This year’s edition of the UCLA Bruins basketball team. Photo courtesy of mostlyuclahoops.blogspot.com
PART ONE OF A TWO-PART SERIES; PART TWO WILL COVER THE USC TROJANS AND THE EIGHT OTHER DIVISION ONE TEAMS THAT CALL SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HOME
NOTE: UCLA is covered on a stand-alone basis because with a nation-leading eleven national championships among its 37 Pac-12 Conference titles and 47 NCAA tournament appearances, it would be extremely difficult to dispute the Bruins’ status as the number one hoops program in SoCal.
UCLA BRUINS – BY THE NUMBERS:
2014-15 Record: 22-14 overall (including 16-1 at home), 11-7 and fourth place in the Pac-12 Conference
* Reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, losing to Gonzaga 74-62
Coach: Steve Alford, third year, 50-23 overall
Key Returning Players:
* ppg = points per game, rpg = rebounds per game, apg = assists per game
Bryce Alford, G – 15.4 ppg, 4.9 apg
Issac Hamilton, G – 10.6 ppg, 3.2 apg
Tony Parker, F/C – 11.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg
Other Key Players:
Thomas Welch, 7’0″ Center (Sophomore)
Jonah Bolden, 6’10” Guard/Forward (Sophomore)
Aaron Holiday, 6’1″ Guard (Freshman)
Prince Ali, 6’3″ Guard (Freshman)
First Game: Friday, November 13th vs Monmouth, Pauley Pavilion, 8:00 p.m.
* Kentucky, at Pauley Pavilion, Thursday, December 3rd
* Gonzaga, at Spokane, WA, Saturday December 12th
* Arizona (Pac-12) – January 7th at Pauley Pavilion, February 12th in Tucson, AZ
* USC (Pac-12/Crosstown Rivalry) – January 13th at Pauley Pavilion, February 4th at Galen Canter
Tony Parker, a senior forward/center who the Bruins will be heavily counting on. Photo courtesy of dailybruin.com
I am going to be brutally honest…
I have never acknowledged the start of the college basketball season with any real enthusiasm, have never felt the same way about it as I felt about the opening of the college football and baseball seasons.
And not just due to the fact that college football is reaching its peak at that time with its rivalry grudge matches and conference championship games.
On April 2nd I wrote and published an article on this site named “One And Done Must Go: What Basketball Needs To Do”, iillustrating how the National Basketball Association’s rule of players being allowed to enter the draft at age 19 has virtually ruined college hoops in the sense that the best players at that level are allowed to, and for the most part do, bail on their college team, hire an agent and announce their intentions to go pro the moment the final buzzer sounds in their last college game.
In that article I stated that the NBA needed to adopt Major League Baseball’s model of letting 18-year olds enter the NBA like before but requiring a three-year waiting period if they choose to play in college, which I still firmly believe.
My honest feelings about this “One And Done” era that we are currently in can be summed up like this:
“Why should I get excited about a college sport whose best players are gone after just one year, evidently showing their utmost lack of desire to be in school in the first place?”
I understand that these players need to take care of their future and their families, and what better way to do that than to be making several millions of dollars living their dream; trust me, I get it.
But I still see it as maiming the college game.
It is not until January, when conference games begin, that I show any real interest in college basketball.
And in all fairness, the NCAA Tournament and the Final Four is, in my view, by far the best thing about the sport of basketball in general as while I admittedly don’t spend any money filling brackets, that doesn’t stop me from speculating who will be the ones cutting down the nets that first Monday night in April.
Bryce Alford (coach’s son), a junior guard who will be expected to continue his development as his 15.4 ppg is the highest among all returning players. Photo courtesy of veooz.com
Having said all of that, let me go ahead and state how I see my alma mater’s team from Westwood will fare in 2015-2016:
My short answer in a nutshell:
I have no idea.
It seems that Coach Alford will have better depth on his squad than last season, and there’s some obvious talent that is maturing as I see Alford, Hamilton, and particularly Parker having better years than they did in 2014-15.
There are also some new guys that I look forward to watching, especially Bolden, who has the height and versatility to make an immediate impact.
But as UCLA is picked by most pundits to finish in the middle of the conference – upper third at best – that leaves me without a definite conviction as to what the Bruins’ ultimate fate will be on the hard court.
Could they win at least 20-25 games, make an inspired run in the “Big Dance” and advance to the Elite Eight (sorry, no Final Four as they are not quite at that level yet)? Absolutely!
But they could just as easily lose twenty games and not play in the postseason at all, getting snubbed by the NIT, the CBI, and all those other consolation tourneys in addition to the NCAA.
I’ll know a lot more about this Bruin bunch after December 12th; that’s when they will have played the national powerhouse whose eight NCAA crowns are second only UCLA’s (Kentucky) and West Coast power Gonzaga.
Not that I expect UCLA to win those games by any stretch (again, just being honest), but if they give those two teams a good battle and keep things close, it will be encouraging for their conference matches and the rest of the campaign.
The only thing left to do, as these Bruins commence with their 97th season of basketball this Friday night?
Let things unfold.
UCLA’s mascot, Joe Bruin, rallying the fans during an NCAA tournament game. Photo courtesy of gojoebruin.com
COMING NEXT TUESDAY: Part two of this SoCal College Basketball series which will feature looks at the hoops teams at USC and schools such as Long Beach State, UC Irvine, and Pepperdine, so don’t miss it!