Don't look now, but we are officially less than a month away from basketball season, and with the typical Chianti-hired-football-coach fueled football implosion potentially well underway, battered and beaten Bruin fans have begun to partake in our sad annual ritual: asking when basketball starts.
Well this year promises to be filled with drama before the opening tip. This year, we're not talking about which players that worthless thug Reeves Nelson is going to take out his considerable anger on, but the availability of a top ranked and star studded recruiting class meant to assist Howland in his Ride Or Die No Excuses Tour 2012-13.
Our close proximity to basketball season represents a double edged sword for the Bruins. On one hand, the hype is growing and excitement building to see our top ranked class take the floor in Old Pauley Under Glass. Our preview of the team and season under the assumption of a full strength team except for a short suspension of Shabazz is here. On the other hand, none of that excitement will amount to anything if those players aren't on the floor at all. So we must discuss the elephant in the room: Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson are still not officially cleared to play, so what happens if they are ruled ineligible?
Our worst case scenario also factors in the injury to Tyler Lamb, whose absence is expected to last 4-6 weeks, or at least a portion of the regular season, with no guarantees of full health after returning.
So what does that leave us with? A backcourt of Larry Drew II, Jordan Adams, and Norman Powell. If that's not eye opening enough, consider this: That's three guys for three positions, not two. Powell is going to have to move to the 3 in the absence of Shabazz. Who else is going to play it? A Wear? Not unless you want to enjoy another season long bullfight featuring David Wear as the Matador.
What about the bench? Well, current UCLA students, here's your chance for us to be writing about you in this space. According to the Daily Bruin tryouts for the basketball team are being held today at 7 AM, though you may be a tad late by the time you read this, so get your shoes on. Don't miss this opportunity to be one of the 20 or 30 greatest players in UCLA history, as well as potentially pick up some PT, taking advantage of Howland's years of gross roster mismanagement and non-existent backcourt depth.
As for the rest of the roster, you've got Joshua Smith, whose weight reports seem to be as reliable as reports of Bigfoot sightings, Tony Parker, and the Wears. Except for Parker, that's the same frontcourt that lifted us to a tie for fifth place in one of the worst Pac-10/12s in history. It would be one thing if the Wears were 4th options offensively, as they would be in a lineup featuring Shabazz and Anderson, but without them, this is basically the same team as last year.
Obviously there's still time for the NCAA to get their act together and make a decision one way or the other on our star freshmen, but that time is running short. Even now, with practices having started, if those two can't join their teammates, then even if they are cleared right before the season, they'll miss out on opportunities to gel with the rest of the team.
In some ways it's odd how the impact of two players can change the outlook for the season so drastically. From a Final Four contender to the core of the same team that bumbled and stumbled their way to a 5thplace Pac-12 finish and was not invited to any of the postseason tournaments. This is the result of years of bad recruiting, roster mismanagement, and overall neglect. When your player pipeline has a massive leak, as shown by annual transfers and dismissals, and you go all in on mercenaries to hide those deficiencies, this is the result: a highly volatile gambit from a desperate coach trying to save his job.
Whatever the roster looks like, Howland needs to make it work. He will not be able to lean on the NCAA ruling against him as a mitigating factor, as he and all schools recruiting Shabazz were warned that this could happen. However the NCAA rules, it is the chaotic atmosphere and instability in Howland's program that has led us to this point. Nothing less than a lengthy tournament run though Staples Center in the west regional to get to the Final Four will be enough.30 Days and counting. Tick Tock.