Déjà vu all over again for UCLA?

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Ben Howland can’t take much more of this.

UCLA’s miserable 2009-10 season – 14-18 overall, 8-10 in the Pac-10 and losses to the likes of Cal State-Fullerton, Portland and Long Beach State – should’ve been a hiccup. The Bruins had myriad injuries, underwhelming talent and rarely displayed the nasty defense Howland’s teams showcased during his Final Four run of 2006-2008.

So what’s changed? Howland added a pair of heralded recruits (Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb) and the roster is finally healthy.

And still can’t avoid embarrassing losses.

Sunday’s 66-57 setback to Montana shouldn’t have happened. Not at home. Not after the way UCLA played during Thursday’s last-second loss to Kansas. And certainly not against an average Big Sky team. (And to come on a night when cross-town rival USC thumps Texas? Ouch. It’s not sitting well with Bruins fans.)

“The way we played, yeah (it reminded us of last year),” Malcolm Lee told the L.A. Daily News. “Our capabilities, we could’ve played way better. I think we took this team just too lightly. Especially coming off a three-game losing streak. I think it was a hidden feeling that we almost beat Kansas.”

UCLA scored just 28 points in the first half. It made just 31.3 percent of its shots, mostly because it missed nearly 20 layups. The defense disappeared (Montana shot 52 percent from the field) and Tyler Honeycutt, who couldn’t miss against Kansas, connected on just 3 of 12 shots.

“It’s early, but it’s a bad loss, no question,” Howland told the paper. “We have to control our future by having better practices. It’s frustrating that it’s now always a given. This was a nightmare deal.”

Thing is, this feels like another hiccup. The Bruins’ three previous losses were to Villanova, VCU and Kansas, all of which are NCAA tournament teams. They play faster than usual (through seven games, they get about three more possessions than in previous seasons under Howland) and the defense is starting to resemble its old self. Things should work out.

Except … the terrific on-ball defenders Howland used to have aren’t around anymore. Their point guards (Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson) stink. Lee’s a nice complementary player, but not a great option as a scoring guard. Smith killed Kansas’ frontline, but was irrelevant against Montana.

By season’s end, UCLA will probably have 20 wins, but only because the Pac-10 is a good way to boost one’s overall record. Even if the Bruins make the Big Dance, they’re a lock to lose in the first round.

That’s not good enough in UCLA. Howland’s Final Four run undoubtedly earned him another season with the Bruins, but it’ll be one without any room for error.

If he lasts that long.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller.

Knee injury sidelines Illinois forward Leron Black

Josh Hart, Leron Black
Associated Press
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Illinois will be shorthanded in its front court for the time being, as during the team’s media day Thursday head coach John Groce announced that sophomore forward Leron Black is out due to injury.

Black will undergo surgery Friday to repair a meniscus tear in his knee, and he’s expected to miss anywhere from four to six weeks. A return after four weeks would have Black back on the court just before the Fighting Illini open their season November 13 against North Florida. Any longer and the Memphis native would wind up missing some game action.

Black averaged 5.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action per game as a freshman. He’s one of the players expected to contribute in the front court for the Fighting Illini, who lost their best interior defender and second-leading rebounder in Nnanna Egwu at the end of last season (guard Rayvonte Rice, who led the team in rebounding, is also gone).

In addition to Black and junior Maverick Morgan, Illinois adds redshirt freshman Michael Finke and grad student Mike Thorne Jr. (via Charlotte) to their front court rotation.

Coach Hamilton likes mix on Florida State basketball roster

ACC Basketball Tournament: Florida State v North Carolina
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State is the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference that returns all five of its starters from last season.

For most teams that would be cause for celebration. For coach Leonard Hamilton it means he is hoping the struggles of the past two seasons have been valuable experience.

The Seminoles had their first practice on Wednesday as they are looking to bounce back from a season in which they went 17-16 and didn’t play in a postseason tournament for the first time in 10 years.

“We have five starters returning from a team that won 17 games. We have guys that have been around, who know their shortcomings and can pass on their wisdom to the younger players,” Hamilton said.

With an experienced roster and a highly regarded recruiting class, Hamilton is hoping to lead the Seminoles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, which is also the year they won the ACC Tournament.

Jarquez Smith, the leading returning scorer from last season, said the open gyms before the start of practice have been extremely competitive as the incoming recruiting class has tried to assert itself early.

“We’ve been going at each other’s neck and it has gotten very competitive,” Smith said. “Everyone is fighting for their position because the guys coming off the bench are just as athletic as who is on the court.”

The newcomers feature Dwayne Bacon (a McDonald’s All-American selection), Terance Mann (the Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire) and Malik Beasley (the Georgia 1A Player of the Year). There’s also Chris Koumadje, who at 7-foot-4 will be the tallest player in school history, and Benji Bell, who helped lead Northwest Florida State to the JUCO National Title.

“This is a very confident and focused group of inexperienced players,” Hamilton said. “They want to make something special happen but aren’t taking anything for granted.”

Two things that Hamilton will look to work on during preseason practices is defense and figuring out his rotation. The Seminoles suffered from a lack of depth last season but this year he could have a roster that goes 10 deep and allows him to go to more of a full-court pressing style of defense.

Xavier Rahan-Mayes led the team in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points en route to becoming the first freshman in ACC history to score 30 or more points three times. The one thing he said he noticed in preseason practices were that everyone played off each other’s strengths.

Florida State’s first exhibition game is Nov. 2 against Lynn University before opening the season on Nov. 15 against Nicholls State.

“I think we have a pretty good combination of experience and an influx of new players. Any time you have that type of scenario you appreciate it,” Hamilton said. “It looks like we have it moving in the right direction. We’ve had a good offseason and regrouped.”