UCLA hired New Mexico head coach Steve Alford on Friday, and while the hire may underwhelm Bruins fans, there's something to be considered: there are plenty of coaches who can do well with the UCLA job. In many respects, it's an easy job. The new coach will come into a down Pac-12, have access to great Los Angeles area players, and will probably get a reprieve if the first couple of years don't go well. In many respects, the job shouldn't be a tough one for plenty of coaches.
But is Steve Alford one of them? Our guess is: probably. He's had very good success at New Mexico, where it's difficult to win. This year, the Lobos won the Mountain West thanks to a very good defense and a fairly efficient offense. At Iowa, previous to this stop, he was known as a defensive coach, once ranking first in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency (per KenPom). At New Mexico, his trademark has been more of a mixed bag, but as a general rule, both his offense and his defense have been fairly efficient each year.
In terms of style of play, Alford does not run an up tempo system. With his style predicated on half-court defense and a good half-court offense, Alford's tempo is generally below average, ranking anywhere from 122nd to 221st in adjusted tempo. There's no guarantee that would significantly at UCLA, since he's gotten some decent talent at New Mexico and has continued with his fairly slow style. It isn't quite first-Final-Four-for-Ben-Howland slow, but it's comparable, in terms of pace, to Howland's other years at UCLA (outside of this past year and his first). So it should be said that UCLA was able to have great success running a similar tempo, so it's not, overall, a huge concern.
Defensively, he doesn't extend pressure overmuch beyond the three point line, which allows other teams to shoot a great number of threes. This is probably one of the main worries from his resume because allowing a great number of threes drastically increases the odds that a team can get hot and upset you. As Pomeroy has pointed out, you can't really limit the percentage of threes a team makes—it's more or less dependent on their shooting ability and has little to do with your defense. What you can limit is how many the other teams take, and with UCLA's talent level potentially being what it is, the goal should be to extend pressure beyond the three point line to force other teams to take potentially more difficult shots. With a greater talent level, and more athleticism, we'd guess he'll extend his defenses a bit more, which should help. Generally, his teams limit others to a low field goal percentage from two, which is a good sign, and an indicator of solid teaching.
Offensively, his teams shoot well, with a pretty balanced offense between the three pointer and the two. He runs a three in, two out motion offense, and it's generally pretty efficient. A big thing to watch here is how the high level talent that he'll get at UCLA adjusts to playing in that kind of offense, but in some senses, it could fit the one and done era fairly well, with some ability to freelance and take others off the dribble built into the offense.
It's going to be interesting. Alford is not a sure thing, but most coaches aren't. You worry, obviously, about his teams being prone to variance because of the slow tempo and huge number of threes allowed, but there are some signs pointing to him being a very good coach of the fundamentals. You can expect, rightly, that UCLA will have efficient offenses and defenses under Alford, and with the greater level of talent, the Bruins should compete for the Pac-12 within a year, just given how down the league is. The question will be if Alford can adjust his style marginally to account for having more talent than most of his opponents. If we had to guess, one of the most obvious things to do with greater, more athletic talent would be to extend pressure at least beyond the three point line, which is something Howland's Final Four defenses did very well at UCLA. For now, it's an open question how many adjustments he'll make to his style and scheme, and probably one that won't be answered for at least a year or two.
Analysis of Alford's Style of Play
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