HeTouchedTheBall1-560x290

Q & A with Go Joe Bruin. He Touched the Ball

Since 1985, either UCLA or Arizona has won 21 of the 28 conference titles. That’s 75% of the championships. That’s domination. That’s a rivalry. The bastions of Pac Hoops and there have been some ball games, some players, and some heat. We could play word association but I don’t’ want to watch Wildcat reactions to Gadzuric, Kapono, or Mata-Real.

I do, however, want to know more about these new look Bruins. Do we even call them that? Whatever they are, they’re Steve Alford’s baby blues now and he has two sons on the team and that’s kinda cool. And their point guard leads their team in rebounding by a per game margin of 3…so yeah, I want to learn. Enter: Go Joe Bruin, the internet’s most reasonable, insightful, and complete UCLA site. It’s different than the other kids. And their witty twitter handle. I asked, he answered. The game is at 6pm Thursday on ESPN. The rivalry rages on.

Let’s start with what Steve Alford’s preferred film room temperature is…?
It depends on a lot of things. Actually, it doesn’t. I bet he watches film cold. Freezingn. Cold.

I grew to appreciate LD2 a ton last year and his leadership and skill was a huge part of their success. In turn, that led many to wonder how the Kyle Anderson point guard experiment would go. Fourteen games deep, it looks to be going quite well. Tell us about how he makes UCLA better?
People were pining for Anderson to take over ball-handling duties last year and so it took a lot of time for fans to warm up to Larry Drew. They did warm up to him, but the expectation was that Anderson would be running the offense, coach be damned.

Well it happened, and I gotta say, overall, it works for me. He’s got pretty remarkable vision, is really damn smooth, and is really unselfish. He’s got his issues and sometimes I think he tries to do too much. The 2.27 AST/TO ratio isn’t bad, though, so maybe I’m just being picky.

Most importantly (and perhaps most surprising) has been his improved scoring skills. He’s got quite a few moves down low and we both know he’s pretty deadly I’m the mid-range game. I think what’s really scary is he can knock down threes when he’s got the open look, and that’s a part of his game that I haven’t really seen. He doesn’t do it often (confirmed by his only taking 24 three-pointers over the past 14 games) but I think it adds a dimension to his game that already makes him one of the best do-it-all point forwards I’ve ever seen.

Of course, there’s his rebounding abilities, but I have a million more questions to get to.

KyleandSteve

You’d never guess by this photo, but Steve also has his own two sons on this team

All of that said about Slow-Mo…how awesome is Jordan Adams?
Adams is awesome. He’s been awesome. He’s struggled at times – and he had an uncharacteristic shooting slump not too long ago that he shook off rather quickly – but he’s a stud.

I don’t know if UCLA has a better shooter than Adams. He’s a deadeye from there. He can stroke it with a hand in his face, off balance, in transition, on a boat, in a train, all that jazz. He’s gotten better in nearly every statistical category because he’s gotten *that* much better.

A little input from the fan base at large – a lot of fans felt he should’ve been UCLA’s first option on offense somewhere close to halfway through the season, and I think that makes sense. His production outmatched Shabazz Muhammad’s on a per-minute basis, and I’m sure he’d be getting so much more recognition now if that had been the case.

Another reason I love this matchup is that stylistically, the UCLA offense is built to beat the Arizona defense. The Bruins are terrific from mid-range and used that to torch AZ last season (3-0). This year, the Bruins are more effectively getting to the rim (LOVE YA J.ADAMS!!!!) but are still shooting the 5th best FG% from 2pt range. Meanwhile, Arizona’s third rated KenPom defense is built to force 2pt jumpers: 54.5% of shots against leads the nation and teams shooting just 32.5%. Immovable object, unstoppable force. What makes the UCLA mid-range game so effective, if not lethal?
As much as I talk trash about the Mildcats, you’re right – UCLA has all the match-ups necessary to beat Arizona, and not just once, but, oh I don’t know, three times in a season.

That’s not because Arizona sucks, but really, it’s because they’re willing to give up the most inefficient shot in the game, and that just happens to be an annoying strong-suit of UCLA’s. (Although I guess you could argue the most efficient shot in the game is an open one.)

Adams is a lock to drain those open jumpers, and we know Kyle can drill ‘em, too. The Wears — when they’re picking-and-popping, a weapon that has disappeared since LDII left the team — can drain them. And now you’ve got Zach LaVine, another shooter, albeit one who is partial to threes and dunks, and Bryce Alford, who’s quickly coming to his own as a shooter and floor general.

Of course, as much as UCLA was cool with taking those mid-range jumpers, it kinda feels like this team’s tempo dictates more of its offense than it did last year. I don’t believe they’re much faster than Howland’s squad last year, but they definitely attack the basket in transition more frequently than their 2012-13 counterparts.

So yeah, to answer your question, the personnel makes the mid-range game lethal. It’s not as emphasized as it was last year and again, i think that’s largely because LDII was so quick to penetrate on pick-and-pops, but I do think Alford should specifically vitalizes that aspect of UCLA’s game against lengthy, athletic Arizona.

He did touch the ball.
He didn’t. I think we should ask Sean Miller what he thinks though, so long as we tape it.

