Monday, November 19, 2012
Legends Classic primer
By Dana O'Neil
This four-team tourney went from "interesting" to "all eyes will be turned to Brooklyn" on Friday, when the NCAA cleared Shabazz Muhammad to play. The UCLA freshman, rated tops in his class, will make his collegiate debut against Georgetown, with a potential matchup looming on Tuesday against No. 1 Indiana. The Bruins sans Muhammad have looked a little wobbly -- needing overtime to beat UC Irvine -- while Indiana has steamrolled like a No. 1 team. Georgetown, a sort of unknown quantity, should have its leader, Otto Porter, back after a concussion, and Georgia, the outlier here, has a chance to upset everyone’s apple cart with a win.
The basics: Monday and Tuesday, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
The set matchups: Indiana vs. Georgia, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU), UCLA vs. Georgetown, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
The NCAA on Friday reinstated UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Shabazz Muhammad: Muhammad has probably merited more attention and news clippings than anyone in the country, and he hasn’t even played yet. But he’s that good, a dynamic and athletic left-handed wing who was easily the most sought after prospect in his class.
Cody Zeller: He’s the preseason national player of the year. That’s the simple explanation as to why you should watch Zeller.
Otto Porter: Georgetown coach John Thompson III said on a Friday teleconference that he was "hopeful" that Porter would return from a concussion sustained against Duquesne. He needs him. The Hoyas lost almost all of a 23-point lead against Liberty without him last week. UCLA isn’t Liberty.
Kyle Anderson: The Robin to Muhammad’s Batman, Anderson is dealing with a bone contusion on his wrist. He played against James Madison, pulling down 12 rebounds, but hit just 1 of 10 shots.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: If the Bulldogs are going to have a chance at an upset here, Caldwell-Pope will be the reason. Easily the best weapon Mark Fox has, he’s done just about everything early here, averaging 20 points, six rebounds and two assists.
FIVE BIG QUESTIONS
Can either Georgetown or Georgia spoil the expected title game? Well, the Bulldogs have never beaten a No. 1 team, so the odds don’t seem stacked in their favor. It doesn’t bode well, either, that Georgia is ranked 281st in scoring and Indiana No. 1. On the flip side, the Hoyas getting a win isn’t entirely crazy talk. Georgetown is young, but then again, so is UCLA, and the Hoyas' style of play could be enough to give an inexperienced Bruins team angina.
How will Muhammad play? The expectation meter is somewhat near the roof for the No. 1 recruit, but will the real Muhammad show up in Brooklyn? He’s missed much of the Bruins’ practice time -- an ankle injury kept him out of summer workouts, he wasn’t eligible for the team’s European trip and a recent shoulder injury took him out of some of the preseason.
Just how good is that Indiana defense? Most everyone agreed that if the Hoosiers had an Achilles heel this season, it was the inability to stop people. We still have no idea if the defense is better, what with the walkover wins to start the season. But here we might get a better clue, especially if the Hoosiers meet the Bruins in the championship game. The game sizes up as a potential track meet, with both scoring at will in the early going, so stops -- any stops -- will be vital.
Is anyone going to help Caldwell-Pope? He’s better terrific, as expected, averaging 20 points per game. The problem is the Dawgs are averaging just 60. That’s not going to win you many games, as evidenced by Georgia’s back-to-back dismal losses to Youngstown State and Southern Miss. Until someone else chips in, it’s going to be a long season for Fox.
Will a co-star steal the show? Everyone is talking about Muhammad and Anderson at UCLA and Zeller at Indiana, but could one of their teammates emerge as the difference-maker here? The results say yes. Jordan Adams has been sensational for the Bruins early, averaging 25 points per game, and his 16-of-16 free throw night helped save UCLA from a debacle loss to UC Irvine. Meanwhile, Zeller has been terrific, but how the Hoosiers fare here might come down to the play of Yogi Ferrell. The freshman point guard has been a great playmaker, dishing out 5.7 assists per game.
Monday: Indiana over Georgia; UCLA over Georgetown
Tuesday's title game: Indiana over UCLA