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Kentucky Basketball Recruiting: Two Noteworthy Items

In the midst of March Madness--Happy Opening Round (err, Second Round?) Tipoff Eve, everyone!--I thought I'd sneak in some newsworthy items tangential to Kentucky's recruiting efforts.

The first, as chirop1 fanposted about, is that Syracuse's Fab Melo will miss the NCAA Tournament due to academic issues. That's pertinent when it comes to Nerlens Noel, the top prospect in the nation. In an earlier post about Noel, a commenter wondered if Melo's presence would deter Noel from choosing Syracuse. I warned against expecting a Melo return, and my soothsaying skills may have foretold correctly for once.

If Melo opts to turn pro because he simply doesn't want to crack the books anymore, that leaves a giant-sized hole in the middle of the Orange. Would Noel turn down a chance to be Kentucky's next Anthony Davis to stay close to home and play for Syracuse? It certainly helps, as DraftExpress' Jonathan Givony tweeted, that Noel's close friend Michael Carter-Williams is currently a freshman for the Orange and is expected to return next year.

The second is that UCLA announced that embattled head coach Ben Howland will return to coach the team next year, even in the wake of a terribly disappointing season and a scandalous Sports Illustrated report. While Bruins Nation is understandably upset about this "dumpster fire" mess, this was a predictable outcome.

AD Dan Guerrero simply has too much at stake here. Howland has a "quick fix" strategy in play, namely bringing in a stellar 2012 recruiting class that will hopefully help restore UCLA to prominence. With Howland gone, current signees Kyle Anderson (a five-star guard from New Jersey) and Jordan Adams (a four-star small forward from Virginia) would likely ask for a release from their LOIs.

Further, UCLA is heavily involved with two more highly touted prospects, Tony Parker and Shabazz Muhammad. Both are Kentucky targets, and in particular, the Wildcats are keenly interested in Muhammad. Guerrero, who is one wrong move from getting canned himself, desperately needs an athletic spark. And no, hiring Jim Mora, Jr. to coach a moribund football team doesn't count. Thus, the impetus for Guerrero to retain Howland.

Of course, UCLA could always just fire Dan Guerrero, but that wouldn't be any fun, would it?

While neither news is particularly positive for Kentucky's recruiting efforts, the Wildcats are still considered frontrunners, if not favorites, for Noel and Muhammad. Both of their decisions are likely to come after the NCAA Championship, so just file this away in the back of your mind for mid-April.