Assessing the Steve Alford Era at UCLA Almost One Year In

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 26th, 2014

It was a year ago this week that the change was made at UCLA. Ben Howland was dismissed after an opening round NCAA loss to Minnesota, and the following week, on Saturday morning of the Elite Eight to be precise, UCLA announced that it would hire New Mexico head coach Steve Alford – who had just recently agreed to a lengthy contract extension with that school after its own untimely exit from the NCAA Tournament – as the 13th head coach in the storied program’s history.

Steve Alford, UCLA

The Steve Alford Era Had A Bumpy Start, But Has Settled Into A Nice Groove (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Suffice it to say that the beginning of the Alford era in Westwood did not begin smoothly. The hire was greeted with anywhere from an outright disdain for the choice to a more wait-and-see approach, but few if any saw the hire as a home run. (Here, we called it a solid line-drive single, and our response was probably one of the more favorable ones you may have read). From those initial reactions, the temperature dipped dramatically over the next week after an unreceptive opening press conference delved into his handling of a sexual assault case at Iowa 11 years earlier and went downhill from there. A week later Alford finally apologized for his handling of that case and an uneasy truce with the local media began.

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AAC M5: 03.24.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on March 24th, 2014

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  1. For the second time in three NCAA Tournaments, in-state rivals Kentucky and Louisville will square off. This time, the setting will be Indianapolis in a regional semifinal and the match-up was almost inevitable, according to the Louisville Courier Journal. All of the angst from both fan bases about seedings that were too low can be thrown out the window — there are more important things to worry about. The writer says that this rivalry, which will pit the last two national champions against each other, is the best in college basketball right now. Considering the only other option is Duke and North Carolina, and that neither of them have reached the Final Four since Duke’s 2010 national title while one or both of the Commonwealth’s programs have played in the last three, it’s a fair point. This season’s game will be even more passionate and intense than the Final Four battle in 2012. Louisville, at the time making a surprise run to the Final Four, knew it had nothing to lose against the best team in the country. The game was more of a celebration of basketball in the Commonwealth. Not this time. Either team will view the season as a disappointment if its run ends Friday night.
  2. Louisville knows that it is in for an intense game on Friday night, but a meeting with No. 1 seed Wichita State may have been a better match-up for the Cardinals because of Kentucky’s size. The Wildcats muscled their way to a 73-66 win in the teams’ first meeting at Rupp Arena in December. Both teams, however, have changed significantly since then. Chane Behanan was still with the Cardinals, although it would prove to be his last game in cardinal red. Luke Hancock is now fully healthy and Chris Jones has adjusted to his role alongside Russ Smith in the backcourt. And although the Harrison twins had a strong game against Louisville in the first meeting, they haven’t played consistently well until the postseason.
  3. Shabazz Napier made sure Connecticut wasn’t going to lose on Saturday night against Villanova. The do-everything guard poured in 21 of his 25 points in the second half while battling a shin injury. The senior has seen a lot of things in his four-year career. He was a freshman on the national championship and Big East Tournament championship teams of 2011, and also worked through a 2013 season of no postseason hope for the Huskies. Now he’s got his team back in the Sweet Sixteen, playing in a familiar venue at Madison Square Garden with what should be a strong home crowd on hand. When many of Connecticut’s past greats were no doubt looking ahead to NBA stardom, Napier has played fully for the “UConn” on the front of his jersey. Other than the Louisville-Kentucky game, the best story of the Sweet Sixteen might be the senior guard’s refusal to let his team go home for good.
  4. A number of strong potential candidate names have surfaced for the South Florida head coaching job after Stan Heath was fired on Friday. One name at the top of the list is former UCLA coach Ben Howland (also reportedly interested in the Marquette job). Mississippi’s Andy Kennedy has also shown interest as did former Marquette coach Buzz Williams before opting to take the vacancy at Virginia Tech. Athletic Director Mark Harlan said the job has reached a desirable status because of a renovated Sun Dome, a new practice facility and the rising status of the American Athletic Conference. Two freshman big men, John Egbunu and Chris Perry, made the AAC All-Rookie Team, so there’s also some talent waiting in the wings.
  5. Even though it might be seen as the most successful Cincinnati team in 10 years, the Bearcats’ postseason finish will be a tough pill to swallow. Still, Mick Cronin said that he’s never had a team achieve their potential more than this group — they gave every ounce they could give. It was the fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament for Cincinnati and Cronin, but a fifth may prove to be difficult to achieve. The senior core of Sean Kilpatrick, Titus Rubles and Justin Jackson will all depart. No double-figure scorers return, although two starters, Shaquille Thomas and Ge’Lawn Guyn, are expected to. No matter the roster, though, do not count Cronin out of anything.
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AAC M5: 03.19.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on March 19th, 2014

