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UCLA Basketball: Talented Enough for a Top 15 Finish

How will Steve Alford make the talent work?

GG and Thomas Welsh will have to step it up on the Boards and inside.
GG and Thomas Welsh will have to step it up on the Boards and inside.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

CBS' blog makes a great point in their blog "Pac-12 offseason storylines: Cal could produce the national player of the year"

3. Both Arizona and UCLA have rebounding questions to answer

The Pac-12's two most storied programs are both in position to be top-15 teams nationally, but need to prove that they can each hold their own on the glass.

The first point is important.  UCLA should be a protected (top 4) NCAA seed this year. This would entail roughly finishing in the top 16 nationally and an easy path to the sweet 16. The talent is there and after the debacle of the PAC 12 last season, it is a must for Alford.

The second point is why the coaching of Steve Alford will matter.

UCLA suffered a loss up front last week when power forward Jonah Bolden opted to leave school to turn pro, leaving the Bruins with freshman T.J. Leaf and veteran big man Thomas Welsh (11.2 points, 8.5 rebounds in 2015-16) as a projected starting duo up front. Freshman Ike Anigbogu will now likely become UCLA's third big man following Bolden's departure.

Bolden was the best athlete of the group above. Next maybe Ike. According to ESPN: "Anigbogu is a terrific looking prospect that has pterodactyl-type length and huge hands." This is a great for a rebounder. However, how soon can Ike be ready?

Can he play with Welsh? Ike is only a 5 on offense but Welsh is a credible four on offense but only a five on defense. This brings up the big-big nightmare especially on a team with a weak defender like Bryce playing a lot of minutes.

TJ Leaf seems like some things Bolden was not. Again according to ESPN: "Leaf is a lengthy 4-man with an outstanding combination of skill and athleticism. He is one of the few players in the country that excels both in transition as well as in the half court set." Leaf may be ready to play four on offense and give us another player who can play well in transition which may work well with Lonzo Ball's great passing skills.

But can he rebound? Can he mix it up inside? Can he defend a four? Leaf should get a lot of minutes early to see how he can do those things. He might be a better pair with Ike than Welsh quite frankly.

As far Welsh. How improved will Welsh be this season? He made a big leap from his freshman to sophomore season. His work ethic is legendary. No one practices harder than Welsh. Can he be a dominate force on defense? Can he develop a real post-up game to let Leaf operate on the outside more? Welsh is the guy you want to root for, but this is the year for him to live up to his McDonald's All American game status.

Last of all is Gyorgy Goloman. GG averaged a rebound every 4.4 minutes compared to Welsh's 3.1. Two years ago it was a pathetic 7.3 minutes per rebound. GG is a very smart player but there are legitimate questions about his athletic ability. Can he rebound well inside? Can he defend against an athletic four out on the perimeter? Also, GG seems unlikely to be starter material as he averaged a foul every 5.3 minutes. The sometimes foul prone Thomas Welsh who fouled out of 6 games last year only averaged a foul every 9.6 minutes.

The talent is there. The Daily Bruin has it half right when they say:

With four returning starters and freshmen Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbogu, the Bruins are expected to contend for the Pac-12 title and an NCAA Tournament berth.

Steve Alford has a team that on talent should be top 15 in the country and contend if not win the PAC 12.  However, the talent is imperfect and it is up to Steve to deliver on that potential or "graduate" with Bryce after the season.

Go Bruins.