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UCLA Basketball Needs To Finish Strong To Make This a Truly Elite Season

UCLA Basketball has certainly started strong by winning all thirteen non-conference games, but, if UCLA should stumble down the stretch, what is the minimum acceptable for Steve Alford to keep his job?

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

All UCLA fans are all enjoying the most fun UCLA basketball season in years. Right now, UCLA basketball is exceeding beyond expectations.

While the start has been great, it is how we finish that matters.

Sure, Steve Alford is looking like a good coach...right now. But, what if UCLA finishes third in the Pac-12 and exits the NCAA tournament relatively early? Sure, it would be disappointing but should it be more than just "disappointing"?

At the start of the season, typical previews of UCLA Basketball read like this:

13. UCLA (16 in AP)

Star recruits Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf will give the Bruins some star power. And with his seat getting hotter, coach Steve Alford will need to do something with it.

Alford’s coaching seat was hot as the season started and deservedly so. He definitely needs to do "something" this season. His record last season alone, 15-17, should cause it to be hot, but there is a lot more to it than that:

Entering this season, he is the worst UCLA coach since John Wooden made UCLA the nation’s premiere program:

  • His .619 winning percentage is the worst in post-Wooden UCLA history
  • He tenth-place finish last year was the worst ever for a coach in his third season. The next worse was Larry Farmer who resigned after finishing fourth.
  • His twelve conference losses tied Steve Lavin for most losses in Pac-8/10/12. Lavin was fired after his twelve loss season.
  • His teams have been worse each season:
    • 2013-14 28-9, Second place in PAC 12 and Pac 12 Tourney Champs.
    • 2014-15 22-14, fourth place.
    • 2015-16 15-17 tenth place.
  • His teams have had a number of infamous moments on the court:
    • 7 points in a half against Kentucky on 12/22/14.
    • 39 points in a game against Utah on 1/14/2015.
    • On 1/7/16, a 85-78 loss to a truly awful Washington State team for WSU’s only conference win that season.
    • 3 losses to USC by an average of 19 points in the 2015-16 season.
  • Seemingly favoring his son Bryce Alford over other players:
    • Bryce played more minutes than NBA Point Guard Zach Lavine his freshman season.
    • UCLA failed to (or did not) recruit a point guard, forcing Bryce, a combo guard to be UCLA’s point guard and play a large number of minutes as a sophomore.
    • While acknowledging the problem is defense last season and naming various players as the problem, Steve Alford never blames Bryce nor does he bench Bryce despite all neutral observers agreeing Bryce was the team’s worst defender.
    • Each season under Alford the defense has been worse according to KemPom. Under Alford, UCLA’s defense has went from 37th to 65th to 119th.

Alford has done a good job recruiting recently. However, he must show continue to show results this year on the court. In our internal discussion before the season began, an elite season finished as the first choice. It's easy to lose sight of the disappointment of Steve Alford's first three years. But here at Bruins Nation, we have long memories.

Going undefeated during non-conference play is nice. It is certainly the way to start an elite season. But the key is to finish strong. If Steve Alford cannot win the Pac-12 OR get UCLA to the Elite Eight, then he should be fired at the conclusion of this season.

That was our feeling when the season began and we are not changing our opinions in light of the team's amazing start.

If anyone thinks this is unreasonable, please keep in mind that the last two UCLA coaches to be fired were fired for missing the NCAA tournament just once (Steve Lavin) and despite winning the conference (Ben Howland).

The rest of the season will have many ups and downs (and, hopefully, a lot more ups than downs).  But, that said, we will not vary from holding Steve to these minimal requirements to keep his job.

Go Bruins!