Freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad has played a key role in the UCLA Bruins performing well this season and sitting at No. 23 in the latest AP ranking, but the team will need more than just a strong game from him to perform well and last long in the Big Dance.
In his first year of college ball, Muhammad is averaging 18.1 points and five rebounds per game, shooting 45 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from three-point range. He has great size for a shooting guard at 6'6", 225 pounds, and has an incredibly bright future.
His skills have led the Bruins to rank 25th in the nation in scoring and that is all well and good, but let's take a look at the bigger picture.
UCLA plays in the Pac-12 and while it is not a bad or easy conference by any means, it isn't exactly the Big Ten or ACC. Seeing as how the Bruins could be playing some stronger and deeper squads from those conferences in the big dance, one can see how a one-sided approach could come back to bite them.
Don't get me wrong. That isn't to say that Muhammad shouldn't be a part of the team's plans going forward, especially in the tournament. When push comes to shove, he is the star of the team and UCLA is going to need him to carry them forward in each and every game.
What I'm saying is that Muhammad cannot do it alone. As great a scorer as he is, to simply put the ball in his hands and hope for the best is not the right approach.
The man is going to need some help, particularly from teammate and fellow freshman Jordan Adams. Adams is not as strong a shooter as Muhammad, but still has managed to average 15.1 points per game on 46 percent shooting this season.
On top of that, he is a much better defender than Muhammad, averaging 2.1 steals per contest.
UCLA will also need some help in the paint, especially since they rank 83rd in rebounding. This could come from yet another freshman in Kyle Anderson, who has solid size at 6'9", 235 pounds and is averaging 10.1 points to go with nine boards.
Throw in a solid passing game from senior guard Larry Drew II and more size in the paint from Travis Wear, and there are plenty of ways that the Bruins can balance their attack outside of Shabazz Muhammad and his scoring game. So long as head coach Ben Howland can draw up the right plays, there's every possibility that UCLA can enjoy a long and successful run in the tournament.
But that's only if certain players are willing to jump off of Muhammad's back in key moments and help shoulder the load. Otherwise, the Bruins and their fans could be going home early and disappointed.
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