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Monday UCLA Basketball Notes: Optimism Aside. Pressure is on

UCLA will be on TV more than anytime in recent years and an interesting LA Times article

The high flying Ali's return has been moved up.
The high flying Ali's return has been moved up.
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

In our continued Monday series of news and analysis on UCLA Basketball in offseason, today is about Steve Alford's hot seat which will be in focus like never before.

He will have his hot seat on National TV:

Television executives have officially joined the faction anticipating Steve Alford's heralded recruiting class.  The UCLA men's basketball team will make more national television appearances this coming season than each of the previous three under Alford.

Featuring touted freshmen Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf, the Bruins will appear on CBS on three occasions, Fox Sports 1 six times and the ESPN family of networks a minimum of 10 times, according to the schedule released by the UCLA athletic department on Thursday.

The trio will be along for the Bruins' first-ever trip to face Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Dec. 3, the first of three games to be broadcast by CBS. The matchup with one of the most celebrated programs in college basketball is enhanced by UCLA's defeat of then No. 1 Kentucky last season in Westwood.

The Daily News has a real optimistic spin in this article and it is no more obvious than that last line.  Yes, UCLA beat a number one ranked Kentucky at home last year.  However, Kentucky was not a Kentucky powerhouse team, was over-ranked, had a point guard who was not a 100% healthy, etc.  Still, it was a nice win.

However, that did not make up for the utter disaster and embarrassment of the neutral court game against Kentucky the year before in which UCLA was almost literally shutout for a half.  It was arguably the worst loss in UCLA history and probably the most embarrassing.  Yes, Alford deserves credit for a nice win last year but also deserves blame for a worse loss the year before.

The rubber game matters not just for the result (win/loss) but for how do the Bruins look.  Alford has the talent, can he coach them up?

Speaking of talent, the former Intern (Ben Bolch) has an article in the Fishwrap on  Lonzo Ball.  While I generally like his work, this may be the biggest schlock he has ever written.  At a minimum I don't think Bloch watched the videos of the UCLA game.   First is this tidbit:

The 6-foot-6 Ball also showed the ability to defend larger wing players, giving UCLA flexibility it didn't have last season. Another positive was the continued development of Aaron Holiday at point guard, which will help Bryce Alford play more at shooting guard.

On offense Ball is a point guard.  Bryce saw zero action at point because Holiday and Ball are point guards.

On Defense, Ball was terrible in Australia.  He showed what I personally feared.  Ball has played for years in a full court press and has no clue on how to defend man to man.  Ball made some nice steals in the open court but was torched over and over by a team running simple plays. He failed even to get his hands up often to contest shots.  So yeah, Ball has the athletic ability to be a legitimate small forward down low in the zone.  But right now he is a liability on D and needs to be in zone.  Up to Steve Alford to coach him up.

Bolch turns to the true stars (along with Holiday) of the Australia trip with this quote:

Freshman forwards T.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbobu also looked like immediate impact players, with Leaf averaging 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds and Anigbobu averaging 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds. Steve Alford said Anigbogu, who also blocked four shots, gives the Bruins the rim protector they've been missing in recent seasons.

This quote is interesting for multiple reasons.  One, the article also praises GG.  To me it is a no brainer to roll the dice with Leaf with big minutes at the four.  One  of the most encouraging things on the trip was the connection between Ball and Leaf.  Ball and Leaf have played a lot together in numerous All Star type games. This is good for Ball because it shows he will be better when he learns his teammates.  Leaf has to be the four from the start.

The most interesting comment in the article may be that last sentence.  This team's x-factor is Ike.  The lack of a rim protector comment cannot make seven foot Thomas Welsh smile.  Will Ike be more than Welsh's backup?  A real shot blocker would help to cover some of the problems caused by the matador defense of Bryce Alford.  Also, unlike Welsh, Ike showed he is comfortable as a true five playing close to the basket.  Welsh is deadly at the 14-footer.  Ike looks like a beast inside of 4 feet.  It can be argued that potentially Ike's inside game compliments UCLA's offense and defensive more than Welsh's jumpers and solid rebounding.

The last quote I will select is the best true news of the piece:

One of the highlights of the trip came when doctors cleared guard Prince Ali to shed the brace that he's been wearing since suffering a serious knee injury in July. Alford said Ali was on track to return in November.

Ali gives Alford another athlete as shown in that Kentucky game with his famous dunk.  This team is loaded with many options and possible combinations.  It should make Bruin's fans proud on those many national TV appearances.  If it doesn't, time for Steve Alford show to be canceled.

Go Bruins!