Story by BRO Contributor Rob Carpentier.
The UCLA men’s basketball program opens the game portion of its 2015-2016 season on Friday night when the Bruins host the Cal State Los Angeles Golden Eagles in an exhibition game at Pauley Pavilion. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 PM PDT and can be seen on UCLA Live Stream on the UCLA official athletic website.
As is the case with most exhibition/preseason games, there is little that fans will probably learn from the contest. While it’s true that coaches can at least begin to gauge how different personnel combinations work on the floor and how the players will respond to officiating and the numerous dead ball situations, the reality is that these games can’t give the players the kind of atmosphere necessary to amp up intensity to the levels needed for regular and postseason success.
There are many questions surrounding the UCLA program as it enters this season, not the least of which is about the head coach, Steve Alford. Alford faced a great deal of criticism last season and there continue to be loud whispers that Alford is not happy in Westwood and that he will leave if the right opportunity comes along. However, Alford was able to get UCLA to NCAA Tournament last March, and regardless of whether it was a deserved bid to the Big Dance, Alford guided the Bruins to the Sweet 16, including a win over a pretty good SMU squad in a game where Alford outcoached the legendary (or infamous) Larry Brown. Ironically, in the face of all of the criticism he’s faced, Alford has guided the Bruins to more postseason success in the last two years than in all his years at Iowa and New Mexico combined.
A big question entering the season has to do with Alford’s use of personnel. He has talked for months about the possibility of using Jonah Bolden at both the ‘3’ and the ‘4’, using Thomas Welsh and Tony Parker together and perhaps having Bryce Alford play more off the ball. The first two possibilities are intriguing on the offensive end but leave the Bruins probably worse off defensively than they were last season, and that’s saying something. The idea of playing Bryce primarily off the ball is probably unrealistic, however, it will be interesting to see if Coach Alford has Bryce defensively guard the ‘2’ while freshman Aaron Holiday handles the opposition’s point guard.
In and of itself, watching the newcomers almost makes the game worth attending. Certainly the Bruins lost a great deal with the graduation of Norman Powell and the early departure of Kevon Looney, but in Bolden, Holiday and Prince Ali (if he plays), the Bruins have three newcomers that are more athletic than anyone else on the roster. I know I am in the minority here, but I don’t know that the loss of Powell is going to be as keenly felt as others do. Norman was an experienced veteran who learned to play defense under Ben Howland, but I was never convinced that Norman had true basketball acumen, or, as Greg hicks would write, a good “feel” for the game. Although neither is a point guard, I would argue that both Holiday and Ali have a more natural feel for the game. This game will be the first piece of evidence to see if that is indeed the truth.
Bolden is being asked to take the place of UCLA’s best player from last season in Looney. The ironic thing is that because of Coach Alford’s green light motion offense (which I dubbed “chuck and duck”) Looney was probably never used properly. Bolden clearly has a great deal of talent and upside, the question is whether that will translate positively in an offense that may not utilize him correctly.
The Golden Eagles will probably not offer any type of real challenge to the Bruins. Coach Dieter Horton’s squad is coming off a losing season and proceeded to graduate three of its four best players. There was no one on the squad who averaged in double digits last season. The best returnees are seniors Andre McPhail (6’7” 235 lbs.), Joel Brokenbrough (6’6” 220 lbs.) and Joshua Munzon (6’4” 170 lbs.). Munzon is the best of the three but that’s not saying much. The only size the Golden Eagles have is in the form of junior college center Geoffrey Frid (7’1” 225 lbs.) who, like many of his teammates, is athletically challenged. A player to watch is sophomore Justin Snavely (6’8” 195 lbs.) who has good athleticism but is raw. He should be able to at least challenge whichever Bruin happens to be playing the ‘3’. All-in-all this is an athletically limited team that doesn’t shoot or rebound well.
The Bruins should win by 40-50 points depending on what Alford wants to do. The big key will be to look for what sorts of rotations and personnel decisions UCLA opts for in this one. Also, look to see if the Bruins bring any sort of intensity to the defensive end. The team will be deeper in the backcourt, but will Alford use that depth? Will Noah Allen play significant minutes? Has Welsh progressed enough to surpass Parker as the go-to post player?
The real goals for the game should be to give everyone minutes, work different personnel combination and do all that can be done to prevent injuries. The score is irrelevant, but that won’t be the case in two weeks when the Bruins open the season against Monmouth.