No one wanted to face the UCLA Bruins in the 2019-20 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball tournament. And no one wanted the Bruins to potentially make the 2020 National Basketball Tournament either.
Unfortunately for all of us, the coronavirus had other plans on an up-and-coming Bruins basketball program that was resurgent a season ago down the back half of the schedule.
Mick Cronin and his Bruins finished last season at 19-12 but arguably the hottest team in the country in Cronin’s first year with the program.
And now, that momentum is riding over into the preseason projections for the Pac-12.
The experts at CBS Sports have pegged the Bruins as the Pac-12’s second-best team, but just narrowly.
The Oregon Ducks received three first-place votes while UCLA received just one first-place vote from CBS’ panel of five experts. All but one had the Bruins in the top two, however, something only Oregon can say as well.
All five starters are back from a team that won seven straight Pac-12 games in February as the Bruins went from a laughing stock to a league title contender in the span of a couple months during Mick Cronin’s first season as coach. Five-star point guard Daishen Nix’s decision to join the G League’s Pathway Program after signing with the Bruins is a stinger, but UCLA added Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang and four-star freshman Jaylen Clark to beef up an already solid roster. Cronin’s ability to solicit buy-in after a slow start earned him the league’s Coach of the Year honors, and it’s evident how close this team became when you look at the wealth of returning talent. Even leading scorer Chris Smith opted to return after testing the NBA Draft waters following a breakout junior season.
The aforementioned Coach of the Year honors are not reciprocal, however, as the panel voted Arizona State’s Bobby Hurley as the likely recipient of the conference’s top coaching honor this preseason.
They also selected Remy Martin from Arizona State as their pick for Pac-12 Player of the Year and USC’s Evan Mobley as the top freshman of the 2020-21 season in their preseason awards category.
One thing is for sure, however, and that’s that no one wants to face this UCLA team that was arguably at their peak last season when the postseasons were cancelled. And they essentially don’t lose a single player and instead gain top-notch talent at important positions.
This team will once again be a feared group on the hard court this December when they tip off.