It's been mentioned frequently, but Bruin fans should take a moment to appreciate the historical (Wooden-esque) significance of what this season's achievements (so far) mean. Under Steve Lavin we got used to dubious historical achievements (worst conference finishes ever, worst loss ever, first losing season in 50 years, etc.).
UCLA just advanced to consecutive Final Fours for the first time since they went to ten (TEN!) straight Final Fours during the height of the John Wooden-era between 1967 and 1976 (the last under Gene Bartow).
In the 29 seasons in between, UCLA went to a grand total of two (TWO!) Final Fours (losing in the 1980 final under Larry Brown, and winning their only post-Wooden championship in 1995 under Jim Harrick).
Howland has now equaled that total in just his fourth year on the job. Again, in just four year on the job, Howland has taken UCLA to as many Final Fours as the previous 29 seasons combined.
Also, don't forget that by winning 30 games this season, Howland has now coached UCLA to consecutive 30-win seasons for the first time since the 1972 and 1973 teams -- again, a historical achievement that goes back to the Wooden-era.
Next Year and More History
Until the dust settles in June and we know who will be back and who will be leaving for the NBA, it's a bit of a crap-shoot projecting next season's top five. As it stands now it will be more of the same with UCLA, Kansas, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio State and Georgetown figuring to be the same 5 or 6 teams that separated themselves from the rest of the country this year.
Of that group, Florida figures to drop the furthest as they lose their starting shooting guard (Lee Humphrey) and top frontcourt reserve (Chris Richard) to graduation, and could lose their other four starters (Taurean Green, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer) to the NBA. If that happens, Florida suddenly becomes a middle-of-the-pack SEC team and will have to fight just to make the NCAA, let alone be a top-5 contender.
So this weekend truly represents their last shot at a title for quite some time.
UCLA, on the other hand, figures to be right back contending for a Final Four next season even if Arron Afflao leaves for the NBA (which is definitely uncertain), as long as Darren Collison returns.
That's not meant to write-off this weekend however. It's meant to draw another historical comparison. Back in 1990 UNLV absolutely crushed Duke by 30 points in the NCAA title game.
A year later UNLV returned virtually the entire team, including long-time future NBA'ers Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, and Greg Anthony, and faced Duke again in the national semi-finals. Duke won a close contest in a huge upset -- and while Duke obviously benefited enormously from the addition of Grant Hill, what keyed the win was the same players (like Bobby Hurley and Christian Latener) having night-and-day games as compared to the previous season -- each seemingly benefiting exponentially from the experience and revenge factor. Two days later Duke won the National Championship.
A year later, UNLV didn't even make the NCAA Tournament (they wouldn't for years), while Duke repeated as NCAA champions (the last team to do so). So Duke denied UNLV from repeating, and instead pulled off the feat themselves a year later as the UNLV program faded into irrelevance.
Last year we saw UCLA turn the tables on Memphis in the Elite 8 from their early-season beating in the NIT in New York (akin to what Indiana did to UCLA in 1992). The same season, the same players, but it looked like two totally different games, so UCLA has been here before.
Now UCLA gets the re-match with Florida. And the tables are set for UCLA to not only get their revenge and win an NCAA title this season, but repeat next year as well (just like Duke in 1991 and 1992).
History has a habit of repeating itself.
Check out the BRO Premium Basketball Message Board, where this post originated.