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UCLA Men's Basketball - Oregon Road Trip Roundtable

The writers and editors of Bruins Nation discuss UCLA's road woes, its defensive struggles, and the ability of Steve Alford to solve these problems.

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

1. Steve Alford had a shot at his first road trip sweep at UCLA, but the Bruins collapsed against the Ducks. UCLA is now 1-3 away from home in the Pac-12 this season, and just 1-9 in its last 10 Pac-12 road games outside of California. With road trips to Arizona and the Bay Area as well as an away game against Southern Cal in February, how do you rate the Bruins' chances of surpassing last year's 2-7 Pac-12 away record?

Mexibruin: Wow. Just looking at those numbers, you would have to think, "We cannot possibly do worse than that." Right? Those numbers are appalling. That is a monumental level of suck. I think Lavin 2.0 ties that 2-7 record.

orlandobruin: The fact that we are having THIS discussion speaks volumes about where the program is at under Steve Alford. I think in all likelihood that the Bruins win one against Cal, Stanford, or ASU. I predict 2-7, just like last year. It is unlikely that the Bruins go 2-3 on the road in the last five. I'd say a one in five chance (see what I did there?).

DCBRUINS: Not good. The games are winnable, but given our history on the road it is tough. He has to really manage his roster better and I don't think he will do it. The best example is Bryce. I think Bryce should play big minutes against Arizona where he does not hurt as much on defense and his leadership would help in the hostile environment of McHale. On the other side, Bryce should be sitting a lot against Southern Cal where they have three strong offensive guards and they exploited Bryce last time.

Joe Piechowski: I think 2-7 is likely and 3-6 is possible. The question is "Which teams will we beat on the road?" I think it will be either Stanford, ASU or Southern Cal. I know we played horribly against Southern Cal at home, but I think that they could go into the Galen Center and catch them off guard. But, I don't think we will beat all three. I completely agree with orlando that this discussion speaks volumes about where the program is under Steve Alford.

Bruinette88: Slightly better than 50/50. UCLA should be able to pick up road wins against ASU and Stanford, but after losing to Washington State--the Cougar's only Pac-12 win so far--I'm wary of underestimating the Bruins' ability to lose to bad teams.

2. After UCLA's victory over Oregon State, Jack Wang wrote this: "Both Alford and his players have explained the team's defensive struggles with terms like ‘energy' and ‘demeanor' suggesting that the problem has less to do with matchups than willpower and focus." However, after the loss to Oregon, Alford talked about unfavorable, "hard matchups" for the Bruins. Do you think Steve Alford actually understands what's wrong with UCLA's defense, and if so, do you think he can fix the problem?

Mexibruin: I think Alford does actually understand the problem. The problem is defense. The problem as he sees it, is that defense is not any fun. And, if you can't have fun doing a thing, how are you going to ask people to do it? It's like doing dishes or taking out the trash. Nobody wants to do that stuff. That's why we hired a maid! (Sorry, it's late and I'm all out of my sarcasm meds)

orlandobruin: It is painful to listen to Doug Gottlieb take shots at UCLA over its (lack of) defense. But, as much as it pains me to say it, Gottlieb was spot on. Whether Steve Alford can get Bryce to play perimeter defense and/or Tony Parker to play interior defense is questionable at this point. As far as "hard matchups" are concerned, I do agree that Oregon has a huge athleticism edge over the UCLA starting five. Maybe Bolden could have contained some of those guys?

DCBruins: No he does not understand. He keeps talking about the bigs. The problems are matchups. See above on Bryce. Another example, you cannot play zone with Thomas Welsh as a wing. The 3-2 does not work with Welsh who cannot cover the ground to get outside. "Energy" is coach speak, this team is good on offense and can sacrifice a good offense player or two for a better defensive player or two in situations.

Joe Piechowski: I think Steve Alford doesn't have a clue. Listen, here's a guy who told the CBS announcers who called the Oregon game a story about how the fans at his high school initially hated when his dad would put him in and that, by his senior year, they would hate when his dad would take him out. He told them that as a parallel to what he is trying to do with Bryce, but the thing he doesn't get is that Bryce doesn't play as consistently well as he did.

Bruinette88: After listening to Steve Alford's gibberish for almost three years, I tend to dismiss most of what he says. While I don't expect him to acknowledge publicly that UCLA lacks athleticism, he should at the very least adapt his rotations so that he doesn't keep using combinations with multiple slow-footed defenders. In many games, Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh have been a poor combination defensively. Adding Bryce Alford to that combination doesn't help.

It makes sense to start pairing Welsh with Jonah Bolden and Parker with Gyorgy Goloman in an effort to produce more balanced, athletic lineups. Since Steve Alford has made minimal effort to develop Prince Ali this season, it's harder to come up with alternative guard combinations, but it probably makes sense to experiment with a two-guard lineup. Fewer minutes for Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will allow them to expend more energy on the defensive end.

The problem with my proposal is that I seriously doubt that Steve Alford will consider it. He's not going to change his starting lineup. He's not going to reduce minutes for Bryce or Isaac in a meaningful way. He's not going to develop his bench. I suspect that his "solution" will be more of the same, which isn't a solution at all, it's just wishful thinking.

