UCLA Basketball: Report Card for Bruins' 2013-2014 Season
It was never the best of times, it was never the worst of times. The Bruins' basketball season never lifted itself up above the clouds to look down on the mere mortals of the game, but neither did it crash into the mountain with a trail of wreckage left over miles of country, never to completely recovered.
Instead, UCLA mostly existed, winning most of the games it was supposed to win, losing some of the games it never should have lost, and winning none of the games that would have established its credibility at a national level.
It finished 23-8 (12-6 Pac-12), second place in the league and a lock for the NCAA tournament. A good run in the conference tournament in Las Vegas would dynamically color its resume if it included a win over Arizona.
As for the regular season, it is finished and can be graded out. For the sake of simple cogency, there are three categories: offense, defense and the abstract, but well understood, concept of competitive excellence. To play good offense is to score points efficiently. To play good defense is to prevent points and rebound. To be competitively excellent is to play one's hardest and best when the moment demands it.
Four Bruins regulars score double-figure points every night, and the remaining four rotation players are within one or two baskets of the mark.
They score 82 points a game (ninth best) on 17 assists (fifth best) and carry a 54 percent effective field goal percentage, which is top 25. Their 1.65-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks third.
Those are the fundamental offensive concepts: taking care of the ball, passing, shooting and scoring. UCLA does those things with enough élan to beat any team.
The Bruins' two best individual players are guards Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson. Between them, UCLA gets 32 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists per game. In contrast, their front court of David and Travis Wear and Tony Parker produces 20 points, 12 rebounds and two assists a night.
When you add in UCLA's key rotation guards—Norman Powell, Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford—the front court gets buried by the production output of the back court.
The Bruins also maintain a nimble, sports-car dynamic in that they can open up on the straights and hit a high-end breakaway speed, getting buckets in an open floor run. They can also slow it down in the technical stretches, running fast, smooth and controlled in tight spaces and manufacturing points in half-court games.
The two styles average out to an adjusted tempo ranked 31st at Ken Pomeroy's site, meaning they can score points in just about any game type they'll encounter. For all these reasons, the offense grades out in the top national tier of college basketball.
Defense: B (nearly B-)
The defense has gotten better since November, but it has been the weakness of this team all along.
Like many things that do not work especially well, it is not one moving part but several that leave a hole in the final production.
UCLA's genesis is in the post, where the Bruins get low minutes and mediocre defensive production from three players: brothers David and Travis Wear and Tony Parker.
The 6'10'' Wears play 23 minutes a game each and combine for seven rebounds. UCLA's point guard Kyle Anderson and wing Jordan Adams combine for 14.
Parker, a 6'9'' post with the power of a bull, gets almost five rebounds in just 18 minutes a night before he is sent to the bench in foul trouble or for missing defensive assignments.
This imbalance leads to UCLA's middling defensive rebound percentage of 73, which ranks 61st overall. This in part allows opponents to make 24 field goals per game on average, including eight three-pointers (195th and 346th, respectively). Another corollary is the Bruins adjusted defensive efficiency rating of 99 that puts them outside the top 60 teams in America.
As a team, they surrender 71 points per game, a woebegone 203rd overall.
The only effective palliative the Bruins have been able to apply consistently is the forced turnover. UCLA gets 10 steals a game on average (3rd), which is nearly 12 percent of its opponent's total possessions (4th).
The Bruins' best is Jordan Adams, who purloins almost three possessions per game himself, which ranks 4th best among all Division I players.
Competitive Excellence: B
This team found a path through an entire season that marked no outstanding or signature victories while managing to make itself a stone lock for the NCAA tournament—a rare accomplishment in an age of microscopic analytics and scrutiny.
The schedule did not allow the Bruins many trials to test themselves against the best competition, but the three it did allow for each ended in defeat. The losses to Duke in New York City and Arizona in Los Angeles did not hurt anything.
The 80-63 loss to the Blue Devils was as much the product of a flurry of meaningless baskets to end the game. The score was tied at the half, and the actual margin of defeat seemed more like seven points than 17.
Against Arizona in a 79-75 defeat, the Bruins were a big shot or two away from knocking off the undefeated, No. 1 team in America. It was proof that UCLA could survive in the cage with anybody.
The road loss at Mizzou is the best negative example this team has of losing an edge in a big game. UCLA led 43-35 at the half and then blew a tire in the second half, got outscored 45-28 and lost 80-71. Unless the Tigers win the SEC tournament, they will not be invited to the NCAAs this year.
It was a golden opportunity for a good road win that UCLA was not mentally prepared to compete for over 40 minutes.
The more poignant example this group made that it was missing the nebulous quality of competitive excellence were the losses in the second game of every Pac-12 road trip.
The Bruins finished in second place with six conference losses but could have won the league outright for the second straight season if they had taken care of business on the road. Instead, they lost at Utah after beating Colorado, at Oregon State after beating Oregon, at Stanford after beating Cal and at Washington State after beating Washington.
Utah finished eighth, Oregon State finished 10th, Stanford finished sixth and Washington State finished 11th in the league. UCLA should have won every one of those games, or lost just one, and celebrated with its 32nd regular season conference championship.
What was below board from a competitive perspective was that this team knew it was on the home stretch and just a few paces off the lead all along. Why wasn't that enough motivation to bring a winning team together to finish the race at full speed and steal a conference crown from Arizona, the prohibitive favorite all season long? Everything was there for this group to show a championship swagger, but it all slipped away.
None of this means anything when the ball goes up for the NCAA tournament, but this is the only season with past performances to evaluate before the madness begins in March.