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  1. Louisville has become a trendy pick to repeat as national champions, including by renowned political prognosticator, Nate Silver. Silver’s revamped FiveThirtyEight.com launched Monday with a bracket projection model giving the Cardinals a 15 percent chance to cut down the nets again — the highest percentage of any team — and a 38 percent chance of reaching the Final Four, good for third. Silver’s model gives no other AAC team even a one percent chance of winning a title; it likes UConn the most, giving the Huskies a six percent chance of reaching the final weekend. Cincinnati gets a three percent chance and Memphis a two percent chance to play into April.
  2. Fran Dunphy struggled through his worst year ever at Temple, but he expects to see better results next year. The Owls’ season ended with a double-overtime loss to UCF that featured sophomore Quenton DeCosey and junior Will Cummings combining for 53 points. They’ll both be back on campus next season and will be joined by three transfers who sat out this season — Jaylen Bond from Texas, Jesse Morgan from UMass, and Devin Coleman from Clemson – along with sophomore Daniel Dingle, due back from knee surgery, and four-star recruit Obi Enechionyia. Dunphy has had a great deal of coaching success, both at Temple and across town at Penn before that, and it seems much more likely that the Owls’ bad season was a one-year aberration rather than an indication of things to come.
  3. Whatever Temple does next year, it will have to do it without Anthony Lee. The redshirt junior big man, who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this year, graduates in May and will be able to transfer with one year of eligibility under the NCAA’s fifth-year transfer rule. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman tweeted that a dozen schools are interested in acquiring Lee’s services, including fellow AAC member Louisville, which of course is leaving the conference for the ACC next season.
  4. Kevin Ollie has done a pretty good job since becoming the head coach at UConn, but he first made his name on the court, not the sidelines. He played on three NCAA Tournament teams at UConn before a journeyman career in the NBA that included stints with 11 teams. His longevity helped him lead the AAC coaches in CBS Sports‘ ranking of the playing careers of NCAA Tournament coaches, landing at #3 in the list. The next AAC coach was Rick Pitino at #23 for his three years and and 329 assists as point guard at UMass in the early 1970s. Josh Pastner, a four-year walk-on who got a ring with the 1997 Arizona national champions, checked in at #44, and the diminutive Mick Cronin was #62 for his high school career (cut short by bum knees) under coach (and father) Hep.
  5. USF is looking for a new coach, and although some pretty big names are rumored to have interest, there’s still a certain amount of despair in Tampa. Ben Howland and Buzz Williams, among others, have already had their names attached to the job, Howland most prominently because he worked with new athletic director Mark Harlan when they were both at UCLA. Also apparently in the running is Florida assistant John Pelphrey, the former head coach at both South Alabama and Arkansas, but there remain doubts whether any coach who would take the job can get get the program where it want to be. Of course, recently fired head coach Stan Heath gave them their only two NCAA Tournament wins in school history, but he followed that up with a 6-30 conference mark over the past two years. That’s a lot closer to what USF has been historically than the little bit of fleeting March success.
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Pac-12 M5: 03.07.14 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on March 7th, 2014

