In today's San Jose Mercury there's an article titled Pac-10's Balance of Power Tilting Toward the South.
Here's an excerpt:
We're in the early stages of a power shift in the Pacific-10 Conference -- not from one side of the San Francisco Bay to the other, but from Northern California and southern Arizona to Los Angeles.
UCLA and USC are coming, and they're coming
UCLA, which hasn't won the conference title since 1997, is in first place entering tonight's showdown at second-place Cal
This could be the local teams' last decent chance to sweep the Bruins and Trojans for years to come, which speaks more to developments down south than backsliding in the Bay Area.
Ben Howland, in his third year at UCLA, and Tim Floyd, in his first at USC, are the best combination of coaches at the L.A. schools since John Wooden was a Bruin and Bob Boyd a Trojan in the mid-1970s.
Unless either man quits in the next few seasons, which seems unlikely given that Floyd is an NBA dropout and that UCLA is Howland's dream job, the Bruins and Trojans should dominate the conference in the final years of the decade.
That's not to say Arizona, Cal, Stanford and Washington won't compete for, and occasionally win, the championship. But they'll have to go through the Bruins (for sure) and Trojans (most likely) to do it.
Such is the power of UCLA's tradition, the allure of USC's new arena, the amount of high school talent within 100 miles of the schools and the competence of the two coaches.
It took Howland just two seasons to swat away the claim of Steve Lavin's supporters -- no doubt with a wink-and-a-nod from Lavin himself -- that Howland would struggle in Westwood because his half-court style wouldn't play with SoCal recruits.
But elite high school players want good coaching, 20-something victories and NCAA tournament appearances. If they can have all three while playing under 11 national championship banners in Pauley Pavilion, even better.
Howland took over a program that lost nine consecutive games during Lavin's final season. Howland won 11 his first season, 18 his second (plus an NCAA bid) and now has the Bruins on top of the conference. They're a lock for the NCAAs despite a slew of injuries; given good health and a favorable draw, they might even win a few games.
The success comes as little surprise to Howland followers, who watched him win 21 games in his third season at Northern Arizona and 29 in his third at Pittsburgh.
``In the third year, you're getting more good players,'' Howland said. ``If you're doing your job recruiting, in the third year you have your second year of players coming in. And we have very, very good players.''
Howland's first recruiting class included McDonald's All-Americans Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo. His second was ranked 13th in the nation by Scout.com. His third, due on campus in the fall, features power forward James Keefe, another McDonald's All-American. And his fourth, to be signed in November, might include center Kevin Love, considered by many to be one of the top two juniors in the country. (He's the son of former NBA player Stan Love and the nephew of Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love.)
``The bottom line is, it's about good players,'' Howland said. ``You look at any successful program, and that's true.''