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Balance of power tilting back towards Westwood ...

Obviously we have a huge basketball tonight. And yes Pac-10 regular season titles are not a big deal for us but getting one for the first time in a decade is going to be significant and perhaps more importantly help our seeding in the Big Dance.  Here is Dohn on the ramifications of our Bay Area trip which tips of tonight against the Cal Bears:

If the 15th-ranked Bruins (22-6, 12-4 Pac-10) can complete their first Bay Area sweep since 2000 with wins tonight at California and Saturday at Stanford, they would clinch their first conference title since 1997.

"For all teams in our league, what you're judged on most at the end of the year is who won the national championship, who got to the Final Four, who were in the Elite Eight," Howland said. "But I think every year, winning the Pac-10 championship is huge because that's where we're competing, and also where you get seeded in the tournament is based so much on how you do in your league."

Of the past nine Pac-10 regular season champions, five earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs and three were a No. 2 seed. Last season, Arizona won and was a No. 3 seed, the lowest seed for a Pac-10 winner since UCLA was seeded fourth in 1996.

The Bruins, who have a league-best RPI of 16, could still win the conference with a loss at Cal and a win at Stanford, but only if USC beats Cal and Washington loses to Arizona State or Arizona.

In a season in which the Pac-10 is considered weak, UCLA's chances for a prime seeding in the NCAA Tournament could take a substantial hit with a second-place finish.
Yes - tonight's game is huge and if we stumble in our last two games of the regular season - our tourney chances are going to take a huge hit. However, we do have to keep in the mind the big picture, which is becoming obvious to college basketball observers in West Coast, who closely follow the Pac-10. No matter what happens in these next two games - the balance of Pac-10 basketball power is clearly shifting back down to Westwood. Here is John Wiliner from the San Jose Mercury on the trend developing under Ben Howland (emphasis mine - note we are not the only one who thinks Lavin is out there trying to subtly undermine Howland):
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 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.''
(HT to McCloskey for the article)

Note that Wiliner is actually the predecessor of Brian Dohn, as he used to cover the UCLA basketball/football beat during those dark Lavin years in Westwood. So the clear progress this program has achieved under Ben Howland and how it is being led back to its rightful place in college hoops is apparent to John Wiliner.  As usual for more on tonight's game match up make sure to check out the preview from BBR and Bruin Hoop Scoop. Let?s hope we can make some early 3s, are aggressive on offense, and please no TOs! I am fired up.  Gotta run now ... but of course post your game day thoughts here or start a new diary. GO BRUINS.