Two Fridays ago, on the afternoon before UCLA played North Carolina in Las Vegas, I spent some time with first-year Bruins coach Mick Cronin and, at one point, I asked him, more or less, how he was enjoying his rebuilding job in Westwood after consistently winning for nine years at Cincinnati.
"The weather's nice," Cronin said with a smile.
He subsequently told me he has good kids who listen and try hard. He stressed the positives. But -- and these are my words, not his -- the truth is that Cronin inherited a lousy roster when he took over at UCLA. It was obvious when he got the job, fairly clear when the Bruins lost to Hofstra last month, and on full display once again when UCLA fell 77-74 to Cal State Fullerton inside Pauley Pavilion on Saturday.
(At least the weather is still nice!)
Before I go any further, let me make one thing clear: UCLA should never lose to Cal State Fullerton under any circumstances -- especially as a 15-point favorite like UCLA was in this game, and especially when Cal State Fullerton is ranked 284th at KenPom. There's no way to spin this positive; that was an awful loss. In fact, before Saturday, UCLA had never lost to a school that finished lower than 210th in the KenPom era that now spans 19 seasons. So this wasn't just an awful loss. This was a historically bad loss for UCLA.
But it's also a historically bad roster for UCLA.
As evidence, consider this: UCLA's current roster is the first UCLA roster devoid of at least one McDonald's All-American since the award was unveiled in 1977 -- which means Mick Cronin will be the first UCLA coach in more than four decades to complete a season without at least one McDonald's All-American. That's an incredible fact and among the reasons UCLA began this season ranked 106th at KenPom. If you're curious, the Bruins are currently 128th. So they're worse than they were projected to be, sure. But not by much, according to the numbers.
In other words, none of this is that surprising.
So I know UCLA fans are frustrated because UCLA fans are always frustrated. But unless you think the same guy who just took Cincinnati to nine straight NCAA Tournaments forgot how to win in the past nine months, asking big questions about Steve Alford's replacement already seems foolish when the bottom line is this: Cronin inherited a historically bad UCLA roster and is now taking historically bad UCLA losses.
It's not hard to connect those dots.
This is mostly just cause-and-effect at its finest.