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Monday, November 19, 2012

Shabazz makes debut, but the Hoyas Get the Win

The atmosphere was set at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for UCLA, ready to unveil its star recruit Shabazz Muhammad against unranked Georgetown. Shabazz came off the bench for Howland, who has to give a lot of credit to the star recruit for perhaps saving his job, and the crowd creeped towards the edge of their seats to get a look at the future NBA lottery pick.

The script was set for UCLA (favored by 6) to get the win and put themselves back on the map. After the Sports Illustrated article last year, Howland was ready to start a new chapter for UCLA, a chapter that involved high character kids including other prized recruit Kyle Anderson. Georgetown got off to the early lead, but when Shabazz came off the at just under 14 minutes, the lead was only 4. Shabazz came in and pulled up for his first shot - a mid-range jumper - and it went straight through the hoop.

14-12 Georgetown - here comes UCLA.

Georgetown was being outscored in transition and on the break - two indicators that the Bruins could start to pull away. The biggest indicator though, was #15 in blue.

The country didn't know this Georgetown team though. They matched up well with the Bruins, sporting two big wings of their own in Greg Whittington and Otto Porter. The Hoyas play the way the Bruins need to play. They share the basketball and allow their 6-8 versatile forward, Otto Porter, to help facilitate the offense. UCLA, with their own 6-8 point forward in Kyle Anderson, had an up close look how it was done.

Greg Whittington was hot early. He was stepping out and hitting jumpers and gave Shabazz his first "welcome to the NCAA moment". Shabazz had an attempt on the break and went straight at Whittington - only to get hung up in the air as Whittington prevented the shot from getting out of his hands.

It wasn't the last time Shabazz landed on the floor and got in the mix in the painted area. Otto Porter was able to post him up down low for a couple of buckets. Shabazz returned the favor against Georgetown's small Jabril Trawick, hitting a close range turnaround jumper in his face. Shabazz went hard to the hoop each time he had the chance and probably has the bruises to show for it. He attacks the rim with a fearlessness much like a Dwyane Wade.

His debut was viewed as a bit of a disappointment for NBA scouts, but keep in mind he had only had a few days of practice due to a high ankle sprain. He poured in 15 points effortlessly in 25 minutes, showcasing a nice stroke from outside. Muhammad's release is effortless and he doesn't have much extra movement in his shot. He struggled on defense, but covering guys like Otto Porter is a big change from his days in high school. He mainly was beat defending the post.

UCLA has their work cut out for them defensively. This UCLA team shouldn't go the way of teams in the past because their freshman are high character guys, but the defense should be a major concern. When UCLA went to three straight final fours, their defense was top 3 in the nation each year. This years team has work to do to even be average.

For one, its tough to get a group of new players to learn to play cohesive as a team. With a bunch of freshman and transfer Larry Drew, they have to get used to each other. Even then, guys like Adams, Drew, and Anderson aren't good perimeter defenders. And inside, the Wear twins are good post defenders but dont make anyone think twice about driving the lane. Neither does the immobile Josh Smith who defines the phrase "below the rim center". He also defines a waste of potential, but we will save that for a rainy day.

Without that defense, UCLA may have to turn to a higher octane offense and go in a different direction from teams of the past. It seems Howland may already be doing that if the pace of their game today is any indicator. This Bruins team may look to run and it'd certainly be a good fit. Teams of the past played a strict halfcourt style that often limited the teams guards, resulting in them getting overlooked in the NBA Draft.

With a host of good guards this year and a unconventional Kyle Anderson, the Bruins could maximize their potential and hide their defensive holes by running. With Howland's job possibly on the brink, its within the realm to imagine him changing up his style.

As for Georgetown, their famous style is working just fine. I talked about them earlier this season calling them a sleeper, so this game comes as little surprise to me. Porter and Whittington are a special combo that when paired together creates major problems for opponents. The Hoyas can play them at the wing positions and overwhelm the opposition with size on defense and not suffer on offense.

The biggest question with them is their ability to hit the outside shot. Whittington was 1-8 on the year before going 3-4 tonight. His shot looks solid though, and I did see him hit some long 2-pt baskets in his other games. As for Porter, he rarely looks for the jumper but made both of his 3s tonight. He doesn't get off a lot of jumpers and has a slow release, bringing the ball down to his hip before firing.

Porter finished with 18 points and filled up the rest of the stat sheet with steals, blocks, assists, and rebounds. You can't help but to love his game. He is one of the best all around players in college basketball and perhaps the best at contributing to wins in ways other than scoring. This makes him invaluable at the college level and very intriguing at the next level. The NBA doesn't necessarily need guys who can score.

Still, Porter's biggest question will revolve around how he can score at the next level. Porter gets a lot of his baskets off cuts, transition, putbacks, and post up plays. As a small forward, Porter needs to show at least either a jumper or the ability to drive the lane consistently and finish. And his jumper is broken right now.

Porter also is a bit slow on his feet, yet his outstanding feel for the game tends to make up for it. Scouts in general came away impressed with him tonight, but this is just a typical game for Mr. Porter.

The high point man in this game was actually UCLA's Jordan Adams. He's been a pleasant surprise this season and wasn't going to take a back seat to Muhammad tonight. He jacks up shots at a high rate, prompting Jonathan Givony to make a Jordan Hamilton comparison.

Obviously, he probably didn't mean it as a comparison on their games too, but I think Adams is a lot better college player than Hamilton was his freshman year. Hamilton's freshman year consisted of a comical amount of ridiculous 3-pt attempts and not much else.

Adams loves his jumper the same way, but shows a lot more intelligence on both ends of the court. He is a better driver, has good instincts on when to cut, plays tough inside, and seems to really want to win. His body control is worlds better than Hamilton's. He has a great natural touch on his shots and is automatic from the free throw line.

In terms of NBA stock though, his potential is much less intriguing than Hamilton's. He plays below the rim and his body dimensions are very unusual for a shooting guard. Along with being a chucker, Adams has some obstacles to climb over if he wants to be a first round pick anytime soon.

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