UCLA Bruins on the Eve of the NCAA Tournament

Subtitle: Could Ben Howland Be Coaching His Last Game with the Bruins?

The 2012-2013 UCLA Bruins‘ season has been one of extreme ups and downs. The Bruins had a couple of great streaks, marked by outstanding team defense and clutch shooting, and unexpected losses, bad losses, marked by non-existence defense and awful shooting. The one constant throughout the season has been that once it looks like the team has hit a stride, it has fallen back to bad habits, the type of bad habits that good coaching should have been able to minimize 25-30 games into a season.

Standing around, bad rebound positioning, and the inability to take advantage of opponent’s mistakes have marked too many games, including key, late season games. Earlier season loses to Cal Poly and usc seemed to be wake-up calls, but late season loses, especially the March 6 game to Washington State, when freshmen should have become seasoned vets, and with senior leadership from the team’s MVP Larry Drew II, the team regressed badly. The season-ending injury to Jordan Adams was a crushing blow, and the when UCLA lost the PAC-12 title game to Oregon, the team’s fate, and perhaps that of Ben Howland, were likely sealed.

It would seem that Howland’s job is now such that only a great NCAA Tournament run would (should?) save it, but the Oregon loss dropped the team at least two seeding spots, and into the South region and an opening game in Texas, though against a Minnesota team that has not been playing particularly well as of late. A win over the Ducks would have kept the team in the West, and with a much more advantageous bracket position. The Gophers, however, despite having impressive wins over Indiana and Wisconsin were on 8-10 in the conference season and have lost their last three in a row, including their first round game of the Big-10 Tournament.

But, big and tough Wisconsin is a top-10 team nationally in rebounding margin, an area where the Bruins are clearly deficient, and Gopher Trevor Mbakwe is the Big-10 rebounding leader, and a proficient shot blocker. Gopher strength and depth could be telling, as the Bruins, thanks to Jordan Adam’s injury, now go only seven deep, and the seventh guy, Tony Parker, has barely seen the court all year. Minnesota’s coach, Tubby Smith, has been there against the Bruins before. I will never forget how his high-scoring Tulsa Golden Hurricanes knocked the Bruins out in the first round in 1994, beating Jim Harrick’s team 112-102, a year before Harrick lead the team to their 11th title.

It’s unlikely UCLA can go far in this year’s tourney, and a win against Minnesota would most likely mean yet another tournament game against Florida. I don’t think I could take another one of those. The real questions revolve around what the team will be like next season. Will Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams all be back? Will any of them be back? It seems likely that Anderson and Jordan will return, no so likely for Muhammad. Howland has commitments from some solid recruits in Zach LaVine, Allerik Freeman, and Noah Allen, but they are all two and three guys. They just lost out on the power forward they desperately need when Gavin Schilling committed to Michigan State. If Howlard is gone, who fromf this recruiting class will honor their committment?

What looked like could have been a momentous season may end with tomorrow night’s game, and with a wimper. If it ends tomorrow, it will do so with lots of question marks, and quite likely another total rebuilding job.

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