The pressure will be on Shabazz Muhammad (right) and UCLA this upcoming season.
Thanks to a very impressive recruiting class that coach Ben Howland and his staff reined in this past spring, the expectations for the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team are through the roof for the upcoming 2012-13 season.
And as we know, with great expectations come great pressure. Obviously, many of the Bruins players and coaches are going to feel the pressure to live up to expectations and get the team back to the NCAA tournament after a one-year absence (considered an eternity for a program like UCLA).
Realistically, though, UCLA’s tournament hopes in 2013 hinge on just a handful of players. Some of them won’t surprise you at all; others may.
Here are the Bruins who must step up if they want to get in on the madness of March.
When you’re arguably one of the top two incoming freshmen in the nation, it’s safe to say that there will be some pressure on you to lead the team to success. That’s definitely the case for stud freshman Shabazz Muhammad.
He’s considered the best or second-best recruit in the Class of 2012 (along with Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel) by almost all of the experts. A player of Muhammad’s elite talents will definitely be expected to lead the UCLA Bruins back to the NCAA tournament immediately.
Muhammad told ESPNU during his commitment announcement that he wanted to revive the glory within the UCLA program, so it’s not like he’s shying away from the challenge. The last time a freshman with such an impressive skill set played for UCLA was 2007, when NBA star Kevin Love led the Bruins to the Final Four.
It will be interesting to see how far the Bruins can go with Muhammad leading the way during his first—and likely only—season in Westwood.
It’s hard to believe that coming out of high school, UCLA Bruins big man Josh Smith was a 5-star recruit. I don’t criticize Smith because of a lack of natural talent, because it’s definitely there.
But in terms of overall productivity, it’s safe to say that Smith’s first two seasons in southern California have been a bit of a disappointment for coach Ben Howland and the Bruins. When Smith was on the floor for UCLA last season, he often showed signs of being a dominant force down low.
He altered post shots on defense and commanded double teams offensively on a consistent basis. The problem was that due to constant foul trouble and a lack of stamina, the 300-pound Smith only averaged 17 minutes of playing time per game in 2011-12.
If Smith can find a way to stay on the court more during the upcoming season, it could spell tournament success for UCLA. Just imagine a twin tower-like frontcourt of Smith and freshman big man Tony Parker wreaking havoc in the paint.
Bruins fans have to be salivating over the prospect of it already.
It’s hard to say that UCLA’s twin combination of Travis and David Wear must step up for the Bruins this season. After all, both played very well during their first season in Westwood.
The Wear brothers combined to average nearly 22 points per game last year. Still, if the Bruins are going to make the NCAA tournament in 2013, then Travis and David are going to have to be the perfect compliments to Ben Howland’s new Big Three freshman trio of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker.
Last year, the Wears were able to fight on the glass, hit timely shots and provide an overall shot in the arm to the Bruins’ energy on the court many times. They won’t need to carry the Bruins in 2012-13; studs like Muhammad and Anderson will be expected to fill that role. Still, role players like the Wears are a staple of any NCAA tournament team.
If they can provide the same energy and positive attitude they did last season, then the Bruins will certainly have the quality depth needed to play deep into March.
Kyle Anderson, the new 5-star recruit out of New Jersey’s famed St. Anthony’s high school, is considered a point forward, but he may have to play the 1 for the Bruins early on, putting a lot of pressure on his young shoulders.
With Jerime Anderson having graduated, the point guard situation for Ben Howland’s Bruins team is a bit unsettled at the moment. North Carolina transfer Larry Drew could be the man for the job in the upcoming season.
However, his lack of explosiveness was a major reason why he was unseated by Kendall Marshall back in Chapel Hill. Tyler Lamb may also be a candidate for some spot duty at point guard, but his strengths are best on display as a shooting guard.
With that being said, the point guard duties may very well go to Anderson. I don’t need to tell you the importance of a point guard to a college basketball team, especially in the NCAA tournament.
Many championships have been won and lost (speaking of Marshall, look at North Carolina this past March after his injury) on the heels of a floor general. If Anderson gets the call, here’s hoping he’s the catalyst for a deep March Madness run for the Bruins.
While the UCLA Bruins certainly have some impressive freshmen stepping onto campus this upcoming season, let’s not forget about the importance of having veteran leadership on the roster.
It’s important for a team as young as the Bruins to rely on some of the more experienced players, like junior Tyler Lamb. The 6’5” shooting guard showed signs of becoming a very effective scorer last season, averaging nine points per contest as a starter.
Now considering that UCLA freshmen stars like Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson might need some time to make the transition from high school to college basketball, the pressure could be on veterans like Lamb to carry the Bruins offensively early on in the 2012-13 campaign.
If Lamb’s game can continue to progress like it has thus far in his UCLA career, then the Bruins will likely weather the storm with no problem. But if for some reason Lamb hits the wall, then it could have dire consequences for Ben Howland’s squad and their NCAA tournament hopes.