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September 17, 2008

Mailbag: Another Final Four for UCLA?

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What's more impressive: winning back-to-back national titles or making four consecutive trips to the Final Four? UCLA could force college hoops analysts to tackle that question by the end of this season.

UCLA is coming off three consecutive Final Four appearances and despite losing three players to the NBA (Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute), the Bruins are a Final Four contender again.

Florida beat UCLA in the national final in 2005-06. The Gators beat the Bruins in the national semifinals in '06-07 on their way to winning it all, which made them the second school to win back-to-back national championships in 37 years (Duke, which performed the feat in 1991 and '92, was the other).

Should we expect the Bruins to be the next to pull off a historic feat? No team has been to four consecutive Final Fours since Duke went to five in a row from 1988-92. We answer that question and more in this week's mailbag.

Bruins reload

Tony from Los Angeles : Just how good is this incoming UCLA freshman class? I was stunned to see UCLA listed in several places as national-title contenders. Do you think it's being overhyped or are these reasonable expectations?

I'm not a recruiting expert, but I do know this is the biggest collection of talent coach Ben Howland has put together in one year since coming to UCLA and that's really saying something considering Howland lured the likes of Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo and recent lottery picks Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love to Westwood.

This class, ranked No. 1 in the nation, has at least two future NBA players: guard Jrue Holiday (the No. 2 prospect) and big man J'Mison Morgan (No. 25). Holiday, who has tremendous physical tools, could be a one-and-done guy.

The Bruins signed three other top-50 prospects: guards Jerime Anderson (No. 37) and Malcolm Lee (No. 48) and power forward Drew Gordon (No. 46). Each should contribute immediately.

The Bruins certainly have some big holes to fill with the losses of Westbrook, Love and Mbah a Moute. That kind of mass exodus would send most programs into rebuilding mode. But the Bruins are anything but most programs. They still have top-notch players in point guard Darren Collison and wing Josh Shipp, each of whom has played a major role on two Final Four teams. Add that great recruiting class and some other experienced role players, and the Bruins will be even deeper than last season. That the Pac-10, which lost a slew of its top players, will take a step back should make the road a little easier.

Youth is a legitimate concern. The Bruins need the freshmen to develop quickly, particularly Morgan, who has the size and skill to be an inside scoring threat. But the potential to be in the national-title hunt is certainly there, and as we have seen in recent years, Howland's teams tend to reach their potential or even exceed it.

Untouchable?

Jason from St. Augustine, Fla. : Do you think anyone will ever break Pete Maravich's NCAA-record career average of 44.2 points per game?

Unless there are some radical changes to the game and by radical, I mean the addition of a 5-point line and an extra five minutes to each half I think the chances are almost nil.

It's rare to see someone average 30 points per game these days and scoring 30 was an off-night for Maravich, who played at LSU from 1967-70.

Maravich averaged 43.8 as a sophomore, 44.2 as a junior and 46.6 as a senior. We will never see anyone put together three seasons like that.

Brockman better than Blake?

Ricky from parts unknown : You honestly believe Jon Brockman is a better player than Blake Griffin? In what way? I bet you couldn't find 10 of the top 100 most respected minds in college basketball that would agree with that.

Here's what I wrote in last week's mailbag: "I'd give (Brockman) the edge over (Griffin) although I wouldn't be surprised if Griffin ends up having a better season."

I think you have to give Brockman the edge for now. Brockman was better in nearly every area last season. Brockman averaged 17.8 points; Griffin averaged 14.7. Brockman averaged 11.6 rebounds, the most of any returning player in the nation; Griffin averaged 9.1. Brockman scored in double-figures in all 32 games he played and racked up 23 double-doubles. Griffin had 10 double-doubles.

I realize you can put too much stock into stats. Griffin's team played in the NCAA Tournament and Brockman's didn't even get to the NIT. But if they had switched spots, I don't think the outcomes would have been different for their respective teams.

Griffin definitely has more potential. There's no arguing that. Some analysts are predicting he'll be the No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft. But I'm not going to say he's better than Brockman until he goes out and proves it.

Tigers still tough?

Tarvis from Memphis : How good do you think Memphis will be this season?

The Tigers aren't going back to the Final Four, but getting back to the NCAA Tournament won't be a problem.

Even with the loss of three NBA draft picks No. 1 overall pick Derrick Rose and second-round selections Chris Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey the Tigers still have more talent than the majority of teams in the "Big Six" conferences.

The Tigers have added another top-five recruiting class, which features five-star guard Tyreke Evans. Evans will be a one-and-done guy and will give the Tigers a much-needed go-to scorer immediately.

Five of the players from last season's rotation return, including underrated guard Antonio Anderson, who gives the Tigers a shutdown defender.

The biggest thing working against the Tigers may be Conference USA. The league that long has been criticized for not giving Memphis any competition looks greatly improved.

UAB will be better thanks to the return of Robert Vaden, one of the nation's premier outside shooters, and the addition of former all-league guard Paul Delaney III, who missed most of last season with an ACL tear. Tulsa and Southern Miss have realistic NCAA Tournament hopes. The Tigers, who have gone 32-0 in C-USA the past two seasons, are still going to win the league, but I think they'll lose at least two league games. The most likely scenario points to a No. 4-6 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a trip to the Sweet 16.

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com. Got a question for Andrew's Mailbag? Click here to drop him a note



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