't expect him to play much this year. That is unless Alford is forced to play him due to injury. See my previous answer. Alford is comfortable with his line ups. By missing time, GG missed the opportunity to become one of Alford's favorites.

Joe Piechowski: GG proved he can be a significant player last year. He SHOULD be a significant player this year. I'm not sure he will will be because of Alford's bench tendencies. Only time will tell. He probably should have redshirted, but we'll have to see what happens in the next few weeks.

gbruin: He should have redshirted. The season is halfway over and GG has contributed very little, and I don't expect he'll have a significant impact this year. As Mexi said, he missed the window to get ingrained as a regular contributor, so I don't see him breaking into the rotation to get much playing time.

beer&math: GG is the one exception. He's coming back from an injury so should be worked back in slowly to prevent further injury. Even if healthy, you have to wonder how many minutes he would get as Alford is [insert insult of coaching ability here].

Bruinette88: I don't think it's realistic to expect Goloman to play a significant role this season. Alford's starting lineup is apparently set in stone, so unless there's an injury, Goloman will have to try to pick up minutes off the bench at the expense of Bolden and Olesinski. The fact that Bolden has been one of the most effective overall players for UCLA this season yet only seems to get more than 15 minutes or so of playing time when either Tony Parker or Thomas Welsh get into foul trouble tells me that GG will be lucky to average more than 10 minutes/game by the end of the season.

Don't forget that we've seen this scenario before--when Noah Allen returned from injury in his freshman season, Alford didn't give Allen any significant playing time because, as he said at the time, the Bruins' rotation was set at that point in the season. Given that GG has already missed half the season and the Bruins aren't contending for a title, it would have made a lot of sense to redshirt Goloman.

Through the first half of the 2015-16 season, who has been the Bruins' most valuable player? Who is the key player for the remainder of the season?

Mexibruin ~ I'm stuck between Tony Parker, or Thomas Welsh for their combination of points & rebounds. I'm a big believer in rebounds and steals. I also think that on this team, points is kind of a toss away stat since Alford has clearly rigged the system so Bryce gets the most shots. But, rebounds! That's a hustle stat. Rebounds don't lie.

Joe Piechowski: Well, on one hand, when Bryce has been good, he's been very good. But, at the same time, when he has been bad like last week in the Southern Cal game, he has been very bad. In this case, the bad disqualifies him from being the team MVP.

So, I think that the team MVP so far needs to be Tony Parker. He's been providing the team with leadership.

That isn't to discount Thomas Welsh's contributions at all. Welsh would get my award for most improved player so far. There's been a night and day difference between Welsh's play this season versus last season. He's really improved a lot and I think his USA basketball U20 experience over the summer likely played a big role in that. Of course, the irony of that is that we have Sean Miller to thank for that. It's a sad commentary on the state of the UCLA basketball program when the development of a UCLA player is contingent on his experience in summer ball and the head coach at the University of Arizona.

gbruin: I go with Welsh as the MVP so far. Parker and Bryce have been pretty much what we've expected - generally good to very good but with some gaping holes in their games and the expected dud performance here and there. Welsh has been the one who has really exceeded my expectations, both from a production and a consistency standpoint. If Welsh can add some muscle to his frame, he has the talent and court IQ to become a really strong player for the Bruins by next year. Going forward for the remainder of the season, the team will go as Bryce goes. He gets more touches and shots so his performance will have more influence on this team than anyone. If he reaches some sort of defensive epiphany and becomes a gritty grinding player on both ends of the court, the Bruins should do just fine. As it is now, our team is easily capable of both great heights and terrible lows, just like Bryce's game.

beer&math: I can't say I've watched closely enough to award an MVP, but it certainly isn't BAlford. BAlford's points will distract many from the fact that he's toxic for the UCLA program. I just name the players that excite me. I love watching Tony Parker work and out-muscle opponents. I also love Thomas Welsh, who just seems to do all those little things the right way. I also love Aaron Holiday because he plays great defense. I love Prince Ali since he's just so athletic that when he's "on" he is fun to watch.

Bruinette88: Welsh is certainly deserving of serious consideration, but I'm going with Isaac Hamilton as the MVP of the first half of the season. After a slow start, Hamilton has become the Bruins' most reliable scorer. Hamilton leads UCLA's guards in FG%, eFG%, TS%, and since the start of the Pac-12 season, he leads the Bruins in assists. More importantly, Hamilton has the highest box plus/minus of the Bruins' starters by a fairly large margin.

Aaron Holiday gets my vote as the key player for the remainder of the season. He's the best defender among the starters, and he leads the Bruins in three-point accuracy, but his decision-making with the ball need improvement. If he can grow into the point guard role in the second half of the season, it would eliminate Steve Alford's excuse for using Bryce out of position and for playing him too many minutes.