Will No. 13 UCLA ever be at full strength?
LOS ANGELES - Ben Howland's UCLA Bruins opened last season ranked No. 17 in the USA Today Preseason Coaches' Poll.
That didn't work out very well. A week into the season they were bounced from the rankings. The Bruins started the season 0-2 before they went to Maui.
Sports Illustrated cover boy Reeves Nelson was kicked off the team soon after and later came the "scathing" Sports Illustrated article, thought to signal the end of the Howland era.
Howland's back for his 10th season with the Bruins and he re-tooled with the nation's top ranked recruiting class. So when this season's USA Today Preseason Coaches' Poll was released on Wednesday, there were the Bruins at No. 13.
UCLA is one of eight teams in the poll that were unranked at the end of last season, including Pac-12 rival Arizona at No. 11.
The Bruins and the Wildcats are the only Pac-12 teams represented in the preseason poll.
Checking in at No. 1 is Indiana. The Hoosiers received 21 of the 31 first-place votes. Also receiving votes were No. 2 Louisville (5) and defending champion, No. 3 Kentucky (5). Rounding out the top five are No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan.
As for the Bruins, 19-14 and a fifth-place finish in the Pac-12 won't cut it with this team. The expectations are high this season. However, the question is will this team ever be at full strength?
The NCAA has continued to investigate the eligibility of the jewels of Howland's prized recruiting class, Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad.
The school has refused to comment on the ongoing proceedings.
Meanwhile, the Nov. 9 start to the season for UCLA against Indiana State at the new Pauley Pavilion means nothing to the NCAA. They can take as long as they want to make a ruling. Former Fairfax star Renardo Sidney, who signed with Mississippi State, wasn't ruled ineligible for his freshman season until the end of his freshman season in Starkville.
The NCAA made a Mar. 5, 2010 ruling that Sidney wouldn't be able to play the rest of the 2009-10 season, was forced to pay back over $11,000, and had to sit out the first nine games of the following season for receiving improper benefits.
While that may be extreme as far as time goes, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the NCAA goes that route, once more.
The NCAA began Sidney's investigation in June of 2009. News of Muhammad's potential ineligibility has been out since February.
Without Anderson and Muhammad, all of a sudden, talks of a return to the Final Four for the Bruins don't seem as likely.