UCLA basketball is fun again

The UCLA Bruins had their moments a season ago: Bryce Alford's game-winning shot against Arizona, the road win at Gonzaga, the upset of then-No. 1 Kentucky and Prince Ali's posterization of Alex Poythress therein.

The problem -- the reason UCLA's 15-17 campaign ended with coach Steve Alford refunding the school a portion of his salary, and drove one fan to fly a "Fire Steve Alford" banner from a small plane over Westwood one afternoon, and featured almost constant fan grousing about Bryce Alford's role -- is that those moments were exceedingly rare exceptions. For the vast majority of the 2015-16 season, UCLA basketball was maddening at worst and tedious at best.

For all the ways the 2016-17 Bruins are different from their immediate predecessors, this is the most noticeable: UCLA basketball is just plain fun again.

Winning helps, of course, and thus far UCLA has that part down: Saturday's 102-84 win over Michigan pushed the Bruins to a 10-0 start. A week after the upset win at Kentucky -- in Rupp Arena! -- that rightfully skyrocketed Alford's team to No. 2 in The Associated Press poll, the Bruins handled business on their own floor against a solid and very well-coached John Beilein group. Which, for Bruins partisans, would surely be enough to cross the enjoyment threshold.

For the rest of us -- for the average college basketball fan who enters into any given broadcast hoping for a good game -- it isn't just that the Bruins are winning. It is how they are winning: with unceasing, up-tempo, unrestrained offense.

The Bruins entered Saturday night with the nation's highest field goal percentage both inside (60.8) and outside (45.4) the arc. They arrived playing the nation's ninth-fastest adjusted tempo, per kenpom.com; their average offensive possession lasts roughly 14 seconds (which, for the math majors out there, is less than half of college hoops' allotted shot clock time). The Bruins turned it over on just 16.3 percent of their possessions in their first nine games, and assisted on 67.3 percent of their field goals -- eighth most in the sport.

It is not easy to play this fast and this efficiently at the same time. UCLA has been doing both, and the combination has been both effective and gloriously entertaining.

Seriously: Is there a more enjoyable offensive group in college basketball? Aesthetic mileage always varies, but if offense is your jam, it's hard to do much better than this.

Saturday was perhaps the best example yet. The Wolverines were flat-out unconscious in the first half: 12-of-16 from 3, with just six turnovers in 31 possessions, to the tune of -- no joke -- 1.6 points per possession. It was the kind of offensive half even the best of teams, on their home floor, should have trouble keeping pace with, the kind of half you understand can't possibly be sustained, the kind you just swallow and then catch up with after the break.

And yet UCLA -- after freshman Lonzo Ball used the Bruins' final possession of the half to hit a 3 from something like 30 feet -- went into the locker room tied.

Ball was a big reason why, as he has been all season, a 6-foot-6 point guard and future top-five pick who might be as good a shooter as he is a passer, and who already looks like one of the best passers in college basketball. Ball was brilliant again Saturday: 19 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 4-of-7 from 3. Ball's arrival in Westwood has basically lived up to the wish-upon-a-star scenario -- not only in his own production, but in what he has allowed Bryce Alford, now playing off the ball, to do. (Fellow guards Isaac Hamilton and Aaron Holiday, likewise freed to move and flow and pick their spots, have been nearly as revelatory in the exchange.)

Yet Ball wasn't the only reason, and nor has he been all season, even within his own class. Crazy as it is to say, fellow freshman T.J. Leaf -- the No. 13-ranked player in this stocked and much-hyped 2016 class, who had 21 points and eight rebounds Saturday -- might be just as good.

Where Ball's game is a glimpse of the future -- the trickle-down effect of the Stephen Curry era -- Leaf is all throwback. Nothing in his repertoire is fancy. He isn't hyper-athletic or crazy fast or anything like that. But he is athletic enough, and his shot mechanic is just about perfect, and his footwork is great, and he's a good passer and an intuitive rebounder and basically what your high school coach had in mind when he was teaching you the benefits of the triple-threat position. Leaf is the power of fundamentals realized. He's Kirk Haston resurrected. He's your dad's favorite new college basketball player. He's really, really good.

Which is to say: There's something for everyone at Pauley this season. For the uninvested among us, there's new-school flash, old-school solidity, deep 3s, drop steps, extra passes, high tempo, one-and-done freshmen, fourth-year seniors -- everything that makes a team appointment viewing, no matter your personal preferences.

For UCLA fans, meanwhile, there are wins, 10 in 10 games now, with little reason to think a change will come any time before Pac-12 play arrives (at Oregon on Dec. 28).

Whatever you dig, odds are this team has it.

A year after one of the least-fun seasons in recent Bruins memory, UCLA basketball is college basketball's best expression of sheer, unadulterated fun -- no matter how you define the term.