The UCLA Bruins and Pac-12 basketball in general could receive an instant upgrade today if Shabazz Muhammad decides to head down the I-15 from Vegas to Westwood. But the Kentucky Wildcats are putting on the full court press, and with a national championship under his belt, John Calipari is pretty much in the perfect position to offer the right counter-press to the creaking facade Ben Howland has presented the past few years.
Howland has banked a lot on landing Muhammad among many other talented freshmen. You get the feeling Athletic Director Dan Guerrero has done the same, or otherwise it's unlikely Howland would still be coaching the Bruins. Those recruiting connections are deep (Adidas y'all), and they've kept the Bruins afloat.
If UCLA doesn't land Muhammad, they literally have no wing depth. It's the experienced Tyler Lamb (who'd probably best be served off the bench) and the talented but raw Adams to pair up as the main wing threats on this squad. And that's about it. Then you have Larry Drew II and Anderson fighting for the point guard spot, and a glut of talented but defensively-challenged big men.
Sounds like a slightly better version of 2011. Certainly not enough to guarantee a Sweet 16 appearance for the Bruins. Certainly not enough to save Howland's job.
But if UCLA DOES get Shabazz, the backcourt suddenly becomes a strength with an elite wing starter, two workables, and two solid point options. Having a slasher of Shabazz's abilities really makes things very difficult for conference opponents that lack athleticism at the 3. In a Pac-12 in a bit of a downswing, the Bruins instantly become one of the conference favorites and a potential title sleeper. A return to glory could start opening the eyes of the best players to the options that await them in LA.
So much could be at stake for UCLA basketball tomorrow, short-term and long-term. And even if Howland does get the commitment he seeks, the work has only begun for him.