UCLA team capsule: Bruins ready to kick off Alford era

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Alford will have plenty of unknowns this year in Westwood, but the cupboard isn't entirely bare.

Last year's head coach Ben Howland is gone, and so are last year's leading scorer Shabazz Muhammad and leading assist man Larry Drew II. But the UCLA Bruins bring in new coach Steve Alford to try and guide them to their first National Championship since 1995. Alford comes to UCLA from New Mexico, where he brought the Lobos to three NCAA Tournaments in the last four years and back-to-back Mountain West championships.

The expectations are higher with the Bruins, though; they've won more National Championships than any other school. Fans will expect Alford to build teams capable of making Final Four runs, and while this year's group may not be an early favorite, there is still plenty to watch for.

UCLA Bruins

2013 Record: 25-10, 13-5 Pac-12

2013 Postseason: Lost to Minnesota in Second Round

Key Returnees: Jordan Adams So. G (15.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg), Travis Wear Sr. F (10.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Kyle Anderson So. G (9.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 3.5 apg), David Wear Sr. F (7.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Norman Powell Jr. G (6.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg)

Key Losses: Shabazz Muhammad (F), Larry Drew II (G)

Key Additions: Zach LaVine (G), Bryce Alford (G), Noah Allen (F)

2013-14 Outlook:

UCLA endured a turbulent year last year, and this upcoming season is filled with just as many questions. Foremost, will Steve Alford be the right fit to lead the Bruins? There's no questioning the success he had in New Mexico, but leading the most successful team in the game's history is a whole other beast.

Alford is a proven winner, having won a National Championship as a player at Indiana, then coached his Iowa teams to two Big Ten Tournament championships, before going to New Mexico to win two more league titles. Only time will tell if he could shape this odd group into national contenders.

Shabazz Muhammad and Larry Drew II are both gone, but Jordan Adams, Travis Wear and Kyle Anderson all return to join a promising recruiting class for Alford. Adams is the leading returning scorer. He pumped out 15.3 points per game last year, buoyed by an 84 percent mark from the foul line. Anderson might have the most potential out of anyone on the team, however. The sophomore out of St. Anthony put up solid numbers across the board last year and can play anywhere from the point to the post. That will be crucial for a team that returns just six scholarship players.

The incoming freshman class could provide a lift. Zach LaVine is the most highly touted recruit headed to UCLA. He's a four-star point guard from Bothell, Wash. who is known for his handle and quick release. Come opening night, he might be the Bruins' starting point guard -- an honor that could also go to fellow freshman Bryce Alford.

Fans will find out early whether or not this team could once again be the best on the west coast. The Bruins have a brutal early season schedule, highlighted by a December showdown against Duke at Madison Square Garden. They'll also play in the Las Vegas Invitational on Thanksgiving week, where they'll face Nevada and Northwestern. The only true road game on the non-conference schedule will be at Missouri in early December. The Tigers lost in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament to Colorado State.

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