Shabazz Muhammad's eligibility might define UCLA's 2012-13 season, but it won't cost the Bruins a chance at success.
Without question, things would be much easier for Ben Howland and the No. 13 Bruins if they were able to slot their much-ballyhooed recruit into the shooting guard spot. There aren't many players in the country who are as talented as Muhammad, who is a game-changing player.
But until the NCAA says otherwise—and UCLA's appeal of the NCAA decision to declare him ineligible due to receiving improper benefits will be heard on Friday (h/t ESPN)—the Bruins have to go with what they've got. What they've got is a team capable of running with the best in the nation.
Plenty of Bruins, both old and new, have stepped up early on this season to show the world that the team's fate does not rest on Muhammad's broad shoulders.
Jordan Adams, another member of UCLA's freshman class, has exploded onto the scene. He is averaging 24 points per game on 56 percent shooting, including 40 percent from behind the arc.
Larry Drew II, who sat out last season after transferring from North Carolina, is dishing dimes like they are going out of style, picking up five, eight and 12 in his first three games as a Bruin—an average of 8.3 per game.
Four Bruins are putting up double-digit points per game: Adams, Norman Powell (12.7), David Wear (12.0) and Travis Wear (11.7).
Freshman Kyle Anderson is averaging 7.3 points per game while leading the Bruins in rebounding. He is pulling down nearly 10 boards per game (9.7).
Can UCLA make a deep NCAA Tourney run without Shabazz Muhammad?
I could go on, but you get the drift.
UCLA has a deep, talented roster, and one that is good enough to overcome adversity and win in spite of Shabazz Muhammad not being able to contribute.
Whenever Muhammad does take the floor for the Bruins, he'll join a team full of players that are more comfortable in their own skin and confident in their abilities.
That's never a bad thing.
While the Bruins have yet to play anyone of note (their first real test comes Monday against Georgetown), UCLA will be a better team because they played—and found success—playing without Shabazz Muhammad.
That's bad news for the rest of the country, and it makes UCLA a dangerous team.