The UCLA Bruins open a new season against Georgia Tech tonight in China. The game will be televised on ESPN at 8:30 p.m. PT and should give UCLA fans at least a glimpse into what kind of team Steve Alford will put onto the cour this season.
What are realistic expectations for a team that lost Lonzo Ball, TJ Leaf and Ike Anigbogu to the NBA? The Bruins finished 31-5 last season and made it to the Sweet 16 before losing to Kentucky and now must find a way to replace three very good players.
These Bruins open the season ranked No. 21 in the AP preseason top-25 poll, 11 slots lower than crosstown rival USC, and are currently dealing with a bit of an international incident involving freshman LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill.
Aaron Holiday, Gyorgy Goloman, Thomas Welsh and Prince Ali return along with a group of highly ranked freshman who should give Alford plenty of intriguing lineup options.
And what to make of Alford, who has yet to take a program beyond the Sweet 16 in 22 years as a Head Coach?
The site www.bruinsnation.com did some research in an attempt to place Alford’s UCLA tenure in historical perspective and came to some interesting conclusions.
Ben Bolch of the LA Times wrote an interesting article about Alford as well and comments Alford made about the state of the program and the expectations of UCLA fans jumped off the page.
“There’s only six programs in the country that have done what we’ve done,” Alford said last week, referring to having advanced to three regional semifinals in four years. “Did we have one bad year? Yeah. But we’ve had three really good years.
“I also know the history and I know the tradition here, but truth be told too, you’re talking about from ’75 to current, there’s been one national title. So I know that history too. It’s just we know what our expectations are and we’re going to play as hard as we can and do as well as we can.”
Alford, who starred at Indiana as player and therefore knows all about expectations – realistic or otherwise – and it’s possible he is simply trying to stay level-headed as he figures out what kind of team he has. Everyone is is attempting to figure out the same thing, including folks who cover the Pac-12 for a living.
A preseason snapshot:
College basketball starts tonight. Here's the Pac-12 media poll if you forgot.
1. Arizona (22)
2. USC (1)
6. Arizona State
8. Oregon State
12. Washington State
— Kyle waltos (@Kylewaltos24) November 10, 2017
Projections for where UCLA stacks up in the Pac-12 race vary by publication. USA Today put together its season preview and slates the Bruins to finish fourth behind Arizona, USC and Oregon.
Writes Lindsay Schnell:
What to watch: The continued development of big man Thomas Welsh. Bruins coach Steve Alford breathed a sigh of relief when Welsh, a 7-foot center who averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last year, pulled his name from the NBA draft. He breathed a bigger sign of relief when 6-foot-1 guard Aaron Holiday withdrew his name, too. Welsh’s evolution as an offensive threat will be key to the Bruins’ success this year.
Bottom line: It’s another reloading year for UCLA, which lost a handful of talented players — including All-American Lonzo Ball — to the NBA. But as usual, Alford has reloaded with a stellar freshman class, led by a pair of McDonald’s All-American guards in 6-foot-3 Jaylen Hands and 6-foot-8 Kris Wilkes.
Perhaps we’ll start to get some answers Friday night against Georgia Tech.