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Top programs bounce back this season, Part II
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UCLA — The Bruins are the king of titleholders with 11 and had gone to three consecutive Final Four appearances under coach Ben Howland. Their run came to an end with the worst season (14-18) since 2003-04 last season, meaning athletic director Dan Guerrero, last season’s NCAA tournament selection chairman, didn’t have to recuse himself from voting for the Bruins. UCLA brought back plenty of experience this season, even without any seniors, and already has more wins than last season at 16-7. The Bruins have won three straight and seven of eight after knocking off St. John’s in a nonconference game over the weekend and are second in the Pac-10 behind Arizona at 7-3. Storied coach John Wooden, who died last year, would be proud of this bunch.
Florida — The Gators took a big tumble after winning their second straight national title in 2007. Florida’s starting five from those teams were all NBA draft picks, including three of the top nine, leaving coach Billy Donovan a huge void to fill. It took him a while to do it; the Gators missed the NCAA tournament in 2008 and 2009. Florida took a step back to respectability last season by winning 21 games and reaching the NCAA tournament, and had expectations ratcheted up this season with all five starters back to go with a talented freshman class. The Gators opened the season at No. 9 and moved to No. 17 this week after dropping out of the polls. Florida (18-5) bumped off No. 10 Kentucky over the weekend and No. 23 Vanderbilt before that to take control of the SEC East at 7-2 — and another step back toward notability.
Indiana — It’s hard to say a team that’s 12-12 and just 3-8 in the Big Ten is making a comeback, but the Hoosiers’ progress has been a bit skewed by injuries. Once one of college basketball’s elite programs with five national championships, Indiana took a hard fall on the court and off after the phone-call scandal involving former coach Kelvin Sampson. The Hoosiers were just 6-25 with one conference win in 2008-09 and lost 12 of their final 13 last season to finish 10-21. Indiana hasn’t exactly raced back to prominence, but has taken some small steps under coach Tom Crean this season, including wins over Top-25 teams Minnesota and Illinois. The Hoosiers probably weren’t going to make the NCAA tournament and losing guard Maurice Creek and leading scorer and rebounder Christian Watford to injuries in a two-week span all but sealed it, but at least they’re making some progress.