From all accounts UCLA's 2011-12 basketball season has turned out to be a huge disappointment to date. At a pathetic record of 13-10 (6-5) Bruins are well off the expectations of winning the Pac-12 conference. They have completely failed to build on last season - which at the time barely met expectations by getting into the tourney and bowing out in first weekend of the tournament.
Howland himself raised the white flag on this regular season few weeks ago, making it all about the Pac-12 tournament. Still looking at our schedule I still think the Bruins may have a shot in somewhat salvaging a hugely disappointing season (turning Howland all but a lame duck coach in the eyes of many in our fan base) by running the table for rest of this year.
Yes, it is reasonable for UCLA fans to expect Howland and this team to run the table rest of this season if they care about saving face this season. Missing the tournament 2 out of 3 years will simply be unacceptable result in Westwood. So if the guys want to sense the urgency and make a run for the Big Dance they can do it by tearing through what has shaped up to be the soft part of their season schedule.
Here are Bruins' upcoming opponents with their Kenpom rankings:
- 2/9 Stanford [16-7, 6-5] (60)
- 2/11 California [18-6,8-3] (21)
- 2/15 Southern Cal [6-18,1-10] (204)
- 2/18 @St. John's [10-13,4-7] (140)
- 2/23 @Arizona State [7-16, 3-8] (221)
- 2/25 @Arizona [16-8, 7-4] (36)
- 3/1 Washington State [12-11, 4-7] (120)
- 3/3 Washington [16-7, 9-2] (64)
Bruins should not have any excuses for losing a single game in LA from here on out. None of the Pac-12 opponents is an elite program. They are all mediocre by national standards. Bruins choked away a sure win against Washington and then imploded against Cal in the second half. Howland's coaching decision also cost them a winnable game against Stanford. They should be able to beat those programs at home.
Perhaps the only "tough" game left in this schedule is the one against Arizona where the Wildcats always get fired up to play UCLA. However, if Howland gets his guys focused and prepped they could potentially steal a win there. So given the schedule above UCLA fans should expect the Bruins to finish with 7-1 record in our last games putting us at 20-11 (13-6) heading in the Pac-12 tournament.
Again, think about those choke jobs against Stanford and Washington. Think about the second half implosions against Cal and Oregon. If the Bruins won 3 of those games, we could have looked at the possibility of finish the regular season with 23 wins. Then there was Howland's basic fail in realizing that he needed to play zone early on - which arguably cost us wins very early in the season. If we hadn't embarrassed ourselves in those first two games, we could have been looking at a 25 win regular season. Ugh.
Anyway, if the Bruins get to the Pac-12 tournament with 20 wins and can get to the tourney final, they could make the claim about getting into the Big Dance. If the Bruins get the job done by finishing 7-1, they may be able to push their RPI into the 80s. It is currently at 112 (according to Statsheet). Cal's RPI is at 46, Arizona is at 65 and Washington's RPI is at 74. This is where Howland's earlier season comment about the regular season not mattering much was not very helpful. If Howland had kept his trap shut about the regular season, Bruins could have waged a public campaign on finishing 7-1 and getting into the Dance.
Regardless - that's the big picture reset. We expect the Bruins to play in the Big Dance. It is on Howland to get it done. If he doesn't, he will further seal his lame duck stature at UCLA. An infusion of Shabbaz, Parker and Anderson will be nothing more than a band aid, if the Bruins find themselves in a position to spin silver linings about heading to the NIT.