Who could have seen this coming?
Oh wait, literally everyone.
If it isn’t obvious to you by now, Steve Alford isn’t a good coach, and the Michigan State Spartans played as if they were determined to prove that fact to the entire world, as the Spartans raced out to a 51-26 halftime lead, then maintained the rest of the way as they cruised to an easy 87-67 victory over the Bruins in the first round of the Las Vegas Invitational.
Simply put, UCLA looked like trash in this game, and I’m not sure where to begin.
Let’s start with the defense: it sucks! It’s almost like bringing in a random coach and pretending he’s a defensive guru wasn’t going to result in any new positive developments on that end, as Michigan State took advantage of an awful UCLA man and zone defense to shoot 51.6% from the field. And, as long-time readers of my recaps have noted, I’ve routinely made mention of the fact that UCLA’s perimeter defense allows for a lot of easy looks from deep, and the Spartans had the shooters to take advantage of it, as they went 13-24 for 54.2% from 3. There just isn’t anything resembling a solid effort on the perimeter no matter the style of defense being played by the Bruins, and it allowed a solid, disciplined team like the Spartans to get a lot of easy looks.
Let me also give a special shout-out to transition defense, which was its own special brand of trash. The Bruins just don’t get back on defense, and the Spartans obviously knew that, as they ran a track meet down court for easy baskets. Officially, the Spartans had 9 fast break points, but so many Spartan possessions began by getting the Bruin defense out of sorts by beating them up the court.
Now to move over to the offense, which is supposedly Steve Alford’s calling card. At this point, it seems rather clear that there isn’t anything resembling an offensive system for the players to fall back on and run. Instead, the team relies on a series of hero plays from guys like Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands, and Prince Ali (the third of those should be a fireable offense), and when those guys struggle, the entire offense struggles. Wilkes officially led the Bruins with 15 points, but it was on an inefficient 5-12 from the field. Hands was equally bad, putting in 11 points on 4-12 shooting, and the less we say about Ali, the better. And UCLA’s best interior player, Moses Brown, was a no show on offense, mostly due to the inability of the UCLA offense to even look his
It might say a ton that the best players on offense for the Bruins were Chris Smith and Cody Riley. Smith was by far the most efficient Bruin on the night, and was actually the first Bruin to make it to double figures in this game, as he scored 11 points on 4-7 shooting, and posted the best ORating of any Bruin who played over 20 minutes. Riley was a little less efficient (10 points on 4-9 shooting) but was very energetic and willing to bang down low, which at least led to some hustle points when things weren’t working.
Here’s where we are at this point: UCLA did not look like it belonged on the same court as a top-end opponent. They still may have enough talent to win the Pac-12, because at least the Pac-12 continues to look awful, but that’s more guesswork. You can choose to hold out hope that things will improve as the season progresses, but 5 years of evidence exists to dissuade you from that path.
Oh yeah, and now they get to play an angry North Carolina tomorrow. Should be fun!
Kris Wilkes led the Bruins with 15 points. Jaylen Hands led the team with 3 assists, and Moses Brown led the team with 10 rebounds. Cassius Winston led the way for the Spartans with 19 points.
- Player of the Game: Chris Smith? - I don’t know. Smith probably played the best game, but no one really earned this designation. But I guess Smith really is the backup point guard since he only had 1 less assist than the starting PG.
- Area of concern: Just pick something - The transition defense is bad. The perimeter defense is bad. The offensive system is bad. The coaching is bad. Really glad I rushed home after Thanksgiving to cover this game.
- At least we beat Southern Cal? - Just think about that this weekend, and dream of literally anyone else in charge of this program after the season.
The 3rd place game against the North Carolina Tar Heels is scheduled to tip off at 1:00 PM PST.