UCLA coach Ben Howland and freshman Shabazz Muhammad. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
The rumors of UCLA’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Early in the season it looked bleak for UCLA after struggling to beat Georgia and losing to Cal Poly. The Bruins chemistry looked shoddy and they were working to incorporate Shabazz Muhammad into the lineup.
Now the Bruins are tied for first in the Pac-12 and Muhammad, along with other freshmen Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are key contributors to the team’s success.
Those freshmen are now meshing with North Carolina transfers, David and Travis Wear and Larry Drew II, to form a team that can score and will put fear in the hearts of any team in March.
That being said; regular season success isn’t the measuring stick in Westwood. It’s Final Fours and national championships and any season when neither happens is a disappointment. So while I commend the Bruins for figuring it out, they have a long way to go to please their fans.
It’s March. No stock report this week as we have conference tournament previews.
BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE: This is a league that’s grown in numbers and appears to be undergoing a changing of the guard. UNC-Asheville and Coastal Carolina had been at or near the top of the standings lately, but this year Charleston Southern and High Point have taken over that mantle. I like experience and until proven otherwise, I think UNC-Asheville will find itself in the NCAA tournament again.
HORIZON LEAGUE: Butler is gone, but the top of the conference looks similar to last season. Valparaiso finished in first, the same place it finished in 2012 while Detroit finished second – one spot above where it finished last year. In the conference tournament Detroit avenged regular season losses to Valpo to get to the dance. I think Detroit is the more talented and more explosive team and will go dancing again.
OHIO VALLEY: One of the more underrated moves in conference realignment was Belmont leaving the Atlantic Sun to go to the OVC. That move has proven to be a good one for the Bruins as they won the regular season title in the league while gaining a conference mate that rivals them in quality in Murray St. The Racers return one of the best players in the country in Isaiah Canaan, but did not finish the season well. Watch out for Eastern Kentucky, but I think you have to go with the Bruins in this league.
ATLANTIC SUN: Florida Gulf Coast beat Miami earlier this season and looked to be in good shape. However, Mercer walked the Eagles down even with a loss to them last week. Mercer is hosting the conference tournament and I expect the Bears to be tough to beat on their home court.
On to the Bracket.
Last Four In: Tennessee, Saint Mary’s, Villanova, Iowa St
Last Four Out: Kentucky, Alabama, Iowa, Arizona St
This bracket is good for games thru 3/3
1.Indiana16.Norfolk St/Charleston Southern Dayton, OH
5.Saint Louis12.Akron Salt Lake City
6.Illinois11.Louisiana Tech Salt Lake City
7.North Carolina10.La Salle Philadelphia
1.Duke16.Robert Morris Philadelphia
5.Arizona12.Belmont Dayton, OH
4.Ohio St13.Villanova/St. Mary’s
6.UNLV11.Virginia Kansas City
3.Kansas St14.Stephen F. Austin
7.VCU10.Colorado Lexington, KY
1.Kansas16.Montana Kansas City
5.UCLA12.Boise St San Jose
6.Syracuse11.Colorado St Auburn Hills, MI
7.Butler10.Wichita St Lexington, KY
2.Miami(FL)15.Long Beach St
1.Gonzaga16.Northeastern/Southern San Jose
8.California9.San Diego St
6.NC State11.Middle Tennessee St Austin
3.Florida14.South Dakota St
7.Notre Dame10.Temple Auburn Hills, MI
In graphical form