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  1. At this point last season, UCLA sat at 22-7 and head coach Ben Howland was a dead man walking. The Bruins came into yesterday’s game at Washington with the same exact record, but the coaching situation could not be more different (no matter what Bruins Nation might say). Steve Alford has stepped up the program’s recruiting presence locally, and with the players having fun, the team is definitely going in the right direction. They’ve picked up big wins against the likes of Arizona State, Colorado, and Oregon, and while those haven’t exactly translated into an uptick in attendance, I don’t know if any coach could change that. He’s also got one of the frontrunners for Pac-12 Player of the Year running point guard in sophomore Kyle Amderson, who is helping things immensely in Westwood. The Bruins will close the regular season Saturday night at Washington State. They’ll look to protect the #5 seed that Joe Lunardi currently projects them as.
  2. UCLA improved to 23-7 on the 2013-14 campaign with a 91-82 road win in Seattle last night. Washington actually led 45-41 after an offense-filled first half before the Bruins woke up. Tied at 64 with a little over ten minutes remaining, Kyle Anderson put home a layup to put the visitors in front. That would initiate an 11-3 run, giving them just enough separation to put the Dawgs down. Sophomore guard Jordan Adams dropped a career high 31 points in the victory, which clinched the #2 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament for Alford’s squad.
  3. Last February, Adidas unveiled these insane uniforms for six teams to use in the postseason, including UCLA. So when I heard yesterday that the company was rolling out another set of special March uniforms, I was excited to see what was in store. They decided to go with a much more subdued approach this time around, but the results are still decent. You can view the two Bruin jerseys here, and the rest of the set at this link.
  4. A lot of teams suffer some type of burnout at this point in the season, but few have seen a collapse like California this season. The Golden Bears have lost four of their last five, two at home, and all by an average of 17.5 PPG. “Emotionally, we’re really spent,” coach Mike Montgomery said. “We’re having a hard time emotionally sticking with this thing right now.” If you’re looking for a #HOTBRACKETTIP, you may want to avoid picking these guys very deep in a couple of weeks.
  5. Below is our panel’s selections for the final weekend of regular season Pac-12 basketball. We head to the Willamette Valley for our game of the week, where two of us are taking host Oregon, and Adam sticks with his Wildcats. Drew is taking a few road warriors in Colorado, Arizona State, and UCLA on Saturday, while I’ve got all home teams except for the Bruins, who will be heavy favorites on the Palouse.
    Game Connor (34-7) Drew (30-11) Adam (29-12)
    Utah @ Stanford Stanford Stanford Stanford
    Arizona @ Oregon Oregon Oregon Arizona
    Arizona State @ Oregon State Oregon State Arizona State Oregon State
    USC @ Washington Washington Washington Washington
    Colorado @ California California Colorado California
    UCLA @ Washington State UCLA UCLA UCLA
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Pac-12 M5: 12.23.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on December 23rd, 2013

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  1. Sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski will likely miss his second straight game tonight when Arizona meets in-state foe Northern Arizona on the Pac-12 Networks. Tarczewski is sidelined with a sprained right ankle after landing on a Michigan player’s foot nine days ago in Ann Arbor. “We’re going to take it slow. We want to make sure he’s at his best for the Pac-12,” head coach Sean Miller said about the situation. As was the case against Southern University on Thursday, the top-ranked Wildcats had no problem without the sophomore’s services, and things are likely to be the same against the 3-7 Lumberjacks. Tarczewski is currently averaging 10.1 PPG, and with conference play beginning in 10 days, taking tonight off seems like a good call.
  2. Coming into Sunday afternoon’s meeting with #10 Connecticut, Washington was looking for its third consecutive victory, which would have been a season high. And for the first 14 minutes of the game, it looked as if the Huskies might just pull off the upset, which would have been UConn’s second straight loss to a Pac-12 opponent. Washington jumped out to a 33-22 advantage in front of a small but loud gathering at Hec Ed, but the top 10 AAC team showed why they were just that, going on a 27-6 binge to take a lead it would never relinquish. Washington dropped to 6-5 with the loss and will need to at least split its final two non-conference games in order to enter Pac-12 play above the .500 mark.
  3. Former UCLA head coach Ben Howland, who led the Bruins to three Final Fours during a decade in Westwood, was featured in the LA Times over the weekend. Howland is still keeping an eye on his former program, rooting on his players and agreeing that his successor, Steve Alford, has done a good job so far. What is he doing with his time off? A whole lot of fly-fishing, bike riding, and hoops watching. And while he’s enjoying those things immensely, the 56-year old is itching to get back onto the sideline. He’ll land somewhere, likely sometime this spring, because as Dick Vitale said during the UCLA-Duke game last week, Howland would be a great fit at a lot of schools around the country.
  4. Late last week, the guys over at California Golden Blogs met in roundtable form and discussed whether California had a shot at competing for the Pac-12 championship. That’s looking a lot less likely after yesterday’s result in Omaha, when the Golden Bears were dominated on both ends of the court in a 68-54 loss to #16 Creighton.
  5. These stories never get old. This video is from last week, so you may have already seen it, but even if so, it’s worth another view. Air Force Master Sergeant Chris Campbell was reunited with his family at the midway point during the first half of Thursday’s Arizona-Southern game, bringing smiles and some tears to everyone on hand. Each time the Pac-12 Network cameras showed Campbell the rest of the night, he was surrounded by and being thanked by the Wildcats’ fans in attendance. Commentators Roxy Bernstein and Matt Muehlebach joked that, while they were sure he appreciated it, Campbell didn’t get to take in nearly enough of the game as he probably liked. Happy holidays to everyone and to the Campbell family, especially.
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UCLA Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 15th, 2013

Now that we are officially in the offseason, it’s time to take a look back and evaluate each team’s 2012-13 performance. Next on our list: UCLA.

