We are at the halfway point of the Pac-12 season. (Technically, over but that is because we have two solo games with SC left.) Now is a good time to host a roundtable on the UCLA Bruins basketball season.
1. In honor of Markybcool’s letter grade system, please tell us who (player or coach) you would give the highest grade so far this season and who you would give the lowest grade?
AnteatersandBruins: I’d give an A to Thomas Welsh for his grit and sticktoitiveness. He’s gotten pretty beat up this year and just gets back up and takes more for the team. He has emerged as more of a leader. I’d give D- to Alford. Not totally failing, but pretty darn close to it. We are outcoached and he never seems to have an answer for anything that goes wrong.
Markybcool: I had to think about this one. My first thought was Aaron Holiday, but as I thought about it deeper, I have leaned towards Thomas Welsh. This is based on nothing more than my gut. I said in the grades for the last game that Aaron Holiday is pretty much the engine that runs this team, but Thomas Welsh is the heart and soul of this team. He does all of the little things and the big things that help this team. He’s pretty much the ONLY interior defensive presence this team has. He has expanded is offensive repertoire this year and is a double-double machine. I will admit this his offensive numbers have declined a bit, but we know that is directly associated with the mentality of the point guard. So, Thomas Welsh gets the A and Holiday gets the A-
The lowest grade for me is easy, Prince Ali. I was so excited to have him back this year. I thought his athletic ability would be a huge lift to this team both offensively and defensively, but his inconsistency has added pretty much nothing to a team that needed him more than ever after losing the three players we lost this year. Ali gets a D
Dimitri Dorlis: Is it bad that the only A grade I would give to this team is to Thomas Welsh, and even that is an A-? Honestly, this team has been too inconsistent to give solid grades to, and the only player with even a legitimate excuse for that inconsistency is Thomas Welsh, who has had a face injury for the past few weeks, and wasn’t getting near the correct amount of touches in the previous weeks.
I’m going to take the easy way out and not give any coach a grade, if only because I think my thoughts on Alford’s job this year are pretty obvious at this point. So I’ll focus on the team itself, and my lowest grade would probably go (and I hate that I’m saying this) GG Goloman, which isn’t his fault by any means. The problem is that he’s not a 4, and yet he kept getting starting nods at that spot, and was just not suited for the role. I don’t think it’s crazy that in the recent stretch of games, where Goloman had been shifted back into his backup role, he’s looked much better. But this is a season grade, so he’s at a D+ right now.
Joe Piechowski: I agree with Dimitri. Thomas Welsh gets an A-. The guy goes out and does his job each and every game.
As far as my lowest grade, it’s somewhat predictable that my lowest grade goes to Steve Alford. I’m going to go all the way here and give Alford an F. The guy is so overwhelmed and out of his element that he can’t come up with answers to basic questions from reporters.
DCBruins: Welsh gets an A for coming as close as any player to maximizing his potential. Steve Alford gets the lowest grade, he cost us a few games this year with his game coaching.
2. Is this the team that just destroyed Stanford and beat Kentucky? Or is this the team that lost to ninth place Colorado at home and tenth place Oregon State on the road?
AnteatersandBruins: Hence the D- for Alford. Properly coached teams don’t go Jekyll and Hyde on you like that. I want us to be the team that beat Kentucky so we can get to the Steve 16 again.
Markybcool: This team is somewhere in the middle. They have too many areas that they struggle in to be consistently good, first and foremost their consistently horrible defense. Add their depth issues and awesome coaching and they are who they are.
Dimitri Dorlis: Probably in the middle, honestly. This team can simply out-talent so many teams in the conference, but they’re so poorly coached that they can too-easily believe their own hype, which is how you end up with those games against Colorado and Oregon State. If you ask me to put them close to either end, I’d probably put them closer to the Kentucky-beating team, if only because they seem to rise and fall to the level of their opponent.
Joe Piechowski: The identity of this team is inconsistency. They are able to go out and struggle against the worst team in the league (UC Berkeley) one game and then destroy Stanford the next. It’s par for the course. And, it’s not just this year. Two years ago, the team was equally inconsistent. It’s proven that last year was an anomaly due to the talents of Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf.
DCBruins: The players make up the team that beat Kentucky and the coaches make up the organization that lost to Colorado at home.
3. In honor of Dimitri’s three takeaways, what is your biggest take away from the season?
AnteatersandBruins: We were good last year in spite of bad coaching. Clearly, the NBA caliber talent is what brought all of those W’s home. We could have had no one in Alford’s seat and we still would have made it as far as we did.
Markybcool: My biggest takeaway from this season so far is that this team is stuck in this perpetual state of mediocrity. We get these highly ranked recruiting classes, but can never seem to get them to play to the level needed to take the next step. One Pac-12 Championship since 08-09 is not acceptable in any way, shape or form.
Dimitri Dorlis: My biggest takeaway is that this team could be really bad next year. For fun, let’s assume that the only defections from this team are Thomas Welsh (graduation), GG Goloman (graduation) and Aaron Holiday (draft). That removes the best rebounder by far, the best scoring option by far, and a solid backup big. Kris Wilkes could become more consistent next year, and Hands could take the next step, but Alford has shown that the only time his UCLA teams will be good is if they have great NBA-ready talent, and it’s hard to see that happening next year.
Joe Piechowski: Takeaway #1: Last year’s results were due to the immeasurable talent of Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf. Takeaway #2: Lack of bench depth isn’t an excuse because Alford has never played more than 8 guys per game in his entire tenure. Takeaway #3: Alford must go!
DCBruins: Alford needs an elite point guard to make his set offense run and is not flexible enough to adept. With a great college point guard like Kyle Anderson or Lonzo Ball, it works. Right now, the set offense is 4 guys standing around waiting for Holiday.
4. Last, UCLA is currently 6-4 in the Pac-12, sitting in fourth place. It has finished the easiest part of its schedule and has hard games left on the road against the Arizona schools, the Mountain schools, and Southern Cal along with three at home against the Oregon Schools and Southern Cal. What will UCLA’s final Pac-12 record be?
AnteatersandBruins: I bet we end up 10-8 (a .500 record for the remainder of the season).
Markybcool: My prediction is that we go 5-3 in the next eight games. I think that is a little optimistic, but I am going to hold to it.
Dimitri Dorlis: My guess would be that the Bruins finish the season 9-9. That would mean they go 3-5 over this final stretch, and that’s not crazy to think. I assume they split with Southern Cal, get swept on the Arizona trip, split the Rockies Road Trip (because sweeping this trip is hard no matter your talent level), and lose to Oregon at home. Maybe they get the Oregon win, but I’m not too optimistic at this point, especially after Dana Altman ran circles around Alford at the end of the last meeting.
Joe Piechowski: While I think 3-5 is possible, I think 2-6 is more likely. That’s expecting a split with Southern Cal, getting swept by the Arizona and Mountain schools and a split against the Oregon schools. I do fear that 2-6 might be optimistic.
DCBruins: Win the Oregon games at home. Those teams are not that good. The other six are tough. Southern Cal is playing well but on any given night they might decide not to play defense. They are not even coached as well as us. So, I say split. The mountain trip is tough, I guess lose both. I think we pull off an upset on the Arizona trip. So, 4-4.