3. The Bruins haven't done a particularly good job of running their offense through Parker and Welsh. Do you attribute this to Steve Alford's offensive scheme or a lack of discipline by UCLA's guards?

Mexibruin: Whenever forced with an either/or scenario, I like to ask, "why not both?"

orlandobruin: It is tough to determine whether a team's offensive failings can be attributed to the guy who draws up the game plan (the coach) or the "quarterback" who attempts to execute it. I will say this: if the quarterback is audibling plays that are unsuccessful, and flying in the face of the wishes of the coach, the coach is not without a solution. The quarterback can sit for a series or two. So, either way (offensive scheme vs. lack of discipline), it is on the coach.

DCBruins: Actually I think Hamilton does a decent job as a wing passing the ball inside. He had some great passes to Welsh the last game. Hamilton is playing well right now. Holiday is still learning point. He is getting better. Bryce often passes to start halves but shoots to end them. Bryce needs to play the situation more.

Joe Piechowski: Again, I agree with orlando. It doesn't matter what the cause is. It remains up to Steve Alford to correct it.

Bruinette88: There's not a problem with the offensive scheme per se, but it's evident that Steve Alford isn't effectively emphasizing the importance of running the offense through Tony Parker and Thomas Welsh. Furthermore, Alford's big-big lineup actually doesn't seem to produce more touches for the bigs, primarily because Parker and Welsh aren't complementary players, offensively or defensively. However, even if Alford were to move away from his big-big lineup, I suspect that we still wouldn't see more touches for Parker and Welsh since it clearly hasn't been made the focus of Alford's guard-oriented system.

4. Last year Jeff Eisenberg defended Steve Alford's coaching and, among other things, claimed that "UCLA has improved steadily from November to March in both Alford's two seasons..." Putting aside the highly dubious nature of that claim with respect to Alford's first two seasons, do you believe that the Bruins have "steadily improved" this season from November through the third week in January? In what ways has the team improved since the opening game against Monmouth?

Mexibruin: I never thought I would be saying this, but; I do think the team has improved. I think the real problem is two fold: the players are improving as individuals as opposed to improving as a team. The other problem is that all teams improve as the season wears on. And, we are simply not improving as much as other teams are.

orlandobruin: Personally, it is not worth the aggravation and lost sleep for me to stay up late on the east coast to watch the midweek games anymore, which (like discussing whether UCLA can go 3-6 on the road in PAC 12 play) also speaks volumes about the status of UCLA basketball. So my answer to this question is solely based on the games that I have watched. The product that I saw on the floor against Oregon did not look as good as the product that I saw on the floor against Kentucky, Gonzaga, or even North Carolina. It looked a lot like the team I saw play Kansas. A lot like the team that I saw play Wake Forest. So I cannot say whether there has been team improvement. The Bruins are all over the map and we are never quite sure what kind of performance we are going to get. Consistently inconsistent, which is never a good thing.

DCBruins: In two and half season watching Steve Alford I have never seen him so confused on rotations. The first half nine guys played against Oregon and ten against Oregon State. The Oregon game looked like an exhibition where you were experimenting with all kinds of things. I think Steve realizes the defensive problem is big, but does not have a clue on what he is going to do to fix it.

Joe Piechowski: On one hand, if you look at certain games, the answer would be yes, the team has improved, but that also depends on which games you are looking at. If you compare, say, Monmouth to, say, Arizona or OSU, the answer is yes. But if you compare Monmouth to Oregon or Southern Cal, the answer is clearly no. That's due entirely to this team playing inconsistent defense. When they play defense, they look very good. When they don't, they look awful. So, if you use consistency as your measuring stick which you probably should, then the answer is no. There has not been improvement from the beginning of the year and that's all on Steve Alford.

Bruinette88: No, the Bruins have not "steadily improved" this season, or for that matter, in any season with Steve Alford in charge of the program. The results reflect that fact. UCLA's record in its first 10 games this season is 7-3; in the second 10 games its record is 5-5.

The fundamental problems that were evident in game 1 against Monmouth still haven't been addressed. As a result, the Bruins' performances have been incredibly inconsistent. There's no shortage of talent on the roster, but the Bruins are less than the sum of their parts. That's on Alford, not the players. UCLA isn't losing games because Bryce Alford is a weak defender, or because Tony Parker is foul prone, or because Aaron Holiday plays like a freshman at times. It's because Steve Alford has failed to put his players in positions to succeed.

5. Before the Bruins played their first game of 2015-16, Steve Alford said "We don't know our identity yet. People are asking ‘what's your identity?' You have no idea' we haven't played any games." Steve Alford's Bruins now have 20 games under their belt. How would you define UCLA's identity?

Mexibruin: Lavinistic

orlandobruin: Consistently inconsistent. Or "no defense."

DCBruins: We can't guard guards but we can beat teams with good bigs.

Joe Piechowski: Lacking defensively.

Bruinette88: Poorly coached, undisciplined, and soft--both mentally and physically.