What Went Right

All things considered, a lot of things went right for the Bruins this year. Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson were cleared of their eligibility concerns early and both played (mostly) a full season. Ben Howland made the decision to play to his team’s strengths and emphasized an up-tempo offense-first style. Larry Drew II made the most of his lone season in Westwood and ended his college career on a very positive note. And freshman Jordan Adams was far far better than anyone outside of his immediate family had a reasonable right to expect. Still, the season ended with Howland getting fired after a Round of 64 loss in the NCAA Tournament, so that tells you that not everything went well.

UCLA Freshman Shabazz Muhammad Scored 11 Points and Grabbed Six Rebounds As The Bruins Advanced To The Pac-12 Championship (credit: USA Today)

UCLA Freshman Shabazz Muhammad Had An Eventful Season In Westwood (credit: USA Today)

What Went Wrong

Well, where to begin? Let’s start with the continued trend of halfway-talented players departing from Howland’s program, leaving the team with just eight scholarship players on the roster at the end of the season. Then, for all the good things Muhammad showed in his ability to do offensively, he didn’t show much of a desire to do anything else (32 games, 27 assists, four blocked shots, 8.5% defensive rebounding percentage,  abhorrent body language and sportsmanship). For the rest of the team, things just never congealed on the defensive end, resulting in the third-worst defensive performance out of a UCLA team in Howland’s career in Westwood. Throw in a little bad luck in the form of Adams’ freak foot injury on the final play of a big win in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals and despite high hopes at the start of the year, it turned into a disappointing result.

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Morning Five: The Morning Of Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on April 8th, 2013

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  1. If you though the Rutgers fiasco was  nearing an end you would be wrong. Honestly, we could do an entire Morning Five just on every story that is going on with this case. On Friday, Tim Pernetti‘s letter of resignation was posted on the school’s official site and outside of the usual apology Pernetti claims that he tried to fire Mike Rice, but was stopped by the school. Obviously the school is refuting that, but as The New York Times illustrates the decision on Rice involved more than just Pernetti. Meanwhile, the people back at Robert Morris, Rice’s former employer, will reportedly look into his treatment of players during his time there as new allegations come out that Rice exhibited similar behavior while at Robert Morris. As for the next coach at Rutgers that remains up in the air as Danny Hurley, who was identified as a favorite for the job, appears to be staying at Rhode Island.  The current rumor is that Rutgers is targeting Ben Howland (they might want to read George Dohrmann’s article on Howland’s time at UCLA first) and Howland is interested. Oh, and Eric Murdock (the “good guy” in the entire mess)? He is being investigated by the FBI for possible attempts to extort Rutgers.
  2. We would not be shocked if several players transferred from Rutgers in light of what has come to light (and even more what has not been revealed), but we are at a loss for what is going on at Tulane where four players including the team’s top two scorers were granted transfers last week and two more are in the process of doing so. Now the team is in flux and the administration has to be asking serious questions about what is going on with the program. Losing four players is bad enough, but now the program must enter damage control mode to prevent other players from transferring and perhaps more importantly keep recruits interested in coming there. The strange thing about this is that the team had a decent season going 20-15 overall and we haven’t heard any rumblings of improper conduct at the school. Still when half of a team transfers you begin to ask questions.
  3. The other big off-court story of last week was the accusation against Ed Rush that he offered officials incentives to call a technical foul on Arizona coach Sean Miller. As we noted in Friday’s Morning Five, Rush stepped down from his post and on Saturday he tried to explain his actions (also available as the full transcript). Rush’s answers are about what you would expect from somebody who said something really dumb whether or not it was a joke. In the end Rush’s problem probably was not the joke, it was his reputation for targeting certain players and teams that made his incentive/joke such a hot button topic.
  4. It may not be quite as nasty as the Rutgers story, which is much more fresh, but the fight between Miami and the NCAA is one of the nastier disagreements between the NCAA and a member institution that we can remember. On Friday, The Miami Herald released Miami’s request to the NCAA asking that it drop the case against the school based on a number of procedural errors (cover letter and full request here). The NCAA responded with its own 42-page letter to Miami saying that Miami is attempting to “deflect attention from the significant allegations that remain in the case”. This may be true, but the NCAA has screwed this case up so much that those allegations/acts are overshadowed by the incompetence of the governing body. The NCAA likes to pretend it has legal authority compelling individuals to testify, but doesn’t want the responsibility of acting like anything more than a kangaroo court.
  5. The NCAA has been taking a lot of criticism from almost every angle, but as Dan Wetzel points out they hit a home run with their idea to bring the Division II and III Championship games to the Final Four. We have seen several amazing finishes over the years from those games, but very few of them live and never in person as the events tend to get relatively few fans as they try to compete with the Division I Championship for fans and that will clearly never work if they are looking for big numbers. So this year the NCAA decided to bring the fans to those games and as an added bonus made the tickets free. With the games being played on the Sunday between the Final Four game days it should continue to bring in quite a few fans exposing them to players and programs that they otherwise would never have seen play in person.
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Steve Alford To UCLA: More Of The Same?

