2018 UCLA Bruins Basketball Predictions with Odds and Expert Picks
UCLA is the most successful college basketball program there is. Or it was. Lately, though, it has evolved into more of a soap opera - and that's kind of pathetic. Steve Alford played his son far too much and caused strife. And the whole Ball family saga was just awful. The team hasn't been a total lost cause - they have made three trips to the Sweet 16 under Alford - but they don't feel like the dignified program that they should be. This could be a turning point for the team, though. They are young - nine of the 11 players most likely to be in the rotation are in their first or second year with the program - but very talented. Talent doesn't always lead to success. And if Alford is more of a ringmaster than a coach as he has been up to this point, then he won't be able to maximize what he has, but the upside here is immense.
UCLA Bruins Additions/Losses
The team lost two players to the draft. Aaron Holiday, the point guard who led the team in points and assists, went 23rd overall to Indiana. And center Thomas Welch, third in scoring and the top rebounder, was the 58th pick by the Nuggets. Forward Gyorgy Golomon, who played almost 25 minutes a game, also graduated.
Alford landed a large and talented six-man recruiting class, but some bad luck has reduced that to four players for this year. The centerpiece is Moses Brown, a five-star center who was the top player in New York. He'll be given every opportunity to start. Shareef O'Neal, the son of Shaq, was due to be a big part of this class, but a heart issue has seen him land on a medical redshirt until it is cleared up. Jules Bernard is a local wing who will have a chance to play when Alford wants to go small, and Tyger Campbell is a smaller point guard who would have seen some relief duty before tearing his ACL in practice. David Singleton is a combo guard who is probably a bit of a project, and so is center Kenneth Nwuba, the lowest rated of the new additions.
The team also gets some new blood off of redshirt. Four-star power forwards Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were both forced to miss last year as a result of the shoplifting incident in China that finally rid the program of the Ball family. Riley is a good bet to earn a starting job.
UCLA Bruins Outlook
The talent is certainly here. Holiday will be replaced at the point by five-star guard Jaylen Hands, who played about 25 minutes a game as a freshman last year. Now that he is running the show, we could see a big step forward. And fellow five-star sophomore Kris Wilkes was second in scoring last year and has plenty of upside. Both flirted with the draft last year before coming back when they weren't going to be guaranteed a deal. They could come back hungry to improve their stock, or they could be entitled and unfocused. With those two potentially starting alongside Riley and Brown, the veteran presence in the lineup would be redshirt junior Prince Ali, who averaged 9.1 points per game last year in his first season back from a serious knee injury. More time and increased responsibility could improve his production. If Ali falters, he will be pushed hard by sophomore Chris Smith along with Freshmen Singleton and Bernard. The team has options. And talent.
They are going to be able to score, but it is a real question about whether they can defend. Alford recruits offensive guys, and he doesn't have a great record for getting them to selflessly play defense. There is no reason that this team shouldn't win the Pac-12 based on their talent. However, without at least some commitment to defense, that just won't happen.
UCLA Bruins Schedule
The Bruins have five interesting games in their nonconference schedule. In the Las Vegas Invitational they play Michigan State in the semifinal and then either North Carolina or Texas in their final game. Texas would obviously be much more manageable, but playing them would likely mean that they lost to the Spartans. In December they host Notre Dame and then later travel to Cincinnati three days before playing Ohio State in Chicago. There are plenty of opportunities to get the kind of wins that can impress people.
The Pac-12 schedule is mostly manageable, though three straight road games in early January will be a good test of the mental toughness of this team.
UCLA Bruins Futures Odds
Ranked 21st in the AP poll, UCLA sits just 13th in odds to win the national title at Bovada at +4000. The oddsmakers like this team - or at least the public does.
UCLA Bruins Predictions
I am skeptical. I don't have a lot of respect for Alford and doubt his ability to keep this highly-talented group of guys on the same page. There are a lot of egos in play here, and I question whether they can maximize their potential. The ceiling is high - a conference championship, a high seeding, and a good tournament run. But this team could wind up well outside the Top 25, and maybe even outside of the tournament, and it wouldn't be too much of a surprise. Call me a pessimist. I don't see any value here.
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