This morning I was watching ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, and a few commentators were talking about the UCLA loss last night. Doug Gottlieb piped into the discussion and said that UCLA looked weak because of missteps in recruiting. I got really pissed, though, when Gottlieb made specific reference to Klay Thompson being at WSU and not UCLA, and he said “C’mon. You’re UCLA. You should have those types of recruits.” So begins this rant.
I’m from Southern California. Growing up, I was forced to choose a side: UCLA or USC. I often arbitrarily chose UCLA because it was the lesser of two evils in my opinion. Down there, those were the only teams that mattered. However, after I moved up to Pullman and I became a Coug fan, I began to despise those Southern California Pac-10 schools and their smugness, their sense of entitlement. When I would visit family and friends, they didn’t even know Washington State was in the Pac-10. I would constantly receive the distasteful comment of “oh, Washington State. . . that’s the Huskies, right?” Over the past few years, I have become a self-righteous Coug fan that is bitter about the success of USC & UCLA teams that have advantages in recruiting, climate, and funds.
So, I was pleased that Stanford crushed USC this weekend, and was I excited when Cal State Fullerton beat UCLA last night. The giants fell this week. Even if it is a momentary setback for them, it still feels good. No matter how it cripples Pac-10 national exposure, I don’t want USC football to win the conference. And from the looks of last night, UCLA is far from regaining the conference title in basketball. Now, if the Cougs were more competitive and were in bowl contention, I would be more excited about the shifts of power in football this year. Alas, WSU football is terrible. But, basketball is a different story.
Pac-10 basketball is looking interesting right now after that UCLA loss. Sure, the media didn’t pick UCLA to be first in the conference; and, sure, it was just UCLA’s first game; and, sure, Cal State Fullerton has had some success lately. But, we are still talking about UCLA here. UCLA is a dynasty team. Like Carroll across town, we expect Ben Howland to reload his roster every year with blue chip talent. That is what the media thought, considering Dragovic (by the way , I Hate That Guy!) was the only returning starter and the media picked them third. Many people (ex: Nuss) talked about how unknown 3rd through 8th place will be in the Pac-10 this year, and I think the UCLA game last night definitely contributes to this theory.
Let’s face it, UCLA looked BAD last night. I would say it was more than just an off night for shooting that did UCLA in. They looked slow, they looked very sloppy, their defense was not what I expect from a Howland team, and they just looked very, very green. I would not be surprised if Howland worked some of his magic and got the team to the Tournament, but UCLA looks very beatable (more beatable than I can remember in a long time). I’m not the only person that was a little nervous when the Cougs squeaked out a win against Eastern yesterday, but that UCLA game made me feel a whole lot better about the Cougs chances in the conference. Comparatively, the Cougs looked more disciplined and smarter than UCLA (even though the Cougs have a lot of room for improvement). I know that the free throw percentage was discouraging for our game, but then I looked at the free throw and three point percentage for the UCLA game. Yuck! It is exciting for me to think (for the first time since I have been a Coug fan) that we have a legitimate chance to beat UCLA this year in basketball.
Okay, so I am comparing one bad game by UCLA and one mediocre game by the Cougs at the beginning of the season. UCLA has had some bad luck in the off-season with some of their better players. I am making a WAY too early assumption that UCLA is looking bad this year. I know, it was unfair for people to discount Oregon when Boise State manhandled them in the first game of this football season, and I shouldn’t do the same to UCLA. Fair enough.
But, back to Gottlieb’s comment, most of the country (with ESPN’s guidance) and especially UCLA and USC don’t see any problem with Gottlieb’s comment. Why shouldn’t UCLA have the best recruits? Why wouldn’t Klay go to UCLA? UCLA and USC deserve the best college players, right? No. Other schools in the Pac-10 deserve a shot at the Pac-10 title, a shot at taking down big schools like USC (football) and UCLA (basketball), and a shot at making their programs just as nationally relevant. I want to see a competitive conference, and not just domination from the two schools that ESPN expects to be successful in their respective dynasty sport.
It is exciting to me when USC doesn’t look dominant in football and UCLA doesn’t look dominant in basketball. It is nice to see that those programs are fallible, and other non-dynasty programs get a chance at revenge for all the poundings of years past.
Okay, I will now step down from my Palouse-shaped soapbox.