Posted by AMurawa on March 31st, 2013

Less than a week after he removed Ben Howland from his job as the UCLA head coach and after taking on a couple of strikes with his top two candidates, athletic director Dan Guerrero dug in and roped a solid line-drive single in hiring former New Mexico head coach Steve Alford. It is in no way a home run hire, but it is a workmanlike chance at bat. Maybe it turns into a forgettable event if there are strikeouts and pop-ups down the road, but if Alford and UCLA play their cards right, maybe this single is the start of a big inning.

The Hiring Of Steve Alford May Not Be The Home Run UCLA Fans Hoped For, But It Could Be The Start Of Big Things (AP)

The Hiring Of Steve Alford May Not Be The Home Run UCLA Fans Hoped For, But It Could Be The Start Of Big Things (AP)

To begin with, let’s put this idea of “UCLA should have just kept Howland” to bed. That was not an option, a change had to be made; it was a matter of finding the best possible new coach for the program, not a matter of finding a better coach than Howland. But, there are plenty of areas in which Alford compares negatively with Howland. For instance, it is true that Howland had more success in his brief pre-UCLA career (four years at Pitt, five at Northern Arizona) than Alford has had in his 18 years at his three previous stops. Despite getting to the NCAA Tournament three times at both Iowa and New Mexico, the only time Alford has made the Sweet Sixteen was in his final season at then Southwest Missouri State (now just Missouri State). Even more disturbing, that record comes despite some regular season success that four times earned him a five-seed or higher. So yeah, for a UCLA program that prizes success in March far more than success in the regular season, Guerrero just hired a guy with a shakier postseason record than Howland or his predecessor, Steve Lavin, who was fired after reaching five Sweet Sixteens in seven seasons.

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Pac-12 M5: 03.29.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 29th, 2013

