While all UCLA fans are rightly celebrating the football team and season, it is easy to forget the higher ranked revenue sport team had a pretty good week as well and has two games on national TV coming up beginning on Monday. UCLA's #13 ranked basketball team did the following:
1. Shabazz Muhammad has come back at a great time for UCLA. As Peter Yoon wrote:
After opening with a few mid-major tuneups, the No. 13 Bruins have the Monday date with Georgetown in the semifinals of the Legends Classic. Win that, and they have a probable matchup against No. 1 Indiana.
UCLA also has games coming up against No. 25 San Diego State, No. 14 Missouri andTexas. These are the games that define RPI, and UCLA will need to win as many of them as possible to fetch a coveted high seeding for the NCAA tournament.
These are the kinds of early-season games that define a team for the rest of the season. Win them, and the nation views you as a top-tier team as your RPI rises. Lose them, and poll voters and tournament selection committee members don't give you the benefit of the doubt when poll votes matter and tournament selection takes place.
NCAA tournament sites this season include San Jose for the first two rounds, and Staples Center for the regional semifinals and finals, so a high seeding could mean UCLA wouldn't have to leave California until the Final Four.
Without Muhammad for those important games, UCLA runs the risk of playing as poorly as it did this week in an 80-79 overtime escape against UC Irvine. Such performances in a high-profile, nationally televised environment would send UCLA back to the ranks of irrelevancy. But Muhammad is the kind of player who won't let that happen.
And Shabazz is ready, as Baxter Holmes writes(HT warrior Bruin):
How Muhammad will fit in will be determined over time, but Bruins freshman Kyle Anderson doesn't expect any rust Monday.
"No, because in practice, he's a beast," Anderson said.
UCLA could compete in the PAC 12 without Shabazz. With Shabazz, no one could argue the high expectations for UCLA. That is not to say UCLA should now win every game but win or lose, the two days of the Legends Classic should help to define what this UCLA team is going to be.
2. According to Scout: "Bruins garner top Pac-12 hoops recruiting class" at least so far.
This may have slipped past a lot of people but UCLA did have a pretty good class coming in this year. While some are concerned about the lack of a true post or a true point guard, the class does have talent.
The Bruins have assembled a talented three-man class, which consists of a couple combo guards in Zach LaVine and Allerik Freeman, as well as small forward Noah Allen.
LaVine, from Bothell (Wash.), is a five-star prospect that headlines this class. A talented outside shooter, LaVine also has good size at 6-foot-3, long arms, athleticism and a pretty high basketball IQ. He has the chance to be a really good player for Ben Howland.
Freeman, from Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep, is a multi-talented and strong guard who can play on and off the ball and is a good athlete.
Allen comes from Salinas (Calif.) Palma and is a forward with a smooth shooting stroke who plays hard and is a bright kid.
I think Freeman may turn into a good college point guard but many think Anderson may stay, at least as of right now. In any case I am not as worried about point guard in 2013-14. On the others, Lavine is a player that in high school is supposed to be a better shooter than Jordan Adams. Allen is the anti-Gordon/Nelson, a great kid who was accepted by Harvard but could not get the aid he needed. Allen is unlikely to make an immediate impact but seems like a player who will help UCLA avoid the problems currently associated with their current 10 scholarship team. For example, it damages practice when one of the 10 scholarship players is hurt and a walk on has to play.
3. Norman Powell's Breakout
Norman Powell had his career high against JMU. But it was the way he did that was most encouraging. A beautiful steal and emphatic dunk, five assists including a sweet one off a drive, 15 points on non-three pointers and continued good defense. Powell may be the team's best defender and if he learns to be aggressive on offense and take it to the basket, we have a happy problem of too many good swings.
4. Showed off the new style by scoring a 100 points for only the third time under Ben Howland.
UCLA is ranked number 13 in the nation in points per game. Of course it helps playing two bad teams and going to overtime against a likely NIT team but it does seem to show that Howland is committed to quicker more offensive style. And keep in mind this is BEFORE we had the number one offensive option in Shabazz Muhammad available.
UCLA will score more than anytime in Howland's tenure this year.
5. Jordan Adams has been spectacular and record setting:
Adams became the first UCLA freshman to begin his career with three consecutive 20-plus points games. Freshmen were not allowed to play before the 1973-74 season, so players such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) and Bill Walton never had the chance. Adams was the first player of any class to score 20 or more in three consecutive games at any point in the season since Arron Afflalo in January 2007.
Again, this is a happy problem with Powell, Shabazz, and Adams fighting for time. Personally I hope Powell takes some of Drew's minutes (Howland may be forced to, see below) but we shall see. (Some have even talked about Shabazz's ability to be an undersized 4.)
Good news, Howland has a loaded deep team.
But here are five quick reasons to worry.
1. Larry Drew II is hurt. In addition to dislocating his finger in the first game:
UCLA point guard Larry Drew II sprained his right ankle during practice Saturday and will be a game-time decision Monday for the Bruins' game against Georgetown in Brooklyn. . . .
If Drew is unable to play Monday, coach Ben Howland might well hand the ball to freshman Kyle Anderson, who has been starting at small forward but who has amazing point guard skills and vision to belie his 6-8 frame.
"Might well?" Ah no, Anderson will be UCLA only point guard if that happens.
2. Tyler Lamb is also a game time decision because of his knee injury. UCLA may again have only 8 scholarship players available. Lamb is a bit more important without Drew because he is also the third string point guard.
3. For those of you wondering why David Brown is the first walk on in and also the only walk on to play (albeit briefly) with the regulars, David could be the backup point guard in Brooklyn if Lamb and Drew are unavailable. I don't think it will come to this but there is no logical point guard backup.
4. Haters going to hate. Jeff Goodman of CBS remains an extreme example of those who are still out to get UCLA. The fact remains that Ben Howland and UCLA have done NOTHING WRONG in recruiting during their 10 years. But if UCLA is successful this season expect haters such as Goodman remain negative with veiled comments.
5. Defense on Bigs
While UCLA's backcourt defense has been okay to good, UCLA defense against bigs has been less than stellar. JMU's Rayshawn Goines had his career high and the big man ate up UCLA. Adam Folker of ICU had 6 offense rebounds and Will Davis went 6-11 and should have beat UCLA with some last second free throws. UCLA is about to play a much better class of big. A defensive expert like Holwand has to be concerned.
I really think UCLA will go 1 and 1 in the Legends Classic. This early in the season, I am more concerned about how they play then the scoreboard. Will Howland play the freshman and the best players the majority of the minutes, even though this will be their first time on the big stage?