Ben Howland

UCLA rebounds from early-season woes to claim Pac-12 title

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After UCLA lost at home to Cal-Poly, we were all ready to send Ben Howland off to the broadcast booth.

Things still didn’t look so swell even after Shabazz Muhammad finally became eligible when Tony Parker  seemed to indicate that he was not entirely happy at UCLA.

Howland might be excused for asking “How you like me now?” today, after his team stayed the course, found some momentum, and nailed down the Pac-12 regular season title, winning 61-54 at Washington to finish the season 23-8 (13-5) and ranked No. 23 in the nation.

The circumstances of the win seemed to vindicate Howland’s decision to build his team around transfers and freshmen, a choice that seemed absurd when the season began. Against Washington, much-maligned former Tar Heel Larry Drew II made a crucial layup late, and frosh Jordan Adams came up with a steal and free throws down the stretch to slam the door. Shabazz Muhammad, who may be auditioning for his NBA close-up as we speak, was the leading scorer with 22 points.

Poise – a word not easily applied to the Bruin program over the past couple of years – won the day, and the season, for UCLA. The Bruins got it done when it mattered most, on the same day when Oregon choked away a shot at the title by losing to cellar-dwelling Utah.

Winning with freshmen and transfers might be John Calipari’s calling card at Kentucky, but he’s got competition from Westwood this year. Veteran play from Drew at the point makes UCLA – a 6-seed in Dave Ommen’s latest bracket predictions – a fair bet to move up the national rankings and the seed lines if they can hold serve in the Pac-12 tournament.

Could a top-4 seed be in the offing for the team that lost to Cal Poly this year? If so, they’ve earned it.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?