The success of UCLA head coach Mick Cronin has many expecting big things from the Bruins next season. (Michael Conroy / Associated Press)
UCLA is back on top.
The Bruins are No. 1 in the latest version of the 2021-22 CBS Sports preseason top 25 basketball rankings released Tuesday, portending another fun season in the wake of the team’s unexpected run to the Final Four.
The rankings come with a caveat, assuming that all of UCLA’s important contributors return next season. Sophomore guard Johnny Juzang could cash in on a scoring spree in which he averaged 27.4 points in the NCAA tournament by declaring for the NBA draft, or he could opt to return for another college season.
ESPN wasn’t quite as bullish on the Bruins, placing them No. 2 in its preseason rankings, behind Gonzaga. The CBS Sports rankings had Gonzaga at No. 2, followed by Villanova, Alabama and Duke.
Some high-end talent will bolster UCLA’s roster with the arrival of Peyton Watson, the McDonald’s All-American guard from Long Beach Poly High, in addition to playmaking guard Will McClendon from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman.
A possible bonus would be the return of senior guard Chris Smith, who was sidelined for the final three months after suffering a knee injury. Smith could come back without counting against the team’s scholarship limits after the NCAA granted every player an extra season of eligibility.
Junior forward Jalen Hill’s retirement from basketball leaves one open scholarship that the Bruins could fill with a transfer.
UCLA finished No. 7 in the USA Today coaches poll after losing to Gonzaga in a national semifinal on Jalen Suggs’ 40-footer at the overtime buzzer. The Bruins have a record 11 national championships but are seeking their first since 1995.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.