So, what have we learned so far this Pac-12 conference season? Three things: Ben Howland is definitely not the long-term solution at UCLA, the Pac-12 conference is very mediocre this year, and the Bruins are a pretty solid (but very thin on depth) team when they can get Ben out of the way. It's really sad it came to this: Howland unable to get any momentum in his program, elite California recruits shunning UCLA as if they'd catch herpes from being in the same area code as Howland, and players fleeing the program at an alarming rate.
This year had the potential to be THE year, in much the same way the schedule was set up perfectly for Mora to turn it around (despite falling flat at the end of the year). Think about it: the conference is very weak this year, so it should have been conceivable for the Bruins to run the conference gauntlet without any real trouble, earning a protected seed in the West regional bracket for March Madness. You know, the regional being played in San Jose and Los Angeles this year. UCLA's schedule was set up for a prime run with de facto home court advantage in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. If our coach hadn't cratered the program and completely lost his way, a birth in the Final Four was all-but-assured when you look at how this year's schedule has so far panned out.
Yet, here we are, talking about a thin UCLA basketball team that has the fan base on the slow death march toward another Chianti Dan bungled coaching search. Knowing our luck, just as Chianti and his cronies chased pipe dreams like Chris Petersen and non-BCS-conference-tested system guys like Kevin Sumlin, Morgan Center is probably planning on wasting time chasing pipe dreams like Phil Jackson, Tom Izzo, and Roy Williams. Hopefully, a top-tier coach (my hope would be for Brad Stevens or Shaka Smart) will follow the Howland and Mora game plan and put themselves in the running for the job.
In any event, let's turn to the various bits and pieces of news from around the UCLA-iverse for this game day morning:
- Peter Yoon at WWL has a quick, generic preview of tonight's matchup with Utah. Most interesting, as Yoon notes, is that the Bruins are a mediocre 2-2 away from Pauley Pavilion this year, so it'll be interesting to see how UCLA handles a true road environment now that conference play is on.
- In case you missed it (and I think it definitely bears repeating if you already saw), Tony Parker is not exactly thrilled with how things are going in Westwood. The forgotten big man on the bench, who probably believed his role would be expanded once Josh Smith packed up and left Westwood, has been languishing behind Howland's personal favorites, the Wear twins. If Parker stays with UCLA after this season, I'll be shocked.
- You know who wants UCLA to keep retaining Ben Howland? Cal fans, that's who. Whenever a conference rival wants you to keep a head coach, shouldn't that be apparent the coach is done for?
- Finally, turning to football, former UCLA running back Malcolm Jones has decided to enroll at San Diego State and will walk-on to their football team. Jones, having sat out all of 2012 except for the Rice game at the beginning of the year, has been granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. Jones would have been one of the front-runners to take the starting job vacated by Jet Ski's graduation, but it seems the former high school Gatorade player of the year had his heart set on leaving Westwood. Regardless, we wish him good luck (except when UCLA plays SDSU).
Alright folks, those are your Bruin Bites to get this Thursday game day started. Fire away with your thoughts, comments, etc. in the open thread below.