March Madness Live Blog

  • A concise history of Steve Alford and March

     UCLA's Steve Alford has a 7-8 record all-time in nine NCAA tournament appearances as a head coach.

    UCLA head coach Steve Alford has mastered the March mantra of "survive and advance" for his own professional gains, but his teams have yet to nail down the process.

    Let's face it, the man is perhaps one of the greatest faller-uppers of all times. As a player, he managed to never be decapitated by a Bobby Knight-launched chair. As a coach, he landed a job at New Mexico after badly bungling sexual assault charges against one of his players (also, not winning) at Iowa. He then got one of the most coveted basketball jobs in the country, the seat once held by John Wooden, right after his Final-Four-favorite No. 3 Lobos were upset by Harvard in the first round of the 2013 tournament.

    Which brings us to today: Of all the teams in the 2015 NCAA tournament field, the No. 11 seed Bruins' place in the bracket has been the most criticized by the sprawling #hottake punditry industrial complex — and with good reason. Alford's Bruins made the field of 6̶8̶ 64 after going 20-13 in the regular season, including an abysmal 2-8 record on the road, a 2-4 record on neutral courts and a 40-point blowout at the hands of Kentucky. UCLA beat only one ranked team all season, then-No. 11 Utah, at home in late January, and will face No. 6 seed Southern Methodist University today.

    It's not like The Selection Committee™ could justify the Bruins' gift berth on Alford's track-record alone: Nine of the coach's teams have made the Big Dance, compiling a 7-8 record overall, with only two Sweet 16 appearances, one in 1999 with Missouri State and one in 2014 with UCLA. But Bruins Nation does travel and probably will buy tickets in Louisville en masse, so the NCAA does have that going for it, which is nice.

    None of this is to say UCLA can't or won't win. Bryce Alford, the team's second-leading scorer with 15.1 points per game, could live up to the time-honored tournament tradition of Bryce-named coach's sons doing things. Of the nearly 14 assists UCLA averages per contest, five of them come from Alford the Younger. The Alfords are very good at playing basketball.

    The Bruins will face American Athletic Conference tournament champions SMU, led by an interesting foil for Alford in Larry Brown. Brown is a guy whose college basketball success — albeit, like a quarter century ago and at UCLA and Kansas, no less — is unquestionable in terms of wins, even if the means have raised a few eyebrows. The Dagger wrote in January about Brown's quixotic return to college hoops and the NCAA's notice of investigation into potential academic improprieties at SMU.

    The Mustangs are an efficient offensive team, ranking 22nd in the nation in field goal percentage and 21st in assists (for the best stat nerds among you, KenPom ranks SMU at 19). Junior guard Nic Moore is the player to watch, leading the team in points and assists, all while being listed officially at 5-foot-9.

    But as you're watching the game, remember this — if today's matchup proves anything about college basketball, it is that the one real requirement to getting a head coaching job is having been a head coach previously.

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