Just yesterday, we looked at how your UCLA Bruins were pegged to be the second-best team in the Pac-12 this season by the experts at CBS Sports. And now today, another honor rolled in, though not quite as great as second-best in the Pac-12.
ESPN rolled out their ‘Way Too Early Top 25’ Power Rankings ahead of the season that will be altered by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
UCLA didn’t quite rank as the top, or even the second-best, team in the Pac-12, but they did find a home at No. 19 in their top 25 rankings.
There was no honeymoon stage for the Mick Cronin-UCLA marriage. The Bruins were 8-9 in mid-January last season, with a home loss to Cal State Fullerton the lowlight of the campaign. Things turned around, and UCLA finished 12-6 in conference play, just one game back of conference champion Oregon — and I think this season will be more like the final two months than the first two months. All five starters are back, led by Chris Smith, who withdrew his name from the NBA draft and just needs to find consistency this season. While five-star recruit Daishen Nix’s decision to go to the G League was a tough blow for Cronin’s program, UCLA did add an immediate impact guard in Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang, whose perimeter shooting should help a team that shot just 32.2% from 3 on the season. It’s also worth noting UCLA finished eighth in the league in defensive efficiency last season; Cronin finished in the top 30 nationally at that end of the floor his final nine seasons at Cincinnati. It’ll turn around.
ESPN also noted this as the projected starting lineup for the Bruins in 2020-21:
Tyger Campbell (8.3 PPG, 5.0 APG)
Johnny Juzang (2.9 PPG at Kentucky)
Jaime Jaquez (8.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG)
Chris Smith (13.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
Jalen Hill (9.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG)
UCLA fell behind Arizona State (No. 16) and Oregon (No. 17) on the top 25 rankings, but narrowly.
We’re still a month and some change away from the season, whenever the schedule is released, but it’s never too early to praise the drastic turnaround that head coach Mick Cronin pulled off this last season.
The sky truly is the limit for this bunch this season.