An early exit will more than likely be the last straw for UCLA’s head coach.
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
It’s that time of the year that college basketball fans get to see their sport in the spot light. Three weeks of buzzer beaters, drama, and some of the most passionate basketball a fan will ever see. This time of the year makes or breaks an entire season, and for UCLA head coach Ben Howland, it could make or break his entire tenure.
This is Howland’s tenth season as UCLA’s head coach, and for the last five of them, he has been living off of three consecutive Final Four appearances, with one National Championship Game appearance. Over the last four seasons UCLA has failed to make it to the Sweet 16, and they have missed the tournament in two out of the past three years.
How long can Howland live off of those Final Four appearances? Well if UCLA does not make a decent showing in this tournament, Howland may have to live off of a reported $2.3 million buy out.
UCLA has a high standard for their basketball program, so coaches who are not competing for national titles do not stick around long. Before Howland, Steve Lavin coached UCLA to five Sweet 16 appearances in seven years, and he was on the verge of being fired every season because the team did not make a run at the title.
With this current UCLA team, the preseason expectations were extremely high because they had the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, which featured Shabazz Muhammad, the top high school basketball player in the nation. UCLA had a pretty good season, winning the Pac-12 regular season title, but they had their ups and downs. That has not changed the expectations for this team, so Howland needs to get on a winning streak immediately.
That may be a tall order, especially with freshman Jordan Adams, the team’s second leading scorer, out for the rest of the season with an injured his foot. It can be argued that Adams has been their best player on the team this year, so losing him could be doomed for this season, and Howland’s tenure.
UCLA still has some star power, and NBA talented players, but they have a thin bench, partly because a number of talented players transferred out of the program over the past few years, which is another indication that Howland may be on his way out.
UCLA opens the tournament, and if odds makers get it right, they will be closing the tournament with Minnesota on Friday. UCLA is the No. 6 seed in the Southern Region, and Minnesota the No. 11 seed, but Minnesota is favored in the game. A first round exit will more than likely be the end for Howland.