In the English Premier League, top clubs who suffer stretches of disappointing results or flashes of personnel turmoil (or both) are almost immediately described as "clubs in crisis." This meme is so prevalent it often leads to backlash; media will just as often use the "crisis" phrasing jokingly.
Over here in the States, it is safe to use the term without a hint of irony in regard to at least one college basketball program. That program is UCLA.
The Bruins' recent history of personnel issues is well-documented. Forward Reeves Nelson was suspended indefinitely and then reinstated after the Bruins lost to Middle Tennessee State, their second horrid loss (the first coming against Loyola Marymount) to begin the season. Nelson's reinstatement hit an immediate snag when he missed the team flight to Maui for the Maui Invitational. Nelson caught a later flight and sat out the first half of UCLA's eventual win over Chaminade. To his credit (in so far as we should be giving credit for this sort of baseline expectation) Nelson did look more engaged and in sync with his teammates on the island. But UCLA still struggled. The Bruins were blown out by Kansas and Michigan, and they left Maui with only the Chaminade win to show for the trip. The Bruins are now 1-4 on the season. They play Pepperdine tonight.
Throw in some good old-fashioned fan rebellion, and long story short? Whatever barometer you want to use for the inclusion of the word "crisis," UCLA meets or exceeds it.
The question is whether Ben Howland can reverse the trend in time to save this season. A variety of things need to happen. UCLA's guards have to play better. Big-bodied forward Josh Smith has to get into game shape. (Smith is a very tough interior player, but not when he has to be taken out of the game every five trips down the floor.) The defense, long the staple of Howland's program, has to take some shape. And Nelson, UCLA's best and most productive player, has to get out of the coach's doghouse and back into the full-time lineup. Now that UCLA is back from the Maui trip, is Howland ready to make that happen? Turns out, not quite. From our friends at ESPN Los Angeles:
Back in Southern California after spending the early part of the week at the Maui Invitational, UCLA men's basketball coach Ben Howland said troubled forward Reeves Nelson will not return to the starting lineup "any time soon." [...] "He's got to have a good attitude and be accountable for a while," Howland said. "I thought he did a good job in the second half of the Chaminade game and the Kansas game, but sometimes he slips back to his old practice habits and he's just got to get better."
In other words, it appears the Nelson situation is far from resolved. Howland still needs to see more. Until he does, UCLA will not be playing at full strength, and this team -- which has struggled in so many facets early this season -- can nary afford to play games with its best player riding the pine for any significant period of time.
In the meantime -- as if things couldn't get any sillier in Westwood -- forward Travis Wear injured his foot on a Maui snorkeling trip last week. He required five stitches and missed practice Saturday; he'll be reevaluated ahead of UCLA's game vs. Pepperdine Monday night. When it rains ... well, you get the idea.