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  1. Another day another UCLA coaching search update. With Shaka Smart officially out of the picture, talk about Butler’s Brad Stevens is starting to heat up. First, ESPN broke the completely obvious news that he is UCLA’s top target, while also briefly reporting that Stevens and UCLA were in contract negotiations. Later, FoxSports reported that Stevens was actually in Westwood in the middle of negotiations with UCLA. This report has not been confirmed anywhere, though. However, as should be expected of the calm and quiet Stevens, he’s not commenting on the job at all, other than to say he is still the coach at Butler. And all Butler president James Danko can offer is that he hopes his head coach stats. Elsewhere, N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried tweeted out that he is “committed” to staying in his current job, which really means nothing, as offering that statement does little but make him have to answer some tough questions if he were to wind up taking the UCLA job. Although you can probably read the tea leaves to find that Gottfried hasn’t received a whole lot of encouragement from those in charge of the UCLA search.
  2. One other thing on the UCLA coaching search: for some reason, writers tangentially associated with the Colorado program keep trying to float Tad Boyle as a candidate for the Bruin job. And for no apparent reason. Certainly he’s a fine coach and the job he has done taking the Buffaloes to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances (and, let’s face it, it should be three straight – CU got screwed in 2011) while building up a passionate new fanbase is commendable. But the UCLA job search would probably have to go pretty poorly, with name after name passing on the job, before Boyle gets hired. Again, no offense to Boyle who I think the world of as a coach and expect to have a bright future, but at this point, as a “deranged buffalo” points out, he just hasn’t done enough quite yet to merit the attention of athletic directors at the six elite “blueblood” college basketball programs.
  3. Oh, and in case you forgot, the USC coaching job is also open, though there is nowhere near the speculation about it as there is across town. With some of the top candidates already out of the picture, names like Tommy Amaker, Tubby Smith, Tim Floyd, Mike Hopkins and, get this, Ben Howland, are at the top of the list.
  4. Speaking of coaching searches, Oregon head coach Dana Altman has been a party in a couple entertaining searches. First, there was the extended and wildly optimistic Oregon search that wound up landing Altman, only after like 600 (note: that number is only an estimate) other coaches turned down Nike U. But Pac-12 fans may have forgotten the 2007 debacle where Altman accepted Arkansas’ offer for their head coaching position, only to renege a day later after a change of heart. I only bring this up now because, (1) well, I needed an additional point for my morning five, but also because (2) it goes to show just how drawn out and dramatic these coaching searches can be and (3) it is a testament to how lucky Oregon is to have Altman, one of the best coaches in the nation.
  5. And, as we wrap up another week, we also wrap up the career of some great Pac-12 players, as Arizona’s demise in the Sweet 16 last night ends the college careers of Mark Lyons, Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill. Hill, for one, did not go down without a fight, as Bruce Pascoe writes. He scored nine-straight in the middle of the half to rescue the Wildcats from a rough patch spanning the half and to keep his team within shouting distance of Ohio State. While his career at UA is done, he does go down in the record books, tied with Kyle Fogg for most games played in Wildcat history.
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Pac-12 M5: 03.26.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 26th, 2013

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  1. A day after the news came down that Ben Howland’s days as the UCLA head coach were over, there he was, back in front of the media at the Westwood campus on Monday, giving a farewell press conference. Howland, as expected, was gracious, thanking players and athletic department personnel, including the athletic director who just fired him. Howland said he hopes to continue coaching, although he realizes that his next job will take a step back in prestige. While the growing consensus seems to be that UCLA was right to part ways with the coach, he still gets a lot of respect and will likely kill it wherever he winds up next. Here’s hoping he takes a year off, finds some nice fly-fishing spots and comes back in 2014-15 at either a mid-major or a struggling major conference team and undertakes a successful rebuilding job.
  2. As for the next UCLA head coach, until a contract is signed, sealed and delivered, this coaching search is going to be in the news almost daily. But for now, no real news has come out, other than a ton of marginally sane suggestions s to who the next Bruins coach will be. For instance , when writers from around the Tribune Company (the owner of the Los Angeles Times, among others) came up with their list of potential names, John Calipari was one of the suggestions, along with Anthony Grant, Andy Kennedy and Andy Enfield. Enfield’s probably too green yet to get the UCLA job, Kennedy certainly ain’t happening, and Calipari? Yeah, not buying that at all. But Grant is an intriguing name, should UCLA strike out on their first few targets. Oh, and N.C. State fans? No need to worry.
  3. Arizona is on its way to Los Angeles this week to compete in the Sweet Sixteen at the Staples Center on Thursday. The last time this Wildcats team was in Los Angeles, to face USC and UCLA the week spanning the end of February and the beginning of March, they came away with a pair of losses. And yet, both head coach Sean Miller and sophomore guard Nick Johnson point to that road trip as the time when things started to come together for the team. Johnson in particular says the Wildcats have been a different defensive team since that trip, and the results seem to show it, as they’ve allowed just 0.95 points per possession against four NCAA Tournament teams and one NIT team.
  4. The other Pac-12 team still alive in the NCAA Tournament is Oregon, but they’ve got a tough task ahead as they face the Tournament’s number one overall seed, Louisville, on Friday night. While just getting this far is a success for the Ducks, they’re still focused on getting even further. But in order to do that, they’ll need to take better care of the ball against the Cardinals’ defensive pressure after turning it over 36 times last weekend in their two dominating wins in San Jose. They got away with it last week, but it is likely that if they turn it over 18 times against Louisville, they’ll be back in Eugene on Saturday.
  5. Lastly, we circle back around to the coaching situation, as Percy Allen goes through all the Pac-12 jobs and tries to determine who is and who is not on the hot seat. He lists the obvious ones: Ken Bone, Craig Robinson and Johnny Dawkins, and although the expectation is that all will be back next season, the 2013-14 year will certainly be make-or-break years for each. Also on Allen’s list is Herb Sendek, but he earned himself the benefit of the doubt with this season’s improvement, although if Jahii Carson winds up going pro this season, they’re likely back to square one. And then the final name on his list is Larry Krystkowiak, who is in no way on the hot seat whatsoever, as Utah will almost certainly give him the entirety of his five-year contract to turn things around.
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Morning Five: 03.26.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 26th, 2013

