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Pac-12 Basketball Team Preview: Life After Lonzo Begins In Westwood With A Reworked Roster For UCLA

With the Bruins keep on, keepin’ on without Lonzo Ball?

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA Bruins

  • Last Season: 31-5 (15-3)
  • Head Coach: Steve Alford (5th Season)
  • Projected Media Poll Finish: 3rd (223 Points)
  • Leading Returner In Scoring: Aaron Holiday (12.3 PPG)
  • Leading Returner In Rebounds: Thomas Welsh (8.7 RPG)
  • Leading Returner In Assists: Aaron Holiday (4.4 APG)

The Skinny

In UCLA’s first exhibition contest against Cal State-Los Angeles, the Bruins made it clear that they are not changing from the “showtime-esque” style that has brought head coach Steve Alford’s program to three NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances in just four seasons. If anything, the Bruins seem to be relying even more on the up-tempo pace, to help merge a reworked roster of returning talents and highly-touted freshmen into legitimate contenders in the Pac-12 this season.

As almost always with UCLA, the Bruins level of success will begin with their guard play, that’ll be headlined by their top returning talent in Aaron Holiday (12.3 PPG) and five-star recruit, Jaylen Hands. Holiday, who split time in a back-court along with top-scorers Bryce Alford, Lonzo Ball and Isaac Hamilton a season ago, will now step into a more featured role. As for Hands, he may be one of the conference’s best overall rookies, who is a likely one-and-done talent, if he develops as expected. Fellow guards in freshman LiAngelo Ball, the middle of the Ball brothers, and redshirt sophomore Prince Ali, who is returning from a knee injury after missing last season, will provide key depth to the group as well.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Kentucky vs UCLA
UCLA guard Aaron Holiday will play in a more featured role this season.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

In the front-court, UCLA plays with some perimeter-oriented pieces who fit their “get out and go” style, in addition to some more conventional forwards, who give them a solid interior presence. Where Alford will have to determined roles is in the case of talents like Thomas Welsh (10.8 PPG) and Gyorgy Goloman (3.7 PPG), who like to make their living in the paint, compared to those of freshmen Kris Wilkes, Cody Riley and Chris Smith, who play more in a more versatile and open style. However, all together, the unique blend of pieces can make the Bruins one of the harder teams to guard in the conference.

It seems as though that heading into the 2017-2018 campaign, the “hot seat” pressure is tentatively off of Alford, so long as he can once again lead the Bruins to the NCAA Tournament and keep the team consistently ranked in the Top 25. Although, it’s important to remember that fans in Westwood have short memories and astounding expectations, which easily can be the demise of a program trending in the right direction like UCLA. If nothing else, expect another story-line filled season in the City of Angels for Alford and company.

Player To Know: Jaylen Hands (FR)

A five-star prospect. A McDonald’s All-American selection. The list of high school accolades goes on and on for freshman guard Jaylen Hands, who will now need to transition quickly to the college game, as a projected featured piece of the Bruins back-court. The question for Hands is, does he have the ability to emerge as a legitimate star to lead the Bruins to the NCAA Tournament? Or will the hype surrounding the 6’ 3” stand-out simply be too big of a role to fill on the fly? If Hands becomes the player he’s expected to be, there’s no doubt that UCLA will have enough crucial pieces on their hands to compete for a Pac-12 title. Without him though, it could be tough sledding for the Bruins throughout the 2017-2018 campaign.

High School Basketball: McDonald's All-American Portraits
Five-star prospect Jaylen Hands could be one of the conference’s biggest break-through guards.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Key Non-Conference Games

  • 11/21 v. Baylor/Wisconsin* (Hall of Fame Classic)
  • 12/16 v. Cincinnati
  • 12/23 v. Kentucky* (CBS Sports Classic)