UCLA Basketball: Players Who Must Step Up in Shabazz Muhammad's Absence

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UCLA Basketball: Players Who Must Step Up in Shabazz Muhammad's Absence
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The UCLA Bruins received a huge blow on Saturday when Shabazz Muhammad was declared ineligible (via ESPN's Peter Yoon) by the NCAA.

As this year's most-anticipated freshman, Muhammad was expected to provide a dynamic two-way presence on the wing for Ben Howland's team. He still could, but we have no idea when that's going to happen.

No matter how many games Muhammad misses, UCLA is still expected to win. Just because he's on the shelf doesn't mean the cupboard is bare for Howland's crew.

Here are three players who must step up for the Bruins with UC Irvine coming up Tuesday night.

 

Jordan Adams

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Adams is one of the few players on the Bruins roster who can come close to matching Muhammad's presence on the wing. He doesn't bring Muhammad's presence on the defensive end of the floor, but this isn't a defense-first squad anyway.

Scoring points will be the name of the game for this team, and Adams can do just that. He scored 21 points and snagged seven boards against Indiana State in the team's regular-season opener, consistently slashing to the basket and finishing for the score.

Muhammad's athleticism will be missed, but Adams provides a slashing presence that can make up for that. He fits into Howland's system, and he fits very nicely next to point guard Kyle Anderson because of his score-first mentality.

UCLA isn't going to beat teams with its outside shooting. Adams isn't going to change that. But he can be a sort of Muhammad "lite" in Howland's offense.

A No. 1 scoring option will be needed in the backcourt, and Adams' 6'5'' frame brings just that to the table.

 

Kyle Anderson

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Anderson is the type of player who makes everyone around him better. He's not an electric scorer, although he can put the ball in the bucket; instead he relies on his flawless feel for the game.

At 6'8'', Anderson is a matchup nightmare. He plays with the ball on a string, consistently gliding around the court. He understands how to space the floor out, and he can slot into multiple positions.

Because he's taken the point guard reins from day one, he's going to play a major role in keeping this attack moving. He must feed guys like Adams, Tyler Lamb and the bevy of interior players on the Bruins' roster.

Against Indiana State on Friday, Anderson scored 10 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished four assists. His height allows him to crash the boards effectively, making his game that much more versatile in the process.

Anderson is a coach's dream. He has a solid understanding of the game itself, and it doesn't matter where he plays on the floor. He's unselfish, and he can make up for Muhammad's absence by facilitating a well-balanced attack.

 

Josh Smith

Chris Chambers/Getty Images

UCLA will need to get something done on the inside this season. That would hold true even if Muhammad was out there wreaking havoc, but it's definitely more true now.

Smith is a gifted low-post player. He has a soft touch around the rim, solid footwork in the paint and has the frame to create space for himself around the blocks.

At 6'10'' and 300-plus pounds, Smith struggles in transition. However, UCLA can use him to excess in the halfcourt. He doesn't play a versatile game like David or Travis Wear, but he's a space-eater extraordinaire.

The big man hasn't reached his potential as a collegiate player, but there's still time. He's never played with this much talent, especially with Anderson keeping his head up at all times. If he manages to get himself open down low, the pass-first point guard will find him.

Without Muhammad, UCLA must step up every facet of its game. Smith can bring things that no one else does, even if he's somewhat one-dimensional.

If he's used correctly, as a back-to-the-basket force, Smith has enough skill to be one of this team's scoring leaders.

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