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    1. After a run of three straight trips to the Final Four UCLA has floundered despite its rich tradition and fertile recruiting base, which led to the eventual firing of Ben Howland. Many writers have tried to pinpoint the reason that Howland was unable to reach the same level of success he had early in his run at UCLA, but perhaps the most interesting theory we have heard comes from George Dohrmann (you may remember him for being rather unpopular around UCLA) who traces Howland’s downfall to an incident in 2009 where Howland turned his back on a recruit who Howland had offered a scholarship too then waited just long enough where the recruit was unable to secure another equally coveted scholarship offer. We are not quite sure that we put as much weight on that incident as Dohrmann appears to, but it certainly didn’t help. The question is whether UCLA can get a coach who is able to lift them back into contention for national titles. There are some pundits who question whether UCLA can become a national power again (we think it can although obviously never at the level of the Wooden dynasty), but Bill Plaschke is not among them and feels that the firing of Howland was a step in the right direction. If the Bruins are to become a national power again, Plaschke is probably right, but we will need to see who the UCLA administration can bring in to take back the local recruiting scene and make UCLA a premier destination for recruits again.
    2. Apparently beating a coach who was about to be fired (Howland) was not enough for Tubby Smith as he was fired by Minnesota yesterday. In the end, the NCAA Tournament and the season overall was a fairly accurate reflection of Smith’s time at Minnesota–full of ups and downs, which led the team to seemingly surprise and disappoint its fans at the same time. After leaving Kentucky following the decline of the program from a title in his first year (aka Pitino’s leftovers) to one that led it to the hands of Billy Clyde, Smith came to Minnesota with the expectation that he could help turn around a program that had shown great potential at times, but always remained a middle-tier Big Ten program at best. In the end Smith left the program roughly where he found it–the middle to bottom of the conference–after making the NCAA Tournament three times in six years (advancing past their first game only once, which was this year) and never finishing better than sixth in the conference as he finished with a 124-81 record overall and 46-62 in the Big Ten. Those clearly are not stellar numbers, but the question is whether Minnesota can land a bigger name than Smith (certainly nobody with a more impressive mustache than the one Smith sported this season). We have heard Shaka Smart‘s name thrown around online, but we can’t imagine that he would even bother talking to Minnesota when more enticing jobs are available (see above). The one name that would be interesting is former NBA coach Flip Saunders, who coached the Timberwolves and was offered up by his colleague Andy Katz (clearly trying to kill off the competition at ESPN).
    3. If you are looking for your buzzkill story line of the Sweet 16, Tim Layden has you covered as he digs into the resume of Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Enfield was primarily known for various blogs talking about his wife’s modeling career, but with each win there has been increasing scrutiny on his past including his involvement in a software company TractManager that Layden claims Enfield’s involvement is not as deep as Enfield has previously claimed. Honestly, we think this is basically a non-story and are surprised that SI decided to run with it, but we would not be surprised to see somebody try to make this into a media question on the days leading up to the Sweet 16.
    4. The season just ended, but teams have already started raiding other school’s coaching staffs and Brad Stevens’ Butler program is not immune to it as South Alabama hired Matthew Graves, Butler’s associate head coach. The hiring is not particularly surprising as the Jaguars were looking to replace Ronnie Arrow, who left after just 10 games this past season, but it is somewhat surprising that they would hire somebody who admitted that he “didn’t know a lot about South Alabama except for that moment before I looked into it” (last paragraph). Still the Stevens’ bloodline was probably good enough for a Sun Belt school, but it will be interesting to see if a Stevens disciple can carry on the tradition away from Butler (plenty of coaching trees have shown that results tend to be quite variable).
    5. There have been plenty of sportswriters who say college basketball is dying and have pointed to a few atrocious games this season as evidence, but don’t tell that to the American public at least according to a press release from Turner, which claims that NCAA ratings were the highest they have been for the opening weekend in 23 years. We would like to believe the headline number, but we get the feeling that these are probably more reflective of good numbers relative to the past few years that have been largely aided for the period preceding that in which there was only one channel for the NCAA Tournament to gather its cumulative rating from rather than the four channels viewers currently have to choose from during the opening weekend.
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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by KDoyle on March 25th, 2013

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Kevin Doyle (@KLDoyle11) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. 

