The storyline game is here. First, we'll have this chat with UCLA Bruins' preeminent blog, Bruins Nation; and pregame analysis will come this afternoon. (ed note: pregame post now linked.)
Steve Lavin goes back to Pauley Pavilion, where he coached for 7 high-wire years of high expectations, falling short, rising from the ashes, frustrated fans, and finally a boot in the backside after his one losing season.
What kind of reception will Lavin get when he goes back to Cali?
When Steve Lavin was hired by the St. John's Red Storm, detractors pointed to his career with the UCLA Bruins as a reason why he was completely incompetent, bringing up the goofy stories that surrounded him at the time - he was too slick, talked too much, rode an exercise bike while in a gym recruiting a player.
He failed to meet UCLA's standards. He had some negatives to address. He was a question mark. But looking back, I never thought he was that bad. He could have been better, given the talent. But his record is nothing to sneeze at (especially compared to, say, St. John's recent history).
I asked 10 questions to DC Bruin on Bruins Nation to dig in to the Lavin hate, but also into Ben Howland, the current Bruins, and good places to eat in Westwood for those going to the game. Catch up with the answers and links below, and the links above, to get a sense of the... "feeling" for Coach Lavin.
Feel free to add comments or reactions below, as well!
1. Is it all UCLA fans who hate Steve Lavin, just the die-hards, or just the older fans? Do the current students view him as a slick, incompetent boogeyman, as well?
He is not a boogeyman. Boogeyman are figments of one's imagination. He is like being sprayed by a skunk, it takes a long time to get the smell off and you never forget. Current students will likely not be as up on it. It will be an important game because of your RPI and CBS to them.
2. So, out east and from a distance, some can see why UCLA fans hate Steve Lavin so much - he's like Mike Jarvis was to St. John's, but without the recruiting/ player violations. But to others, it seems non-sensical, since he brought the UCLA Bruins to a number of Sweet Sixteen. Explain why he means so much (negatively) to the Bruins' fans and where he fell short of expectations.
Read my post at Bruins Nation. (ed. note: it's extensive.)
3. Is this the most anticipated game on the schedule? Which games are more important?
St. John's is playing UCLA at a great time for St. John's. We just came off our most important and emotional game of the year, a win over USC. USC had beaten us four times in a row in basketball, our longest losing streak against them since the 1940s. They also destroyed us last year at home. It was probably our biggest of the year, with BYU second but not having the same emotional value.
We are also very concerned about the PAC 10. We are tied for second one game back of first place and in the running there. We are also banged up. Our PG Zeek Jones is playing with a dislocated finger and had an X-ray on his other wrist. Reeves Nelson has been playing with a sprained ankle and Tyler Honeycutt has a bum elbow.
There would be a real concern of a letdown against whoever we play next. Let alone an out of conference game. It may be hard for the players to get up for St. John's because they have a good RPI.
4. How is Ben Howland doing? He's not really on the hot seat, is he? Why or why not?
Down years happen but losing seasons should not happen at UCLA. It is unacceptable but it did happen last year (see the Bruins Nation post on it). Because of that he really needs to make the Tourney this year. That said, Howland can coach and is making a comeback. If he gets UCLA back to the tourney his seat will not be hot. If he misses the Tourney this year, dam well better believe it.
5. UCLA looks awesome some games, and very mediocre in others - beating UC Irvine by 1 point? The loss to Southern Cal? But I think they've looked better recently. What are UCLA's main problems and how are they being addressed?
UCLA is very young. The starting lineup is a freshman, two sophomores, a JC transfer and a junior. They take their foot off the gas in some games and let teams back in. There is also a depth problem. In that UCI game Honeycutt did not play. In the USC game we lost, Zeek Jones had his dislocated finger taped wrong and was not comfortable playing.
Related to that we have some conditioning issues. Joshua Smith averages only 20 minutes a game and has fouling issues. Reeves Nelson can get tired when he plays too many minutes. This has kept some games close that should not have been close.
On the flipside, we have won many of those close games and it may help us down the stretch.
6. The frontline of Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson, and Josh Smith looks like it should be really good. Are they? How does that front line rank in the Pac-10?
None of them will make the first team PAC 10, except maybe Smith on the freshman first team. But collective they can be good.
7. How have the early NBA/ transfer departures hurt the Bruins?
It is something the media makes too big a deal about. It did not hurt the three final four teams when each year arguably the biggest star left (Jordan Farmar left after the first final four and then Aaron Affallo after the second). I guess Jrue Holiday leaving after his Freshman year in 2008-09 hurt because it was somewhat unexpected. In a sense our PG situation was a mess the last two years and is finally fixed. In 2008-09 we had Darren Collision at the Point with Jrue Holiday out of position at the 2 guard spot. It may have created a few chemistry issues. I think everyone was shocked when Collision decided to stay for his senior year. The next year no one expected Holiday to leave and we kind of played last year without a PG.
But that is not an excuse. All teams deal with it and we were dealing with it well a few years before.
8. Who has the potential to be the best player for the Bruins against St. John's (who are athletic, but have a smaller front line)? Who has potential to be a real weak spot?
On offense, Smith had one of his best games against USC Wednesday. He could be ready to break out. He looks to be a very tough matchup for St. John's. On defense, Malcolm Lee may be the best defense wing in the country. he has shut down some of the best players in the country including Jimmer Fredette.
On weakness, Tyler Honeycutt has had some trouble covering smaller guards against a three guard lineup.
9. What does the future hold for the UCLA basketball team, this year and in the future? Will they make the NCAAs? Will they re-emerge to own the west?
On the first part, I really think UCLA will be a tournament team this year. If Malcolm Lee and others come back, I think there is a good chance we will reemerge in 2011-12 as a top team out west and in the country.
10. For the Red Storm fans who are traveling to the UCLA game, what are some good places to eat in the Westwood area, both cheap and mid-priced, if you have any input. Also, good places for coffee - that game is on early!
The best spot in Westwood is Barney's Beanery ... which is also a sports bar. It's on Broxton.
Diddy Riese is good for ice cream sandwiches on fresh cookies.
Sepi's Sub's is an ancient Bruin tradition on Le Conte.
There is both an In and Out and a Fatburger -- two Cali traditions in the Village.