Sean Miller He Touched the Ball

“By the way, full credit to UCLA”

The two-point jumper is one weapon, but UCLA also thrives in transition (11th highest % of their offense there). Meanwhile – and I’m about to expose this immovable/unstoppable theme – Arizona allows just the 9th highest percentage of offense in transition. How are the Bruins getting out into transition so much? How cool are Zach LaVine dunks?
I didn’t know about Arizona’s transition defense but I could’ve guessed that. They’ve done a good job against teams who want to get out on the break.

I think the one thing that people haven’t noticed about UCLA’s success in transition is the gambles they take to get out on the break, primarily on defense. UCLA is a bit ridiculous at forcing turnovers (note that they’ve got 150 steals through 14 games; that’s third in the country), and we know what happens when the perimeter guys can force turnovers.

And it’s not like UCLA is a rebounding team – this has to be the worst team in terms of rebounding I have ever seen in my life, and statistically, I’m pretty close to being right!

If Arizona really wants to stop UCLA’s uptempo offense? Take care of the ball.

All-time favorite Bruin?
All-time favorite Bruin: Darren Collison, and honorable mention to unconventional one-and-done Larry Drew II.

All-time favorite Wildcat? I know you have one. Ed O’Bannon and Darren Collison are tied for my favorite Bruins.
I like Steve Kerr. As a player, a commentator, and as a friend. (I’m not his friend yet but it’s definitely happening.)

Wear family?
Wear family. I don’t know what else you want me to say — they’re a frustrating duo that plays their asses off. I’d probably love them if they could rebound.

weartwins-600x437

<3 <3

And talk to me about the Bruins’ frontcourt. I’ve been underwhelmed and we’ve tweeted about as much. Talk about it because it’s Arizona’s strength:
You’ve been underwhelmed? Your expectations for UCLA’s front court may have been a tad unreasonable.

They’re pretty bad. Really bad, even, as long as we don’t include Kyle Anderson. In fact, he leads the team in rebounding and rebounding percentage — he’s a perimeter player.

Parker comes in as a close second in rebounding rate, but the Wear twins are well below every starter and nearly every rotation player.

I mean, they just don’t have the fundamentals down. Positioning, hands, etc. They’re rather ‘soft’ and don’t necessarily do well when grinding down low with other bigs.

Is that a key to this game though? I don’t think so. UCLA is annoyingly content with huge rebounding disparities and they even win convincingly in spite of them. They’ll beat good teams without rebounding (see: Arizona, 0-3), and I find that shocking.

When the rebounding is even, it’s almost a surefire UCLA win because they just don’t do it on a regular basis. When they’re getting boards, they create opportunities in transition and they also stop the opposing team from earning second chance shots.

But it doesn’t happen often. I don’t need stats to tell you that, and no, I’m not too lazy to look them up!

The Bruins have settled into a zone for much of their defensive season and this question is two-fold: 1) How does that make you feel? 2) Which zone has it been, primarily, and do you think it’s effective?
One of the narratives surrounding Ben Howland’s downfall was his stubbornness on defense. He kept saying his teams weren’t athletic enough to compete but he refused to play zone. We know zone defenses can mask a lot of deficiencies, and UCLA’s lack of athleticism is a deficiency that the zone can ease.

That said, too much zone, and teams adjust. The well-coached teams dismantle it within a couple of possessions, sending a ball-handler to shoot those gaps on the perimeter and make the defense collapse with penetration.

Alford doesn’t always allow that to happen – he’s been good about switching up his defenses to throw different looks at opponents. Aside from a basic man defense and and a 2-3 zone, he’s totally willing to roll with a 3-2 zone, and he’s just as willing to play ultra-aggressive man defense in both the half-court and full-court. It depends on the situation.

So why does UCLA suck so bad defensively on paper? Well part of it is that UCLA just isn’t athletic, especially down low. That’s where Arizona can and should abuse UCLA, and they should do it with reckless abandon. They should crash the offensive boards because those kill the Bruins, and they should just plop in the paint and penetrate and do all that.

Which Wildcat are you most concerned with?
I’m most concerned with the bigs. They’re really talented, really long, and really good. The points in the paint margin is going to be brutal.

Enough funny business: Tell me what happens Thursday?
Arizona wins. I question whether UCLA can exploit the mid-range game, and that’s because the pick-and-pops aren’t there like they were. If they can’t, Arizona is going to murder them inside.

Plus UCLA hasnt beaten a good team. Conference games are different, but still.

If UCLA wins? You’ll never hear the end of it. Ever.

  • marc

    Game’s a toss up. UCLA will play a ton of zone, they have good length in the zone and they are able to play passing lanes well. Arizona figures to get a lot of offensive boards due to the zone and the Bruins’ inability to secure defensive rebounds. All that said, I don’t know if Arizona has an answer for Adams and Anderson – UCLA’s bench has been a big boost for them as well. Tight game, Travis Wear makes a couple plays, Bruins eke out a 76-72 win.

    • awbutler25

      Great observations, Marc. UCLA is a fascinating offensive study and is built to beat Arizona. I’ve been researching the bejesus out of it and will post more tomorrow.

      Two things I’m really excited to watch: 1) Adams being guarded by not Mark Lyons, 2) Anderson being guarded by Gordon.

  • brandon

    More importantly, are we expecting more than 5k in the stands? For the size of the LA area and their tradition, it’s a joke to see their crowds as small as they are. It takes away from the “rivalry” when Pauley isn’t drawing like the good ol’ days.

    • awbutler25

      I really really think it’s going to be a packed Pauley.

  • Pingback: UCLA's Transition Offense and More. Much More. | pachoops