Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Take Two: Too much hype?
By Eamonn Brennan and Dana O'Neil
Editor’s note: Each week, ESPN.com writers will debate a topic of interest in the college basketball landscape. Today’s topic: Which teams are garnering too much (and possibly unwarranted) preseason buzz? Which teams aren’t receiving enough?
Eamonn Brennan: UCLA
When the magazines hit the shelves this fall, and when the first official preseason poll is released, the expectations for UCLA will be sky-high. They already are. That's what happens when you pull in four top-100 recruits, two of which (small forwards Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad) are ranked in the top five overall. That's what happens when you add No. 26-ranked Tony Parker, and No. 41-ranked Jordan Adams.
That's what happens when you assemble this kind of talent, when you become the first team in four years to unseat Kentucky at the top of the recruiting rankings: We expect everything, we expect it immediately, and we have no patience for anything less.
Make no mistake: UCLA will be good. Probably very good. But there are very good reasons to ask whether Ben Howland's remarkable recruiting rebirth isn't an obvious guarantee of top-five, national title-level success.
Why? We have little evidence Howland can manage a highly touted assemblage of freshmen stars; in fact, the best evidence we have -- George Dohrmann's investigative profile in Sports Illustrated -- went so far as to assert the opposite: That Howland's teams are best when they are as low-maintenance as possible, that the way he treats talented players is anathema to his overall coaching style. At the very least, John Calipari he is not.
Even assuming that Howland has learned from the freshman-related mistakes of the past, there are still lingering questions about the returning players. Forward Joshua Smith remains a promising problem child, and forwards Travis and David Wear played at their best when on the floor together, but with Parker in the mix, how often can that happen? How will UCLA manage the minutes split between Muhammad, Anderson and Adams, the three dynamic incoming small forwards? Will the four freshmen adapt to the tough defensive style that led Howland to three straight Final Fours?
You get the idea. There's more to basketball than acquiring talent. As a program, there's no question UCLA is ascendant anew. But Howland and his staff have plenty to prove before we can rightly consider this team -- as we all seem to be automatically doing -- a national title contender. Until that happens, let's calibrate our expectations accordingly.
Dana O’Neil: Louisville
It may seem silly to question the early buzz on a team that is coming off a Final Four run (and perhaps it is), but I am still not all-in with Louisville. There are plenty of things I like about the Cardinals -- the fact the heart of the team is back, that Wayne Blackshear will be in the lineup from the opening tip, that Mike Marra returns from injury and above all else, their defensive tenacity.
Here’s the worry: the offense. Louisville struggled to score last season and with its best outside threat graduating in the form of Kyle Kuric, that doesn’t look to get any easier. I thought Luke Hancock, the George Mason transfer, might help ease that burden but the Cardinals appear to be carrying their injury bug from last season into the next.
Hancock injured his shoulder in a workout and will miss the next few months, according to Rick Pitino. He should return by the start of the season, but it’s still a significant blow for a team that already plans to be without Rakeem Buckles (still, again, pick your qualifier).
Louisville overachieved last year by miles to make it to the Final Four, and while this team certainly has reason to hope, I think it’s still a little premature to presume.