Had to be out of town for couple of days. That's why I missed all the excitement around the hiring of a new defensive coordinator. I agree with the sentiments Meriones, gbruin and others here on BN have conveyed in support of this move. Call me cautiously optimistic. Although that doesn't change the bottom line for BN, which is Rick will need to put together a great season on the field next season to justify sticking around for the long term in Westwood. What precisely will be our expectation beyond winning 8 or 9 games and beating USC? We can figure that out as we go through spring football, which is fast approaching next month.
I really want to talk about hoops though. March is fast approaching. This means we will know soon whether UCLA basketball will meet our expectations at the end of this regular season. We need Howland to come through with a tournament appearance. We seem to be decent shape now. We have taken care of business in our must-win games up to date. I disagree with DCBruins' disagreement with Tracy Pierson about "unsatisfying wins." LOL Did I make any sense? Let me try to explain.
Bruins have won 14 out of last 17 games and 8 out of our last 9. I am glad we came through with some wins in must win situation. As I wrote earlier though some of those wins earlier in the season were "joyless." If one goes through our comment threads for games like Arizona State, Oregon State (in Corvallis), Oregon (in Eugene), USC (at Galen) people will note those experiences were not really fun. I am encouraged by the defense I have seen in our last 4 home games. Those wins give me some hope that Howland will meet our expectations and may be over achieve but we should remain guarded.
This season can take number of turns depending on how our next 6 games with two of the toughest road trips and a difficult game against Arizona at home. What happens in next 6 games will not only determine our tourney fate, they could impact Howland's reign at UCLA.
6-0 - the A+ scenario - if our team goes 6-0 in remaining regular season games, it will provide the ultimate boost of energy to a program that was seemingly lost last season. It will reestablish UCLA as an elite program once again no matter what happens in the Pac-10 and the NCAA tournament. I will go as far to say I would not care about an early round exit if we go 6-0 in regular season games.
5-1 - the A scenario - This may not be perfect but it will be close to it. This would mean we will have swept at least one of our remaining road trips with a tough loss either against Arizona or Washington. This scenario will also have the same ramifications as the one described above.
4-2 - the B+ scenario - I will be happy with this. I don't expect UCLA to beat Washington on the road and I expect us to lose at least one game during our Bay Area trip. Going 4-2 would mean Ws in game in which the Bruins would face tough road game situations in either Bay Area venues and also at Pullman. This will be a respectable outcome and will have us in the tournament. With this record an early loss at the tournament will not bother me too much.
3-3 - the B scenario - A 3-3 record rest of the way should be good enough to get Bruins in the tournament. I don't see the tourney committee keeping UCLA out of the dance with at least 21+ wins which features wins over BYU and St. Johns. They may still be in the bubble though and might need at least a win in the Pac-10 tournament to secure a bid. I think they will get in. This might not be the most idealistic of scenarios but I will be okay with it. Getting into the tournament will meet our expectations at least for the season as we will then turn our eyes on who will be coming back next season.
2-4 - the C scenario - Not good .This will probably mean Bruins will have to win the Pac-10 tournament or at least win couple of games at Staples to get into the tourney. Losing 4 out of our last 6 games would be discouraging and would take off the luster off the encouragements from last few games.
1-5 - the D scenario - Disastrous. We will have to look for a Pac-10 tourney championship. Even if we win the tournament, the collapse at the end of the regular season will leave a bad taste in our mouths.
0-6 - the F scenario - I shouldn't have to explain this.
How will the team respond? I have no idea.
I am encouraged by how the team did not collapse when they could have. They hung on to get it done in some must win games working through lack of concentration and focus. They also have shown some clear signs of individual development:
- Lee is a different player this season
- Zeek has been a revelation
- Nelson is actually playing some M2M defense
- Jerime would win the "comeback POY" award if Pac-10 had one
- Smith has shown increasing maturity
- Stover is growing each games
All those signs are good but. But I am going to wait until I see how this team finishes out the regular season. For this team to meet its expectations (and exceed it) it will have to win games in difficult situations against decent teams or teams with good talents. Can the Bruins get it done in their remaining road games and win at least 2-3 more games beyond the gimme against Arizona State?
I really don't know.