The Arizona Wildcats and UCLA Bruins are the top 2 teams in the PAC 12 this season by every preseason poll. The UCLA Bruins are preparing to play without top recruit Shabazz Muhammad though, which could be a big blow for the team.
Muhammad hurt his shoulder on Oct. 25 and has been trying to get healthy for the season opener, but the larger issue that remains is actually becoming eligible to play. Muhammad hasn’t been cleared to play because of possible recruiting violations at his Las Vegas AAU program. So, what does this mean for the Bruins and for the Wildcats if Muhammad misses a significant amount of the season? Well, obviously any team would lose a lot without a top recruit but this is huge for UCLA. I will make this plain and simple, without Muhammad this team could maybe win one game in the NCAA tournament but with him the Bruins could win the entire tournament. This would make the Wildcats by far and away the best team in the PAC 12.
Fellow freshman Kyle Anderson was cleared to play last week by the NCAA so the Bruins still have a good team. Larry Drew III, Anderson, David and Travis Wear, Tyler Lamb, and Joshua Smith still make a nice team but that team reminds me a lot of last years team. Sure, Anderson is an upgrade from last years squad but he would likely only give the Bruins a few extra wins for the season. It’s when you add Muhammad in that the Bruins become elite. With his ability to create his own shot he takes the pressure off of the complimentary players. Muhammad is going to be a matchup nightmare for the Wildcats and the rest of the country if he plays, no doubt about it.
It is going to be interesting to see what happens with the Muhammad situation, and as Wildcat fans we should monitor it tightly. I am always of the belief that it is better to play against elite teams all season long because it brings the best out of you. I am rooting for the NCAA to rule Muhammad eligible, then the Wildcats and Bruins would be perched not only on top of the PAC 12, but also on top of the nation. Right where botth teams are supposed to be.