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Is UCLA Basketball Overrated Ahead of the 2021-22 Season?

UCLA Basketball
(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Is UCLA Basketball Overrated for 2021-22?

I’ve been on this train for weeks now, but I needed to get it in writing so it can truly age well/poorly. As early as Jimmer Range Episode 1, this has been my opinion and I’m going to stick to it. The Preseason AP Poll dropped a short time ago, and UCLA Basketball was sitting at No. 2 with eight first-place votes. While I think the Bruins will be a good team this year, I have a hard time believing they are one of the two best teams in the nation.

Looking Back to Last Season

Last we saw Mick Cronin and the Bruins, they were in the Final Four facing Gonzaga, losing an overtime contest on a Jalen Suggs buzzer-beater. Entering the tournament, UCLA was not a shoo-in for the Final Four in any sense. After senior leader Chris Smith tore his ACL mid-season, I fully expected them to crash and burn. Obviously that did not happen, but it did take them a while to figure it out. The Bruins closed Pac-12 play with three consecutive losses and then another loss to Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. After finishing the season at fourth place in the conference, UCLA entered the NCAA Tournament as a play-in No. 11 seed. From there, they began their lauded tournament run.

UCLA Basketball – The Pros

There’s certainly a lot to recommend the Bruins entering this season. For one, they are bringing back everyone from the Final Four team other than the aforementioned Smith (graduation) and Jalen Hill (retirement). Johnny Juzang had a breakout season after transferring from Kentucky and emerged as the go-to guy. Jaime Jaquez is back after averaging 12 points and six rebounds while shooting 39.4% from three. Tyger Campbell is a capable veteran point guard who returns as well.

Mick Cronin also added a top prospect in Peyton Watson, who was the No. 11 overall 2021 recruit according to 247Sports as well as the No. 1 player in the state of California. Myles Johnson transferred in from Rutgers and will be an important presence down low. He was selected to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team last season.

If you’re really into continuity, there’s plenty to like on this UCLA roster. The new additions should theoretically fit well into their plans, but there’s no question that Juzang and Jaquez are the top guys.

UCLA Basketball – The Cons (insert LiAngelo Ball joke here)

Here’s the part where I give the reasons why I am not as high on UCLA Basketball as most other pundits. Right off the bat, they finished fourth in the Pac-12 last season. Outside of their impressive run in the NCAA Tournament, they were a fourth-place team. I’m hesitant to base a preseason evaluation on six tournament games, regardless of how important those games were. Do not fall prey to hindsight bias. No one expected the Bruins to be a dominant force in March. They lost four straight games before their tournament run, and most people (including myself) didn’t expect them to win their play-in game against Michigan State. Even in the tournament, it’s not like they steamrolled their way through the competition. Half of their games (Michigan State, Alabama, Gonzaga) went to overtime, which wound up being three of their seven total overtime games in the 2020-21 season.

I don’t have anything bad to say about Johnny Juzang because he’s a stud, but he wasn’t really a consistent scoring threat the entire season. As late as March, he was scoring six points in a loss against Oregon. He had as many 20-point games in the NCAA Tournament (four) as he had in the entire season leading up to it. Obviously Juzang is capable of putting the team on his back, but can he be that guy for the whole year? With Jaquez around, he probably won’t have to be, but it’s certainly something to watch for.

Check out the Jimmer Range Podcast preview of the Pac-12 for 2021-22!

Those are my thoughts on UCLA Basketball entering this season. I can’t wait to find myself on Old Takes Exposed when they make the Final Four again.


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