Wednesday was so much more than just the first day of college basketball's spring signing period. With the nation's top two recruits -- Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel -- announcing where they intend to spend their likely one-and-done seasons, every 2012-13 projection hung in the balance. Muhammad surprised no one by committing to and signing with UCLA, while Noel kept Georgetown and Kentucky fans waiting before revealing a 'UK' symbol shaved into the back of his trademark flat-top.
Here are five quick thoughts on their commitments:
The fact that the ninth-year coach even managed to keep his job centered not only on his three consecutive Final Fours, but, perhaps more pressingly, on the idea that Howland could lure two of the top three national recruits in Muhammad and Kyle Anderson. If this class ends up being as good as advertised, it will breathe some life into the UCLA program and create some leeway from Howland's bosses -- particularly if he is able to fill up the newly renovated Pauley Pavilion.
The irony in all of this, however, is that Howland's troubles began when he started going after blue-chip prospects. From 2006-08, Howland sent seven players to the NBA. Five of them -- Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison, Aaron Afflalo, Russell Westbrook and Ryan Hollins -- were from Southern California. With the exception of Kevin Love, every other contributing member of his three Final Four teams was a native of either Cameroon (Luc Richard Mbah Moute and Alfred Aboya) or California. Howland's bread and butter was owning his backyard; his troubles began when he started branching out as the media in Los Angeles criticized him for not having enough talent to win a title.
Anderson is from New Jersey. Muhammad is from Las Vegas. Jordan Adams, who has already signed with UCLA, and Tony Parker, a big man that UCLA is targeting, are both from Georgia. Howland may have earned himself a stay of execution with this recruiting class, but is he just delaying the inevitable?
But to give you an idea of just how powerful John Calipari's program is, there is still a part of me that's surprised the Wildcats didn't land
While Coach Cal did manage to bring in the more important piece -- Noel is a defensive game-changer of Anthony Davis' ilk; Muhammad plays the same position as some of UK's current recruits -- there is still an element of shock when a program of Kentucky's caliber doesn't woo the player it is trying to woo.
With Muhammad and Anderson now firmly in the fold, UCLA automatically becomes a legitimate threat to make a deep tournament run next March. Those two are that dangerous together, and already have experience on the same team from their time at the Nike Hoop Summit. That being said, success won't be a given, as the Bruins face some major question marks heading into next season. Can Kyle Anderson, at 6-foot-8, play the point at a high-major level or will UNC transfer Larry Drew be asked to play significant minutes? Will Joshua Smith finally get into shape? Where does UCLA's perimeter depth come from? Can the Wear twins live up to their high school reputations? The good news is that figuring out how to manage a talented roster is a significantly easier task than finding a way to disguise a mediocre one. UCLA should be contender next year.
But the Bruins aren't alone in the conference. Arizona will also bring in a loaded recruiting class headlined by center Kaleb Tarczewski, forward Grant Jerrett and wing Brandon Ashley. The Wildcats also face uncertainty -- Josiah Turner transferred, forcing Nick Johnson, Jordin Mayes or incoming freshman Gabe York to run the point -- but their big men may be good enough to make up for it. At the very worst, this year's most underwhelming conference should be very top heavy in 2012-13.
Muhammad's issues are more typical of elite college basketball prospects these days. CBSSports.com reported that the NCAA was