This is a crucial season for head coach Steve Alford at UCLA.
The fan base always has high expectations, but the Bruins failed to live up to them last season, missing the NCAA Tournament with a highly talented roster.
This season, with a loaded recruiting class and experienced returning players, the Bruins are expected to compete at the top of the Pac-12 and make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately for Alford, he has already lost two players this offseason that would have been important role players.
The first was Kobe Paras, who failed to complete his conditions of enrollment at UCLA, re-opened his recruitment and committed to Creighton.
The second and more important departure is Jonah Bolden.
Bolden informed coaches on Tuesday that he plans to play professionally (SNY is reporting that he will play in his native Australia), forgoing his final two years of college eligibility.
The 6’10” forward was ruled as a partial qualifier and lost a year of eligibility in 2014-15. The NCAA was not fond that Bolden left Australia in the middle of his senior season of high school to play for Findlay Prep in Nevada.
Bolden returned to the court last season and averaged 4.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game. He has the ability to stretch floor (without much efficiency from deep), has good length to protect the rim, and is a decent rebounder.
Without Bolden, the Bruins will have to rely on T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigogu, Gyorgy Goloman and Alex Olesinski at the four slot (the latter two will receive very little minutes unless someone gets hurt).
Leaf, a 6’9″ five-star recruit from California, has great offensive ability because of his high skill level, soft hands, superb footwork, ability to knock down mid-range jumpers and effective hook shot. He’s not explosive but he has good enough mobility to run the floor and pick his spots.
The problem with Leaf is he isn’t exactly a great three-point shooter (although he can develop it), and more importantly, he doesn’t have the defensive prowess and strength to impact the game defensively like Bolden does.
Anigogu is another five-star recruit who’s primary position is center. However, at 6’10”, the California native can play next to Thomas Welsh in the team’s “bigger” lineup. Anigogu is the one player that can make up for the loss of Bolden on the defensive end. He’s long, athletic and can block shots with the best of them.
The issue with Anigogu is at the other end of the court, where he is not very effective at this point in his development. He has decent touch and an improving hook shot, but he has no range on his shot and will likely be a project on offense at the college level.
Ultimately, losing Bolden is not the end of the world for UCLA, but it’s not a positive development.
Remember this is a make-or-break year for Alford.
Rick Barnes Says He Would Have Left Tennessee if UCLA Paid Buyout
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes could have been the next head coach for UCLA, instead of Mick Cronin, if only the Bruins were willing to open up their wallets.
Barnes says that if UCLA would have promised to pay Barnes’ $5 million buyout, he would have left Tennessee to take the job at UCLA.
“I think I would’ve been the coach at UCLA,” Barnes said (h/t ESPN). “I’ve said that to people before. I really felt at that time that’s what would happen.”
Barnes was honest and open with his decision process during the news conference, saying that he struggled with making a final decision due to financial matters.
Barnes has since agreed to a new deal with Tennessee that will pay him $4 million per year before increasing to a $6 million annual sum by the end of the contract and provide more cash for his assistants.
“I’m supposed to be at Tennessee,” Barnes said. “And it’s really above and beyond the basketball program. I’m in love with this community. I’m in love with this state. I just think we got a lot of great things going on in this town.”
“A lot of praying went into it, I can tell you that,” Barnes said. “There was a lot going on. When you get down to a situation like that, it has to make sense from a financial standpoint. Bottom line is we couldn’t work it out with the buyout.”
Barnes also informed UCLA that he would not depart Knoxville without talking to athletic director Phillip Fulmer and others in the community.
I told them point blank, ‘I’m not going to walk out of here and not meet with my team,'” Barnes said. “‘I’m not going to walk out of here and not meet with people here that have been really good to me.’ … I said, ‘You just can’t say send a plane tomorrow and we’re leaving. I’m going to make sure this is done the right way.'”
“There was one time in my mind I truly felt that’s what would happen,” Barnes said about potentially taking the UCLA offer. “It got to that point where I felt like my prayers had been answered.”
The Madness is Underway
As we inch closer to selection Sunday, many conference tournaments are underway finding teams who will automatically make the NCAA Men’s basketball. Here are the teams that currently in the tournament:
Atlantic Sun: Liberty
Big South: Gardner–Webb
Horizon: Northern Kentucky
Missouri Valley: Bradley
MEC: Fairleigh Dickinson
Ohio Valley: Murray State
Summit League: North Dakota State
Summit League: Saint Marry’s
Out of the 32 conferences with automatic bids in the tournament, 12 of them have been clinched. All the until selection Sunday the remaining 20 conferences will have their tickets punched. Who will that be? Stay tuned!
Tennessee Basketball Ranked 4th In (Early) Preseason Top 25
A school built on football lure now has a thriving basketball team to get behind. In a early CBS basketball poll, the Volunteer squad is ranked 4th in the preseason. This should bring relief to a fan base whose struggled with a lackluster football team in recent years.
Under Coach Rick Barnes (SEC Coach of the year 2017) the Vols went 26-9 last year, won a share of the regular season SEC title and reached the final of the SEC tournament. Tennessee should return most of their pivotal pieces for the 2018-19 season.
Admiral Schofield (2017-2018 ALL SEC second teamer) who tested the NBA waters has returned for his senior year to play along side Grant Williams (SEC player of the year) and Kyle Alexander. If they can stay healthy along with the supporting cast, this team has a legitimate chance to reach the final four.
According to Andy Katz, “Tennessee is the team to beat in the SEC this year,” and did I mention Coach Barnes recruiting is nothing to take lightly. Recently committed 5 star combo guard, Josiah James added his name to the class of 2019 and pushed the Vols recruiting into the top 10 nationally.
Although it’s too early to tell how this season will play out its certain the hype is warranted and reaching heights it hasn’t seen since the Bruce Pearl era.
Could it be!? Tennessee – a basketball school?
Follow the journey when the Volunteers tip off against Louisiana Lafayette on November 9th.
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