Chimezie Metu went toe-to-toe with Baylor All-American forward Johnathan Motley for much of USC’s NCAA tournament Round of 32 battle that came down to the wire before the Bears pulled out an 82-78 win. In a matchup that might eventually be seen at the next level, Metu shined in the spotlight. He produced perhaps his finest game to date. He made 11 of his 14 field goal attempts for 28 points, second most by a USC player in NCAA tournament history behind John Rudometkin’s 31 in 1960.
Metu’s points didn’t all come from slams either. While he did have some nice throwdown dunks, he produced a very well-rounded offensive effort showcasing his entire arsenal.
He showed his shot-making ability when he caught the ball with his back to the basket, dribbled back against Motley before spinning and shooting a fadeaway jumper from about 15 feet over his left shoulder. Metu faced up and knocked down the deep mid-range jumper from 17 feet. He displayed his low-post moves with a shoulder shimmy to the right before pivoting to the middle of the paint for a jump hook. He powered in and spun to his left hand to finish.
“I just felt my teammates were giving me the ball in the right spots and I was just trying to make plays,” Metu said.
He also showed he could catch the tough pass and find his teammates with passes as well. He made all six of his free throws, added five rebounds, had a steal and an assist.
Metu's game has taken such impressive strides from his freshman season at USC, earning him the Pac-12 Most Improved Player award. He learned how to better control his body and what shots to go after as a shot blocker after constantly being in foul trouble last year. The coaching staff corrected his shooting motion, getting the ball out in front of his head and his shooting has taken off. He improved his mid-range game and his shooting percentage increased from 51.8 to 54.3 percent even though he’s taking more shots and being expected to be a big offensive weapon. His free throw shooting jumped from 51.3 percent to 73.2 percent and he even knocked down one of the two threes he attempts.
“Chimezie was one of the most improved players in the Pac-12 this year for a good reason,” USC head coach Andy Enfield said. “You saw his skill development, his size, and he's had a tremendous season for us with Bennie Boatwright being out 18 games.”
Obviously, there is still room for improvement for Metu, but the question now becomes whether that improvement will come at USC or in a professional league elsewhere. It’s is highly likely he would be a second round draft pick right now, but the real question is he good enough to work himself into the first round where there is a guaranteed contract. With another offseason that showed just half the jump he made from his freshman to sophomore years, Metu would likely be a no-doubter in the first round next season, but he and his family has to decide which risk/reward situation is best.
Fellow sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright scored 16 points on 6 of 11 shooting, including making four of his nine 3-pointers. He added five rebounds three assists an a steal in 36 minutes. He could also leave USC early to enter the NBA draft. Boatwright has guard skills at 6-foot-10, which make him an offensive matchup nightmare. He can take big guys outside and little guys inside. He showed a willingness to be more physical inside this year at times, but like Metu, he needs to get stronger before he’s tries to bang against someone like DeMarcus Cousins.
When he doesn’t force the action and lets his shots come naturally within in the flow of the offense, Boatwright is a dominant college basketball player, but an early entree would come with plenty of questions for NBA executives. The stretch forward doesn’t have a true position he can guard on the defensive side right now. He has to improve his lateral quickness, which was doubly affected this season by offseason hip surgery to repair a labral tear and then by the severely sprained MCL knee ligament he suffered at the end of November.
Boatwright and Metu are both extremely inexperienced in certain regards. Boatwright hasn’t played 1300 minutes in his career yet (which is only slightly more than what Jordan McLaughlin played this season) while Metu is still a relative new to the sport, not having played as long as his peers growing up, even though you can’t tell by the way he plays on the court.
With USC’s season over, the waiting game now begins. Players have until 11:59 p.m. ET on Apr. 23 to submit early-entrant paperwork to the NBA to be considered for the NBA Draft Combine and draft. The NBA Draft Combine is on May 9-14 and limited to players that are invited based on a vote of NBA teams. Last year, neither Julian Jacobs or Nikola Jovanovic were invited to the combine and both went undrafted. Regardless of an invite to the combine, college underclassmen have until 10 days after the NBA combine to choose whether to remain draft eligible or to withdraw their name from the draft pool and retain their college eligibility.
So will Boatwright and/or Metu stay or have their playing days at USC come to a close? As of now, it appears no decision has been made...just yet:
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