There’s been quite the buzz surrounding UCLA basketball ever since head coach Ben Howland reigned in the best recruiting class in the nation for 2012. Led by All-Americans Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson, the incoming freshman class consisted of four players in the ESPN 100.
Of course, Bruins fans are also pretty anxious because, if you haven’t forgotten, Muhammad and Anderson may not ever dress in UCLA blue and gold. The NCAA is investigating whether the two talented wingmen are eligible, and given that the majority of the hype surrounding UCLA basketball this upcoming season is due to the arrival of Muhammad and Anderson, their ineligibility could damn the Bruins’ 2012-13 season.
But how far will they fall? Most online sports publications seem to have the Bruins just out of the top-10, ranging from number 11 to 15 in top-25 polls.
That’s likely based on the assumption that Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad suit up this season. If they don’t?
UCLA will likely lose a lot of the buzz that surrounded the hoops squad, and a top-25 ranking seems entirely unlikely. If one were to guess, the Bruins could fall just outside the top-25 in preseason polls.
Because, let’s face it, UCLA isn’t very good without Muhammad or Anderson, and the two haven’t even played a second alongside one another yet.
Without their 2012 freshman class, UCLA is a 19-win team, as they were in 2011-12. Nothing has changed since then to expect any sort of improvement.
Josh Smith? He’s still overweight and, likely, out of shape. Ben Howland recently said Smith had “a long way to go” before he would be anywhere near the Bruins’ coaching staff wants him to be, which is coachspeak for, “he’s still pretty fat.” And, if you’ve been following this listless UCLA basketball team for the past two years, you’d know that Smith could unleash all hell in the post when he has everything together. Alas, Smith is far, far away from reaching his potential, a phrase we’re sure you’re sick of hearing by now.
David and Travis Wear? They’re still going to be mediocre defensively, although they’ll be serviceable as they have been since joining UCLA. Of course, with Muhammad and Anderson, one — or both — would have been “relegated” to working off the bench and anchoring the second unit.
And that’s what UCLA’s biggest strength will be if Shabazz and Kyle wind up playing. Although this 19-win team looked helpless in 2011-12, that 19-win team would essentially co-mingle with the four freshman to establish a legitimate 10-man rotation that could feature up to three starters from last year’s team coming off the bench. This, of course, isn’t considering the debut of transfer point guard Larry Drew II, who would’ve been relieved by Norman Powell, yet another large guard with serious defensive potential. All while this is going on in the backcourt, Tony Parker and Jordan Adams would likely be lurking for massive minutes off the bench in the frontcourt.
But no one knows whether Anderson and Muhammad will play come November. And because of that, thinking about the possibilities of such a deep rotation seem pointless.
Because then UCLA will wind up starting Jordan Adams and a Wear twin would most definitely start. Meanwhile, Larry Drew II will wind up having to carry the load offensively in terms of distribution, meaning Norman Powell will be the reserve true point rather than a guard who can sub in for defense and outside scoring. If we’re honest, Norman Powell really shouldn’t be holding on to the ball for too long, and nowhere near the capacity in which Drew II would be. And to make matters worse, Tyler Lamb — who’s serviceable at best and, well, serviceable at worst — would likely get starting time, and though he’s serviceable, he’s not an elite scorer (and shooting at a 40 percent clip does not a starting 2-guard at UCLA make).
The entire thing could be disastrous for UCLA if Muhammad and Anderson don’t start; forget about preseason top-25 polls and the Bruins’ exclusion from them without the two freshmen.
No, Ben Howland will likely lose his job for not getting his squad a top-25 spot and for bouncing out early in the NCAA tournament.
That’s what’ll happen should Muhammad and Anderson be deemed ineligible.
Stakes are high, and UCLA’s season is riding on the duo’s eligibility.
Welcome to UCLA basketball.