Unimpressive UCLA has plenty of problems
Doug Gottlieb says the play of point guard Bryce Alford is just one of many areas where the Bruins need improvement.
UCLA is in a total nose dive right now and this may not end well for Bryce Alford. Alford, who was recruited as a mid-major caliber player before he was set to join his dad, Steve Alford, at New Mexico, but then they both bolted for UCLA when Steve Alford was named the Bruins' coach.
Bryce Alford is UCLA’s leading scorer and a pretty good player. He is not, however, a creative point guard. He struggles with higher level guards (he was awful vs. Kentucky and Utah), doesn't have a good left hand and is more of a shooter than creator. Keep in mind UCLA has three McDonald’s All-American’s on the front line and yet the Bruins' best news in the remaining season is they only have to play Arizona one time.
What happens now is interesting, because Bryce Alford isn't the biggest issue the Bruins have. They have no bench and Isaac Hamilton is not close to being as good as advertised. But being the coach's son on one of the least competitive UCLA teams in the last 25 years is a dangerous idea for Bryce’s ability to enjoy just playing basketball.
The Doug McDermott-Tony Bennett-Billy Baron dream scenario stories are few and far between, instead there are more stories of that of Kevin Willard, who didn't use his last year of legibility to play for his dad at Pitt (Willard, now the coach at Seton Hall went to work for Rick Pitino then with the Celtics). Stories like Sean Sutton's and Saul Smith's at Kentucky and Allie McGuire’s at Marquette are far more common, and they lead to fans taking out their frustration on the coaches son.
The two things UCLA has going for it is that Alford has an iron-clad contract, he isn't going anywhere anytime soon and that Los Angeles is more apathetic toward college basketball than ever before. Still, the mass exodus to the NBA, the lack of a true point guard and bench have made the Bruins a sitting duck in the Pac 12 shooting range.
Forecast not good for Red Storm
I called the St. John’s vs. Butler game on Saturday and attended Tuesday's Villanova vs. St. John’s game at Madison Square Garden. In the loss to Butler, St. John’s had no bench as RySheed Jordan had taken a leave of absence from the squad, and he played extremely poorly coming back against Nova in a 90-72 loss. Jordan, I am told from those inside the program, has had a mess of a home life in Philly. He is the oldest of seven kids and there have been several deaths in the family and to friends recently.
Still, The Johnnies are in a bit of a nose dive despite some really talented pieces. D'Angelo Harrison is a true "bucket-getter" as he carried the Storm in both games. Harrison’s bouts with aggression seem to be focused on the other team and he is not only deadly in the mid-range, but he is not looking to shoot 10 3-pointers a game. In other words he, like the best veteran players, have figured out what he does well, and he focuses on that. Phil Greene IV is really the only other shooter so the lane is a bit condensed, especially when Jordan isn't in the game.
The Johnnies' other big issue is they only have one big man, and though Chris Obekpa is one of college basketball’s best shot blockers, Chris Jones and Joey De La Rosa aren't mobile enough defensively and can not help on offense. Add in Sir Dominic Pointer being scouted better and its zone showing massive holes vs. all three Big East opponents and St John's is in a tail spin.
Expect Myles Stewart to get more minutes as his shooting is needed to open up the floor and it wouldn't stun me if Steve Lavin gave Amar Alibegovic a shot as a stretch 4 or 5 simply for more offense. St John's is explosive off the dribble, is experienced and most of their guys have accepted who they are (For example Jamal Branch isn't a good 3-point shooter so he doesn't take them), but their zone’s flaws, lack of depth and losing two home games has them behind the eight ball again in the Big East.
Victor leaving Arizona too early
Freshman guard Craig Victor left Arizona and most think he will transfer to red hot (in recruiting) LSU. Victor leaving Arizona is typical of what frustrates college coaches more than anything else in the transfer game. Victor likely thought Brandon Ashley would have gone pro after last season -- a big reason I would do away with the early signing date is that there is too much change during the year in between signing and playing at a school. Ashley broke his foot and stayed an extra year in Tucson, so Victor has seen limited minutes for the Cats.
In our "Microwave Society" players have no patience nor do they realize that if Ashley were to go down again, Victor is right there for huge minutes and a chance to win a national title. If he stays, Ashley is 95 percent gone to the NBA and he has a year of experience to compete and likely start for Arizona next season. Either way, bagging the Arizona experiment 14 games into your career is just plain shortsighted. Even if Victor still wanted to transfer at the end of the season, he could take his time and use that as a leverage card at Arizona, instead he transferred and that chip is already used.
Israeli star Sorkin could help Ducks
Oregon might use an Israeli man of mystery Thursday vs. Arizona. Roman Sorkin, who joined the team this week, played well in the World U-18 games averaging a double-double and he is eligible immediately for Dana Altman. For a tiny team with no size, this could be an amazing rabbit out of the hat by the Ducks who have made a living out of in-season magic.
Joe Young has been the scoring machine Oregon thought he would be and UO uses its variety of pressures and zones to hide its lack of size.
And if Sorkin can play at all, Oregon could be a sneaky team out west. Sorkin is only 18, he is truthfully about 6-foot-9, 225-pounds and like the rest of the Ducks, his youth and inexperience will be apparent.
But for the smallest team in the Pac 12, a little skilled depth never hurts.
Oklahoma's experience could be difference in Big 12
Texas was blasted by Oklahoma on Monday night revealing two things to the Big 12. One, that Oklahoma is one of the favorites to win the conference and two, that Texas’ offensive issues are a huge concern heading forward.
Kansas looked much improved as Bill Self dramatically shortened his bench vs. UNLV. But OU, another team without much bench help, is much older and has three or four scorers on the floor at once, which makes them a really tough cover. The Sooners were awful defensively last season and spent essentially every offseason workout on defense. Then their shot selection suffered, when TaShawn Thomas was declared immediately after transferring from Houston as the Sooners seemed to have "shot envy" of each other.
But since the Tulsa game (they had a week off to truly integrate Thomas and two post players unlike last year with Cameron Clark at the 4) Oklahoma has been a machine on offense.
A big reason is Isaiah Cousins' play. Cousins has made himself into a lights-out shooter and combined with Buddy Hield, OU has a wide-open lane for their big men to operate. Thomas has a great old-man game with shot fakes, post-ups and a 17-foot jumper to boot. Oklahoma, like Iowa State, can throw scorers at you and Texas just can not get buckets from anyone consistently in the half court.
Texas has a lot of athletes and length, but there isn't a shot creator for anyone else as Isaiah Taylor is just an athletic guard and Javan Felix is a scoring point guard. Although all of their players are good, no one breaks you down nor stretches you out. Additionally, Texas plays mostly half court man-to-man and that doesn't turn you over or force tempo.
With Iowa State surviving Oklahoma State, Kansas looking good - not great - thus far and Texas devoid of offense, do not be stunned if OU and maybe even West Virginia push for a conference crown.
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