The title of this fanpost is jarring but it is not an over statement. We have been so wrapped up in the drama around our football program last few months, we have not really had a chance to discuss the urgency around our basketball one. Bruins begin their Pac-12 season tonight with couple of huge road games against the Bay Area teams.
It is not an over statement to assert that what happens tonight and on Saturday, can have discernible impact on UCLA's chances of winning back the conference and going to the Dance. Whether or not Bruins reach those results will also have tangible impact on Howland's viability as the long term coach at UCLA.
If people didn't know it Howland's seat has been warm. It was hot after he failed to make the tourney during the disgraceful 2009-10 season, when he flushed an entire year down the toilet through the minutes of Nikola Dragovic. Howland's minute distribution that year hindered the development of Brendan Lane and also encouraged the transferring out of Mike Moser. Howland was somewhat able to restore a little stability last year through a tourney season, but as discussed here on BN, that season was barely an average one as it featured numerous pathetic performances, especially down the stretch.
Of course the handling of Mike Moser and Brendan Lane is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to issues around personnel mismanagement and recruiting mishaps under Howland in last four years. We have gone over all that in painstaking details here on BN over the years.
So here we are. The counter on the right side has Bruins about 1393 days removed from our last conference championship. We started the season on a historical atrocious note. While we have gotten a little bit of momentum in our last 5 games, none of that is going to matter if the Bruins don't finish out this year extremely strong and get back into the Dance (remember the original expectation was for us to win the conference this year).
While there is not a lot of chatter and excitement around the hoops program, folks here should realize the importance of these games. Howland, his staff and his team should realize the desperate situation they are in. Bruins only have ONE quality win this season. That was in our last game against Richmond and arguably it is generous to use the term "quality win" because the Spiders are not the same Sweet-16 program they were last year. If the Bruins want to be in the Big Dance, they will need to win game(s) in the Bay Area. If they come back from this trip 0-2 with Arizona on Thursday night, we could be potentially looking at a death spiral that will spend Howland's end at UCLA.
If Howland ends up with an NIT season this year, UCLA will need to move on to a different direction. Now obviously we don't have any confidence that Chianti Dan will be able to execute a real coaching search. That's why if the hoops team is struggles during conference season, we are going to turn up the heat on UCLA to turn Chianti Dan loose, who can hire a new head coach for basketball.
If UCLA doesn't end up in the tournament, it will most likely mean that Shabazz Muhammad - perhaps the most pivotal Bruin recruit since Ed O'Bannon - will end up somewhere else besides Westwood (probably Kentucky). Then again the fact that we all have to hold our breath over one recruiting, thinking it will restore Howland's program is an indictment against Howland's mishandling of this program. UCLA shouldn't have to hold its breath over the decision making process of an 18-19 year old. But such is the predicament we find ourselves in after Howland's mismanagement of this program over last four years.
It is important to appreciate the big picture we watch the Stanford game tonight. We have more than a game at stake. The future of the Howland era in Westwood is in the balance this season, and the drama will get more intense starting tonight.