Not even the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, that featured Shabazz Muhammad (left), could save Ben Howland’s coaching job. Photo by The Associated Press
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Clock has not struck midnight yet for some teams
A few Cinderellas have made it to the second weekend of the tournament, and for a couple of them, they are crashing the party pretty hard.
By far the most talked about team in the tournament is Florida Gulf Coast (FGCU), who is making their first ever appearance in the tournament. They have certainly made their mark, becoming the first No. 15 seed ever to make it to the Sweet 16.
FGCU is not just getting by and upsetting better teams with lucky buzzer beaters, they are dominating their oppositions so far. They are fast breaking and throwing down dunks off of lobs like they are the Clippers. They ran No. 2 Georgetown off of the court in the first round, and then No. 7 San Diego State, winning both games by 10 points each.
FGCU is a fun team to watch, and they have gotten hot at the perfect time.
Another low seed that has looked really good has been No. 12 Oregon, who were probably miss seeded. The PAC-12 did not get much respect with the rankings, and Oregon, who won the PAC-12 Tournament, are proving that they were disrespected.
Oregon defeated No. 5 Oklahoma St. by 13 points, and No. 4 Saint Louis, who some people had going to the Final Four, by 17 points. Oregon may have been treated like a Cinderella team, but they are proving that they are for real. In their Sweet 16 match up, they have No. 1 Louisville, who probably will not be taking Oregon lightly.
UCLA’s firing of Ben Howland stirs debates
Over Ben Howland’s 10 years at UCLA, he led them to three consecutive Final Four appearances and they made it to the National Championship Game. Coaches with a resume like that typically do not get fired, but for UCLA, it was time to move in a different direction.
Howland is a great coach, and many people believe that it is a huge mistake to fire a guy who accomplished what he did. But how long could Howland live off of his early success at UCLA? At some point he needed to win big or lose his job.
Over the past five seasons, since UCLA’s last Final Four appearance, UCLA has only won two tournament games, they have not advanced past the second round, and over the past four years they missed the tournament twice.
A resume like that over a five year period at a program that is about competing for national titles will get a coach fired.
In this tournament Howland was coaching for his job. Seeing that his team was never really in their game against 11th seeded Minnesota in the first round of the tournament, it was pretty easy to see that he would not be retained at UCLA. They were down by double digits early on in the game, and the poor showing, coupled with the previous flameouts, led to UCLA pulling the plug on Howland’s tenure.
This current team had huge expectations with the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation, which featured Shabazz Muhammad, the No. 1 ranked high school basketball player in the nation a year ago. UCLA had veteran players and some of the younger members of the team had NBA talent. But UCLA was inconsistent all season long and then they were quickly bounced out of the NCAA Tournament.
Some people have pointed out that UCLA won the PAC-12 regular season title, and that they were ranked. But that does not keep a coach around at UCLA. A coach has to at least compete for a national championship, which means multiple wins in the NCAA tournament.
Gonzaga finally gets respect…and loses as usual
Gonzaga has been the ultimate Cinderella team for years, but this season they finally got the respect that they were looking for. After years of upsetting a number of powerhouse programs, and making deep runs in the tournament, they were finally given a No. 1 seed.
With a No. 1 seed in hand, and on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Gonzaga was nearly upset by No. 16 Southern (a No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16), and No. 9 Wichita knocked them off in the second round.
For Gonzaga, once a Cinderella, always a Cenderalla. When they were not expected to do much, they made a lot of noise in the tournament. When they were expected to perform well, the clock struck midnight on them early.