Steve Alford took the UCLA job knowing there would be a ton of pressure not only to win, but to win big, early and often. After all, he was replacing a guy who had taken the program to three Final Fours in the past 10 years, only to be deemed out-of-touch with today's college hoops world by a large chunk of the Bruins faithful.
When an institution has reached 18 Final Fours and won 11 national titles, expectations are always going to be out of proportion. Yet in year one of the Alford era, UCLA may be getting overlooked by the national media.
For a team that was really over-hyped last season, that may be just what Alford and company need as they get their feet wet.
Despite not receiving the national publicity as fellow freshman Shabazz Muhammad, sophomores-to-be Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson are as good as they come in the Pac-12. Anderson did a little bit of everything for the Bruins last season, ranking fourth on the team in scoring, first in rebounds and second in assists, blocked shots and steals. He handled the point guard position well in limited duty and also played on the wings and in the paint. He's as versatile as it gets in college basketball.
Adams, while a bit shot-happy at times, took over games down the stretch. While reviewing the Bruins this summer, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports had this to say of the shooting guard.
If there were no jerseys on, people would say UCLA's best player last yr was Jordan Adams. Will be one of the better players in the PAC-12.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) July 8, 2013
Adams averaged 15.3 points per game and led the team with more than two steals a night. He shot 44.7 percent from the floor but just 30.7 percent from behind the arc. If these numbers improve, there's a solid chance Adams leads the Pac-12 in scoring next season.
Up front will be seniors Travis Wear and David Wear along with promising sophomore Tony Parker. The Wear twins aren't stars at this point in their careers, though they improved by small increments each season under Ben Howland. As the two seniors with experience on the roster, Alford will look to them to lead the team early in the year.
Parker could be a wildcard for UCLA. He struggled to see much of any playing time under the coaching staff last season. At 6'9 and 250 pounds, he has the size and strength to be a difference maker in the paint. He was a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school.
If the Bruins are able to get reliable point guard play out of Anderson and incoming freshman Zach LaVine, there's no true weakness on the roster. It may take some time for everyone to gel, but the potential is clearly there with a handful of players who could compete for all-conference honors.
So why are most overlooking the Bruins?
ESPN's latest top-25 rankings have UCLA at No. 23. In their preseason conference power rankings, one ESPN analyst had the Bruins behind Arizona and Colorado. CBS Sports didn't has them at No. 14. Sporting News has Alford's bunch at No.15, while Sports Illustrated has UCLA at No. 17.
Those aren't exactly rankings to scoff at, but in ESPN's case, it is certainly newsworthy. For a program that has drastically underachieved the past few years, maybe an under-the-radar start to the year is exactly what the doctor ordered for the new coaching staff.