Has UCLA ever opened a Pac-12 season thinking about next year like this one? ESPN ‘s Jeff Borzello leads off their college basketball page with:
Entering the season, we said the breadth of the 2019 coaching carousel would likely hinge on whether UCLA decided to make a move with Steve Alford. Well, two months into the season, Alford’s future with the Bruins is already decided.
It feels as if the 2018-19 season is already over. But, here is the thing. It’s not. The UCLA Bruins have the most talent, by far, of any team in the conference. Moreover, this year the Pac-12 stinks. Not just bad, but awful. With the exception of Arizona State, every Pac-12 has been as bad or worse than predicted. UCLA was predicted to finish second by the writers and was ranked in the Top 20 before the season. UCLA is now 7-6. Pre-season favorite Oregon is 9-4 including a loss to Texas Southern, at home! The only team with “good wins,” Arizona State lost to a 7-5 Princeton team, again at home!
This means that, although the season seems over, it is not unrealistic to believe that UCLA could win the Pac-12. The first test comes tonight at home against the Stanford Cardinal. Stanford ranks #209 in scoring offense and ranks #160 in adjusted offense by Kenpom. In the 2018-19 Pac-12, they are a middling team. Yes, the conference is that bad.
The Cardinal are led by 6’9“ KZ Okpala who leads Stanford in points per game, three-point percentage, and rebounds. He is the kind of inside-out player that can bother UCLA. But, really this game is not about Stanford. UCLA should not have a problem beating this Stanford team at home.
The question tonight is about UCLA. Although most UCLA fans will find this hard to believe, Jaylen Hands leads the Pac-12 in assists right now. The big question before the season, “Can Hands play point?”, has seemingly been answered. And yes, we realize stats are only part of the story.
Also, UCLA’s size should matter. Even with the lackluster effort and coaching, UCLA ranks #13 in the nation in rebounds while Stanford ranks #168.
So, tonight is NOT about Stanford. It is about UCLA. Is the season really over? Or is this team going to take advantage of a historically awful Pac-12 and make a run? That is what tonight’s game is all about.