UCLA basketball is nationally relevant again for all the right reasons. With the Bruins laying claim to the top recruiting class in 2012, and in a college basketball landscape run by one-and-dones, these recruiting classes mean the world to college hoops programs.
What’s as exciting, though, is that Josh Smith was an embarrassment in 2011 meaning there’s nowhere to go from here but up, so he should get better. Meanwhile, Larry Drew II will be able to play this season while the rest of last year’s starting unit that won 19 games will become a bench mob of sorts.
All in all, the Bruins are poised for a serious run at the national title.
Unless things happen. Unless catastrophe strikes, or unless bad luck or poor roster management rears its ugly head. Things happen, as the saying goes, and when they do, things can go from great to awful within the blink of an eye.
No top college hoops program is as susceptible to these kinds of things as UCLA is. With Ben Howland on as hot of a seat as any in the country, and with all the attention focused on these Bruins come November, things can get hellish quicker than we’d like.
What are the kinds of things that will ruin UCLA’s dream season? Let’s take a look at six of
1. Shabazz Muhammad Is Declared Ineligible for 2012-13
Well, this is the biggest possible blow and it’s also the most predictable. Questions surrounding the eligibility of UCLA’s biggest prize this offseason have made Shabazz a proverbial time-bomb. He’s already ruled out for UCLA’s trip to China for exhibition games, and that NCAA investigation could get ugly.
Muhammad may not be the most important player on this team, but he’s definitely the most prolific and is easily the top pick in the 2013 NBA draft, meaning that draw will no longer be in Pauley Pavilion, so getting butts in those seats will be especially difficult.
2. Kyle Anderson’s Hand Never Heals Correctly
This is so unlikely, but let’s pretend that Anderson — UCLA’s only legitimate PG — never heals from his hand injury in full, meaning he’s largely ineffective as a result. (We’re really blowing this up here, because we have masochistic tendencies, apparently, but work with us here.)
It’s fair to label Kyle as UCLA’s most important player for the time being; Ben Howland’s success has largely been dependent on having solid point guards run his slow-down, half-court offense. Anderson fits the role really damn well with his court-vision and ability to make plays for others. On a team that has absolutely no true playmakers, Anderson becomes really damn vital for this team. Losing him will probably be worth forfeiting the season.
(OK, not that dramatic, but still.)
3. Josh Smith Stays the Course, Can’t Get In Shape
Smith could easily be UCLA’s best player and the best college baller in the nation. Dominant big men at any level of basketball are hard to find, especially ones that can play around the rim with the touch that Smith has.
As of now, though? He’s not even the third-best player in freaking Westwood. Sure, on a per-minute basis, he performed better than anyone else on Howland’s squad did in 2011-12, but when you’re only on the court for 17 minutes a game because of foul trouble and crappy stamina, does that even matter?
If Smith stays in the same shape he was last season, his college career will be over. There’s little chance he even stays on the squad after this season if he can’t get it together, and UCLA’s biggest advantage — that of size and interior defense — will be gone entirely.
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