Our community here has just started the discussion about expectations for next year's UCLA basketball season. We are starting with the premise that we think Ben Howland no longer deserves to the caretaker of Coach John Wooden's program in Westwood. Why we believe that doesn't require an extended explanation at this point given the exhaustive discussions on this topic here on BN. Even though we think Howland no longer deserves to be UCLA's coach, the hands of this community has been tied by an out of touch Chancellor, who simply seems to have no interest in getting rid of an incompetent athletic director.
As much as think Howland shouldn't come back next season, the more immediate short term need to resuscitate UCLA's dead hoops program is to bring in a new athletic director, who can lead a competent search for the next coach of UCLA basketball. In the meantime, discussions are going on over here and elsewhere with regards to what to expect from next year's program which will include Shabazz Muhammad in the lineup. It appears that Howland and Kory McCray will lay an egg wrt recruiting of Tony Parker, which is going to be another big FAIL and waste of recruiting resources like number of other pursuit of national recruits in recent years (See Ray McCallum, Quinn Cook).
Anyway, with Shabazz in the lineup we are going to expect a national championship run from Howland. Along with a legitimate national championship run we are going to have the following top-line expectations:
- Line up a top-10 class for 2013 before the start of 2012 season that will feature commitments from a pg, sf and a post player
- DOMINATE and win the Pathetic-12
- Finish the regular season with a top-10 ranking
- Win the Pathetic-12 tournament and/or secure AT LEAST a 3 seed or higher in the Western Region in the Dance
- AT LEAST get to the Final-4 and no blowout/uninspiring losses to end the Tourney will be acceptable
- Finish with a top-10 recruiting class and follow it up with another Pac-12 title and at least a Sweet-16 run in 2013-14
We will hash out those parameters in the coming weeks and months. In general we are not going to be in the mood to any excuses. That said while those are our expectations, there are serious concerns about actual results of next season. Let's get into that a bit after the season.
Tracy Pierson from BruinReportOnline.com recently posted a piece entitled ,"What Will it Take To Turn Around UCLA Hoops?" in which he expressed some serious reservations about next season. The reservations stem from Howland's abdication from a defense-first mindset that made him successful in his early years at UCLA. From Pierson (piece not behind subscription firewall):
[T]he dilemma and central problem of UCLA in the last four years: What exactly is the level of defense that Howland demands now? It definitely isn't the same as it was during those Final Four years. We've said it before and it bears repeating again: UCLA has lost its identity under Howland because he just doesn't emphasize defense like he did during those Final Four seasons, and isn't recruiting the types of players who can play it. If you had to narrow down all of the issues plaguing UCLA in the last four years to the biggest determining factor of why UCLA has slipped under Howland, it's that: The program simply doesn't play the type of defense it used to.
In terms of next year's team, this is why we believe, even given the influx of talent like Muhammad and Anderson, that there's a decent chance it could under-achieve. We don't see it having the make-up of a great defensive team, if you go by the projected playing time we laid out above. Smith, if he's in decent shape, will be better defensively, but we can't see him really making the complete turnaround from extreme defensive liability to strength. The only way Smith can be a decent defender is if UCLA plays a zone, and we are pretty certain that just isn't going to happen. So, you have a below-average defender as you're starting center. The Wears aren't great defenders. They're better defending the four, and not having to defend the five or the three, but they're still limited by their athleticism and lack of overall strength. Strong power forwards will always have a chance to over-power them, and quicker ones will always be able to out-quick them. You can probably project they'll be better defenders with another off-season of development and you know they'll put in the work, but the defensive upside is limited. The days of having a defensive four man like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are long gone.
There is going to be a question of who Anderson guards. He almost certainly won't have the strength to match up against college power forwards, so we think he more than likely will be the choice to defend the opposing three. It very well could be similar to David Wear trying to guard the three spot this season, however, since Anderson isn't exactly quick (his nickname is "Slow-Mo.").
Read through the entire Pierson piece to get a sense of his thoughts on his serious concerns about the big pictures around Howland's program. Those concerns are not going to be alleviated through PR tactics deployed by a crisis communication program. If Howland doesn't make a true commitment to change his current ways by going back to his original principles and transform himself in the way he communicates with student athletes, UCLA basketball will only continue to spiral towards further irrelevance, notwithstanding some feel good moments here and there next season.
Chew on those thoughts while you finish up the first week of March Madness, with the UCLA basketball program mired in total irrelevance.