After an idle week, the Huskies open Pac-12 play in Seattle against UCLA on Thursday and USC on Sunday. The Bruins come to Hec-Ed on a three-game losing streak and only 7-6 for the year. They have losses to Hofstra and Cal State-Fullerton. It’s the first year on the job for Mick Cronin, who had consistently good teams at Cincinnati, so it’s hard to put the blame at his feet. They still have seven players on their roster who were rated as top-100 recruits coming out of high school, but the damage done during Steve Alford’s tenure will take time to reverse. The descent of the UCLA program goes back further than that, and it’s jarring to think about how far they have fallen.
Everyone knows that UCLA was the preeminent college basketball program of the 1960s and 70s, but some younger fans might not understand the magnitude of their dominance. John Wooden took over UCLA in the 1948-49 season. Although the team was regularly in the top 15-20 right away, the Bruin dynasty didn’t kick into high gear for another 10 years. The 61-62 team made it to the national semifinal. The next season, they went to the title game. Finally, the following season, future NBA greats Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich led the Bruins to an undefeated national title. They would win nine of the next ten national championships and ten of twelve. During the three seasons from 66-69, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the team to an 88-2 record, three national titles, and an average margin of victory of about 28 points per game. They won two national titles in relative down years, and then Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes led the team to consecutive 30-0 championship seasons. Wooden closed out his career with in 1975 with another national title.
The team stayed generally very good under Wooden’s successors until a fallow period under alum Walt Hazzard in the late ‘80s. Jim Harrick took over for Hazzard and sandwiched some decent seasons around the 1995 National Title- exactly 20 years after Wooden’s last triumph. That team, led by the O’Bannons and Tyus Edney, lost only twice all year. Steve Lavin took over for Harrick and made several Sweet 16s and an Elite 8, but never better. Ben Howland came in from Pitt and went to the Final Four three years in a row, producing players like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, and Jrue Holiday in the process. The inmates became restless and forced Howland out after a few lesser years. Alford made the Sweet 16 three times, including the ’17 team that was a true contender, but after a couple bad years and talent attrition, Alford, too, was out.
When Dean Smith left UNC, the team struggled for about a decade until Roy Williams came in and brought the team back to national prominence. The school Williams left, Kansas, stayed at a high level when they hired Bill Self. Post-Adolph Rupp, Kentucky has won the title with four different coaches. Louisville, too, won titles during extended periods of success with Denny Crum and Rick Pitino. Perhaps Wooden set the bar too high. No coach will ever replicate his level of success, so every coach who takes over UCLA does so in his shadow. Harrick’s national title was not enough to build a dynasty, nor were Howland’s trio of final fours. Will Cronin be able to turn the tide? He certainly won’t be given 10-12 years to get his feet under him like Wooden was. Either way, this season is a transitional one for the Bruins, and it will be up to the Dawgs to take advantage on Thursday.
The final week of non-conference play went according to script for the Pac. The bad teams stayed bad- UCLA lost to CS-Fullerton and Harvard topped Cal. Stanford got off to a surprisingly good start to the season behind Oscar da Silva and Tyrell Terry, but they couldn’t keep it close with Kansas over the weekend. Most of the rest of the conference took care of business in tune-up games to get right as they head into the teeth of the schedule.
Two match-ups stand out on this first weekend of conference play. Oregon has had the best non-conference results and they have ascended to #4 in the AP poll. Wins over Michigan, Memphis, Seton Hall, and Houston demonstrated that Dana Altman’s team came out of the gates quickly, even with a new cast of characters around Payton Pritchard. They will face a stiff test immediately with a road game against Colorado. The altitude makes every game in Boulder tougher, but the Buffs have experience and talent to go with their home court advantage this year. At 11-2 and with a win over Dayton, Colorado brings a balanced attack into the game with Oregon. The Ducks shoot threes very well, but the Buffs are great at limiting three point attempts. Oregon cannot rest on their prior accomplishments. If they come out flat, Colorado will give them a loss to open conference play.
The other noteworthy matchup off the bat is the in-state rivalry game between Arizona and Arizona State. The Cats started the season in great fashion with nine straight wins, but they have lost three of four to Baylor, Gonzaga, and St. John’s. Nico Mannion, Zeke Nnaji, and Josh Green have emerged as an outstanding trio of freshmen. Bobby Hurley’s Sun Devils have not been as good, though each of their four losses are to teams in the top 50 of the KenPom ratings. Romello White is a very efficient power forward and Remy Martin is a pest on the perimeter. Even if Arizona deserves to be favored, I expect the game to be competitive.
The Kentucky-Louisville match-up from Lexin
gton stood out as the top game on the schedule over the weekend and it didn’t disappoint. The score was within one possession for the last 4:38 of regulation. Louisville’s Lamarr Kimble made an acrobatic running layup to tie the game with 10 seconds left. Keion Brooks tipped a Tyrese Maxey miss at the buzzer, but it rattled agonizingly out to send the game to OT. Jordan Nwora put the Cardinals up three with 2:22 remaining, but the Wildcats went on a 13-2 run down the stretch. Junior Nick Richards, who has been overshadowed in his first two years, put his stamp on the game in the last two minutes. He scored seven down the stretch to secure the big win.
While this weekend doesn’t offer any games between the very best in the country, there are still some interesting games. Ohio State will try to rebound from a loss to West Virginia against an always tricky Wisconsin squad. Those same Mountaineers have another shot to knock off a top team in Lawrence against #3 Kansas. Villanova leapt into the top 10 after a win over Kansas and will have a tough one away to Marquette. The top game is probably Sunday’s showdown between Michigan and Michigan State. Both teams have been in the top five at times this year but have fallen out of the top 10.
Which team will win the Pac-12 Regular Season?
This poll is closed