Nicholls: Not Much to See Here

NOV. 21 -- With UCLA blowing out another low-major in Nicholls, 107-75, the Bruins get to run up and down the court and hit some wide-open threes, much like in an AAU game, but there just isn't much you can take away from it...

After that game, when UCLA beat Nicholls 107-75, the main argument on the BRO Premium Forum will rage on. It’s not about how good this UCLA team is, or whether Bryce Alford will be able to match up against real, D-1 points guards.

No, the real burning question that has the message board aflame: Whose worse, Montana State or Nicholls?

That topic might be more relevant than anything else, since there really isn’t much to talk about after UCLA romped on Nicholls.

We’ve said many times over the years that, when UCLA has played cupcakes, there is very little you can take from the game. It happens every year; UCLA destroys some low-major teams in early non-conference and we try to draw conclusions from it -- conclusions that prove to be irrelevant when UCLA actually plays a good team. Against Nicholls it was the same story. Regardless of whether Nicholls was worse than MSU or not, this was one of the most worthless college games. The UCLA coaches probably think the same, with Nicholls being so incompetent in the first half that UCLA couldn’t get any real work in, and really, truly, it has to generate at least a little bit of worry from the UCLA coaches about the team potentially picking up bad habits and false confidence.

If you liked this game, you should come out and watch some AAU ball sometime. You’d love it.

Of course, for UCLA fans, it’s always fun to watch the Bruins run over someone and blow out an opponent. But this cupcake menu which UCLA has munched on for years is getting old and we’ve become hyperglycemic.

If you’re still hung up on trying to determine who was worse between Nicholls and Montana State, UCLA didn’t do much to help end the debate, beating up on Nicholls as badly as they did MSU. This one was looser, definitely more like an AAU game, with very little defense being played, with Nicholls just heaving up shots, very little actual formal offense, no transition defense on either side and UCLA driving through wide open lanes in a way that will never happen against a real team.

Maybe I’m not remembering correctly, because there was so little real basketball being played in either game, but I seem to remember Montana State actually putting some semblance of a basketball team on the court. Or maybe not.

Bryce Alford led the Bruins against Nicholls, putting up some eye-popping stats: 28 points and 13 assists against just 1 turnover. He completely dominated Nicholls, and got a little out of control with some behind-the-back, between-the-legs things that just aren’t going to fly against real competition (and we're pretty confident he wouldn't even attempt it against a real team). While you can’t take almost anything from his performance against Nicholls, you probably can take that he definitely looks like he’s more consistent from behind the three-point arc. He was 6 of 11 against Nicholls, and he’s 20 of 35 for the season, which is a mind-blowing 55.6% so far in three games. That will trail off some as soon as real defenders actually contest some shots, but it’s clear he’s far more confident in his outside shot, and that will have to be a big element of UCLA’s offense if the Bruins are to be effective against real competition and real defenses. Against Nicholls, Alford was pretty essential; when he came out of the game in the first half, and the point guard duties fell to Isaac Hamilton, and Noah Allen was at the two, UCLA got sloppy and out-of-sync. Alford, on offense, is definitely needed to run the show. We think he’s proven he’s a good enough player to dominate low D-1 competition, but the real question remains: How will Alford do when he goes up against a good team and a good D-1 point guard? It might be the question of the season, and we just can't even come close to answering it given the evidence we have so far. You just can’t take much from Nicholls, MSU or Coastal Carolina, so the jury is still out.

Most of the rest of the Bruins looked good – which would be difficult not to do in this game. Kevon Looney had 12 and 14, Norman Powell 23 points and 3 for 3 from three, and Tony Parker had one of his best offensive games, scoring 20 points. Noah Allen, encouragingly, hit a couple of three-pointers. Probably the biggest takeaway from all of this is that Norman Powell’s shot looks so much smoother and more accurate. The fact that the outside shooting of Powell and Alford has improved might be, really, the element that you can take away the most from the first three games.

You can also take away what UCLA is going to do on defense. UCLA, again, mostly utilized a 2-3 zone, with a smattering of man, and some 1-2-2 zone press. It’s nearly impossible to conclude how good they’ll be defensively, but at least we know what kind of mix of zone and man they’ll run.

Trying to get something out of this game, you tend to want to cite some potential deficiencies – because if there are weaknesses against Nicholls they’re going to be real weaknesses against a good D-1 team. There was a lack of focus, very little effort on defense, especially in transition, and an overall looseness and laziness for long stretches. As we said, the Bruins really, too, weren’t sharp when Alford wasn’t on the court. But, just as you can’t probably put any stock in the effectiveness of the team against Nicholls, you probably can’t put any stock in the deficiencies either. It was really that much of a throw-away game.

Three games into the season, we know fans want us to make some points and draw some conclusions, and we admit, we do too. And we apologize, but there’s literally very little to go by so far this season, especially this game.

We’re going to have to just overlook it and wait until UCLA actually plays a good D-1 team. Hopefully that’s Long Beach State Sunday, but we could be waiting until next Wednesday when UCLA plays Oklahoma in the Battle for Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas.

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