A year older or not, freshman Shabazz Muhammad and the UCLA Bruins face a stiff test in the Minnesota Golden Gophers Friday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Frank Ervin Center in Austin.
The Los Angeles Time published an expose Friday that revealed Mohammed is actually 20-years-old, not 19, as listed in the Bruins media guide. The story alleges the extra year may have given the NBA prospect a leg up throughout his young career.
Minnesota is a three point favorite heading into the South Region matchup.
Mohammed was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, and earned first-team all-conference honors while leading UCLA to a 25-9 record and regular season title.
The Bruins fell short of the Pac-12 tournament championship, losing 78-69 to Oregon despite all five starters scoring in double figures. Muhammad netted 14 points and six rebounds, and senior guard Larry Drew II also chipped in 14 points and six assists.
It was UCLA’s first game without another top freshman, Jordan Adams. The 6’5” swing man broke his right foot last week, and will miss the rest of the season. Adams was the team’s second leading scorer with 15.3 per game, and also contributed 2.2 steals a game.
That loss leaves the Bruins shorthanded, even against a Minnesota club that’s lost three straight, and five of their last seven games.
The Gophers and sophomore guard Andre Hollins went 8-10 in the Big Ten this season, but still managed impressive victories over Memphis, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
Hollins leads Minnesota in points, assists, and three-point percentage at a near 40 percent clip, and is one of four Gophers to average 10 points or more. Senior forward Trevor Mbakwe also stalks the glass for 8.7 rebounds per game for a Minnesota team that is 17th in rebounding in the nation.
The game tips-off at 9:57 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast by TruTV, or watch a free live online stream at the NCAA March Madness official site here.
Betting Odds: Minnesota is favored by 3 points.
Over/Under: 135 points
Prediction: The loss of Adams is huge, and the controversy surrounding Muhammad may distract the Bruins. UCLA has enough talent to hang around for most of the game, and Muhammad and Drew should lead a late surge for victory.
Predicted Score: UCLA 65, Minnesota 60