The South Regional begins Friday night in Arlington, Texas, with Kansas vs. Michigan followed by Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast. The East Region ResetWest Region Reset and Midwest Region Reset published earlier today. Also make sure to follow RTCSouthRegion for news and analysis from Texas throughout the week.

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

New Favorite: #3 Florida. It hasn’t been an arduous road to the Sweet Sixteen as Florida dismantled #14 Northwestern State and #11 Minnesota to advance to Arlington. Although the Golden Gophers cut a 21-point halftime deficit down to eight midway through the second half, they never truly challenged Florida and the Gators coasted to an easy win. Did we learn anything that we already didn’t know about Florida in the process? Probably not. Billy Donovan’s team is as good as anyone at blowing out inferior competition, but it was impressive to see their resolve demonstrated against Minnesota. The common belief is that the Gators crumble down the stretch in close games — amazingly, they have not won a game by single digits this year — but there was no need for late-game drama this weekend. To reach the Elite Eight, Florida will have to next beat #15 Florida Gulf Coast. Not exactly murderer’s row to get to the South Region final by having to play against all double-digit seeds, but FGCU has already proven that it is far from a traditional #15 seed. After posting big wins over Georgetown and San Diego State, the Eagles have shown they can more than hang with any team in the NCAA Tournament. With that said, I projected Florida to win the region when the bracket was initially released and they’ve only confirmed that belief after the first weekend.

Horse of Darkness: #4 Michigan. So much for Shaka Smart’s vaunted havoc defense. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. had little problem dealing with Virginia Commonwealth’s pressing defense en route to a convincing 25-point victory. The Rams’ 71 point swing— a 46-point win against Akron and 25-point loss to Michigan — is by far the greatest two-game switcheroo in NCAA Tournament history, as the Wolverines demonstrated that all a team needs to foil Smart’s plan is a backcourt consisting of two NBA-level players. Michigan is grossly underseeded and is probably closer to a #2 seed than #4. This is a team that was ranked in the Top 10 for virtually the entire season, but limped into the NCAA Tournament after going 6-6 in its final 12 Big Ten games. It has been evident that Michigan’s style of play has kicked up a notch against non-Big Ten teams; South Dakota State and VCU’s urge to speed up the pace of the action seemed to play right into Michigan’s hands. With Trey Burke running the show, John Beilein has the best point guard in the South Region going up against a Kansas team that clearly lacks a steady one of its own. Kansas played one good half in the first two rounds — albeit an extremely good second half against North Carolina — but is ripe for the taking.

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #15 Florida Gulf Coast 78, #2 Georgetown 68. What, like you thought there could possibly be a surprise that trumps what Florida Gulf Coast did in Philadelphia on Friday and Sunday? Not only did the Eagles make history as the first #15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, they did so with flying colors — quite literally — in beating Georgetown and San Diego State by 10 points each. FGCU’s win over Georgetown was certainly a major surprise, as a 24-10 team that finished in second place in the Atlantic Sun and had been swept by Lipscomb soundly beat a 25-6 Big East team with a slew of wins over top teams. Yet after its resounding win over the Hoyas, was anyone that surprised with its victory over a San Diego State team that proved to be mostly average in a Mountain West Conference that went 2-5 in this year’s Dance? Neither win was a fluke for Andy Enfield’s squad; the Eagles flat out beat these two teams that spent much of the season ranked in the Top 25. From Andy Enfield’s story — a former NBA assistant with Rick Pitino, owning his own company called “Tract Manager,” and marrying a supermodel — to the fact that FGCU has been a Division I program for less than a decade, the endless stream of alley-oops and ridiculous dunks thrown down by high-flying no-name players, the swagger and jovial attitude of Sherwood Brown, and the heartwarming story of Brett Comer, among many other things… words simply cannot do justice to what Florida Gulf Coast accomplished over the weekend.

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