"Hey Ben, we're playing in March Madness this year. What about you?!"
Kind of interesting how less interesting this tournament becomes when UCLA is no longer in it. Although, it has been interesting to note how programs like Michigan State are able to rebound from their "bad year" (when they still made the tournament) and secure a protected #1 seed and (so far) look set to make it to at least the Elite Eight, if not the Final Four (and possibly win the whole thing). I mean, it's pretty unusual for UCLA to not be in it. Here's an interesting statistic for the day:
Since Coach Wooden retired following the 1974-1975 season, UCLA has missed March Madness 9 times; in 37 seasons since the end of the Wooden era, UCLA made the NCAA tournament 28 times.
Only nine times have the Bruins not made March Madness. Larry Farmer owns two of those misses (1981-82, 1983-84); Walt Hazzard owns three of them (1984-85, 1985-86, 1987-88); Steve Lavin has only one (2002-03) and just two if you count Howland's first season (2003-04) as being due to Lavin.
Ben Howland? He's now the proud owner of two UCLA basketball seasons with no NCAA tournament (2009-10, 2011-12) and perhaps three, if you count his first season following Lavin (2002-03).
Everyone wants to give Ben more time and more rope because he took us to three Final Fours, as if that should mean something at UCLA, the school where only national titles are hung in the rafters at Pauley Pavilion. If we go down that road, where does it lead? It leads to the mentality "hey, he got us to the Sweet Sixteen consistently, so we should keep him" (Lavin) or worse: "hey, we're in the tournament every year, we should keep this coach around." That's all well and good at a middling program like Cal or North Carolina State (both of whom are actually made the tournament, unlike our hapless Bruins), but this is UCLA, one of the blue-bloods of college hoops.
If Kentucky doesn't win the national title, that's a disappointing season. Same for North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, and Michigan State. Why is that not the standard for the program with more titles than all of those other programs?
In any event, the current state of affairs at UCLA, both in basketball and throughout the athletic department is completely unacceptable and should result in only one thing: the immediate termination of Chianti Dan Guerrero. And with that said, let's take a look at the bits and pieces of news floating around the UCLA-iverse as we watch (kind of) March Madness unfold without our Bruins in the mix, after the jump.
- Speaking of the tournament, Jon Gold had some interesting thoughts on how upside-down this season has been, with the western United States struggling to put teams in the tournament, mostly due to (1) how absolutely pathetic the Pac-12 has been this year and (2) that smart, intelligent athletic directors at smaller mid-major schools have made a commitment to basketball and brought in coaching staffs who know how to attract talent and level the playing field with the big boys in college hoops.
- In terms of the Pac-12's pathetic showing in college basketball this season, Andy Katz at WWL noted that conference commissioner Larry Scott still has faith in the Pac-12 basketball brand, calling this season "a blip" but noting that "the league's brand names in basketball, teams like UCLA and Arizona, must be good." In other words, Larry can't be pleased that Chianti and Ben have turned UCLA, the elite name and money-driver for Pac-12 hoops into a dumpster fire joke.
- Chianti Dan's incompetence is so widely-known that even small papers, with no real connection or interest to UCLA athletics, are picking up on how foolish he is. Dan Hinxman of the Reno Gazette-Journal, in his own round-up of sports thoughts, asked "what was [Chianti Dan] thinking" in retaining Ben Howland, with a program "wrought with turmoil and defections" and noted that Howland has missed the tournament two out of the past three seasons. Even Hinxman, who doesn't regularly cover UCLA hoops, can see the plain answer, stating that "[m]any coaches have been fired for less." Let me answer Hinxman's question for him though: Chianti Dan wasn't thinking because he's a clueless, brain-dead, chianti-swilling moron who has absolutely no clue what he is doing.
- And, of course, with the tournament in action, the obvious storyline is regarding the UCLA all-transfer team, most of whom actually made the tournament. There's Mike Moser and Chace Stanback at UNLV, which made it to the Round of 32 before being eliminated; there's Spencer Dinwiddie, the Colorado PG who wanted to come to UCLA but Howland was too busy chasing Zeigler and McCallum (LOL), who also made it to the second round before the Buffs got axed. And don't forget Matt Carlino who was literally run out of Westwood, but finds himself playing in March with BYU. But, there's also Drew Gordon, who Howland couldn't discipline (I suspect Bobby Knight, Coach K, Tom Izzo, and Roy Williams would have found a way to keep him in the fold), and who took New Mexico to the NCAA tournament, along with former UCLA commit Kendall Williams, whom Howland gave the cold shoulder to. The two hoopsters, both set to be part of the Howland dynasty following the Final Four trips, are instead finding redemption by leading the Lobos into March Madness while Howland watches post-season hoops at home. Gee, would have been nice to have their talents on this weak roster.
- Oh, and that Kendall Williams kid that Howland decided, after making him an offer and after Williams committed, that he didn't want in Westwood anymore? Yeah, he opened his March Madness account by scoring 16 points (14 in the second half) while playing tough defense on Long Beach State's top player, Casper Ware, to help lead New Mexico into the next round.
- While we're talking about Williams, Jeff Eisenberg at Yahoo! Sports did a pretty good profile of the sophomore guard, noting that the kid has an unusual hobby for a Division I basketball player: chess. All-in-all, Williams sounds like a good kid, unlike some of the head-cases Howland has brought in and failed to discipline. Oh, and the best part? Eisenberg takes note that Howland cooled on Williams, more-or-less reneging on UCLA's scholarship offer, to chase pipe-dreams like Ray McCallum, before settling on JC transfer Zeek Jones. Yeah, good planning on that one Ben.
- Finally, the Old Gray Lady has an article discussing the issues that arise when a basketball program seeks to name the floor after a coach. While UCLA got lucky in having the greatest coach of all time, in any sport, leaving no room for anyone else to complain, other schools, like Maryland find themselves in a bit of an internal controversy over which coach gets the honor of being immortalized on the hardwood.
Alright folks, those are your Bruin Bites for the beginning of the week as we wait for the Sweet Sixteen to get underway without our UCLA Bruins. Geez, even Lavin got us this far in the tournament. Just saying.