The NCAA tournament was fun and exciting this weekend, but the most successful team in NCAA history won’t be around for the second weekend.
UCLA Basketball Coach Steve Alford did the minimum to keep his job but left everyone with a bad taste in their mouth with a season that started with an ugly incident and ended with an ugly meltdown. Is the criticism of Alford fair? Let’s review his excuses, predictions and a look to the future.
Excuse #1: The China Three Cost UCLA Valuable Depth
Please. Syracuse just won three games in six days in the NCAA Tournament to go to the Sweet 16 with less depth than UCLA. Aaron Holiday averaged less minutes a game than THREE Syracuse players. Syracuse’s bench regularly plays less than 10 minutes total in games. Further, many teams only play an eight man rotation.
So, yeah, it may not have been optimal but UCLA’s eight man rotation was not an excuse.
Excuse #2: Losing the China Three Players Hurt UCLA
Most experts agree losing LiAngelo Ball and the LaVar Ball freak show was probably a plus. LiAngelo was unlikely to play much and LaVar was even less likely to shut up. Jalen Hill, by all accounts. was raw and would not have broken into the rotation. Hill would not have played consequential minutes. However, Cody Riley is a different story. UCLA’s starting power forward had 8 rebounds, in his last three games. Gyorgy Goloman had skills and led the team in blocks but neither GG or Thomas Welsh liked to bang inside. ody Riley certainly has the body of a banger. Cody Is listed as heavier than GG or Welsh and could have given UCLA a valuable inside body in games like the St. Bonaventure game.
Losing Riley did hurt UCLA, but remember GG was named as a starter before the season when Riley was still available. This excuse has a little merit in that Riley could be the type of player UCLA otherwise lacked.
Excuse #3: The Team is Young
Actually, this excuse is so bad that it is actually a plus. UCLA started three upperclassman (two seniors and a junior), had two redshirt sophomores playing big minutes and three freshman. By today’s standards, this was an experienced team.
This excuse was a whopper of epic proportions and is a bit scary because next season UCLA will genuinely be young.
Excuse #4: UCLA finished third as predicted (or my prediction that UCLA could win the Pac-12)
The Pac-12 media perfectly predicted the top three finishers in the Pac-12. But this was a wild season in which Arizona and Southern Cal both faced more turmoil and had some bad games and losses. UCLA should have won the Pac-12. Anti-Alford bias by me, you say. Consider this, UCLA was 3-0 against the teams that finished ahead of it in the standings and 6-2 against the top half of the conference in the regular season. That’s a very good record. UCLA was 5-5 against the bottom six teams. And, this is not just a road problem. UCLA was 2-0 on the road against Arizona and Southern Cal. Yet, UCLA was swept by the eighth place team and lost road games to the ninth and 10th place teams. Win those four and UCLA wins first place outright. Three wins and they win in a tiebreaker.
UCLA underachieved in the Pac-12 regular season and given the context should have won the Pac-12 regular season title.
Excuse #5: Steve Alford Should be Retained for Running a Clean Program
This is the equivalent of a participation trophy. There should not be a reward for running a clean program, but, rather, that should be a basic requirement. You should be fired for running a dirty program.
This is the dumbest reason ever to retain a coach.
Excuse #6: Steve Alford Should be Retained Because of the FBI Investigation
The FBI scandal has touched many programs and not just perennial bad boys such as Southern Cal. If UCLA could hire a new coach right now, that coach could be implicated in the scandal for his last program.
While I personally disagree with this, there may be some merit to waiting until the FBI is done to hire a new coach.
Excuse #7: Steve Alford Should be Retained Because of the Great Recruiting Class
ESPN Insider has a headline which is “With loaded recruiting class, UCLA should be a favorite next season.” Arizona is in shambles. They lost their entire recruiting class. Southern Cal’s Enfield can’t coach and lost his key recruiter/money launder and is done as a contender. UCLA should win the Pac-12. That said, many of the players are Under Amour guys (Moses/Campbell) or love UCLA (O’Neal, who allegedly always wanted to come to UCLA but his Dad did not want him playing with a Ball kid). Yes, Alford deserves credit, but a new coach could keep the recruiting class or most of it.
Anyone remember the last time UCLA fired a basketball coach? They kept him that last season because of a great recruiting class. Not a reason to keep Alford and it could be a case of history repeating itself.
Two Players to Watch
Kris Wilkes is not in the mock drafts I looked at, but has enough talent to be considered. Wilkes could decide to go pro or at least test the waters. Jaylen Hands certainly has the athletic ability of a pro, but certainly is not ready. Hands’ relationship with Steve Alford may be an issue.
Steve Alford has done a great job of retaining players that should not go in the draft. Keeping Wilkes and Hands would be further proof that Alford is very good at that.
The Pac-12 will be a terrible conference next year. It was bad this year and those who yelled at me for saying we may only get two teams in or that UCLA may need to win the conference to go were right, but just barely. The Pac-12 came a few conference tournament upsets away from getting one team in the NCAA tournament. UCLA was helped by Kentucky finishing strong and its season came down to one game, the road win at Southern Cal. That game propelled UCLA into the tournament, knocked Southern Cal out, and possibly saved Alford his job.
UCLA should win the Pac-12 next year and may need to do so to go the NCAA tournament.
UCLA is making a mistake keeping Alford and history is repeating itself. No one is happy with the state of UCLA Basketball. Yet, a coach is staying, in part, because of a great recruiting class, just like what happened with Ben Howland’s final year. And, Steve Alford is in a great place to win the Pac-12 regular season just like Ben Howland did in his last year. Unlike Howland, will Alford continue to hold his job with minimal accomplishments?
It’s too soon to predict. But, at least, we may be a football school now.