A month out from the season getting underway, the Bruins' top players continue to reel in the praise.
Guard Johnny Juzang and guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. both made the cut on NCAA.com's Andy's Katz's list of the 25 best players returning to men's college basketball for the 2021-2022 season. Juzang topped the rankings at No. 1, with Jaquez coming in at No. 10.
Katz announced the players in order over the course of his March Madness 365 podcast.
Juzang and Jaquez combined for 26.0 points per game in the regular season, only to score 37.8 per game between the two of them in the Bruins' six March Madness contests. The pair led UCLA in scoring as they stormed from the First Four to the Final Four, and now with every player who took part in that run returning for more, the Bruins are a consensus top-five team heading into this season.
On his podcast, Katz returned to the moment where Juzang nearly forced a second overtime against Gonzaga in the Final Four, only for Jalen Suggs to answer and end the game with a half-court buzzer-beater. Still, Katz said he views Juzang as a top player in the nation this season.
"What a marvelous run he had, leading the Bruins to the national semifinal, just within a whisker of getting to the national championship game," Katz said. "Great run in March, he's better, he's stronger, he's more focused. Look for him throughout the course of this year for UCLA, he's one of the best players in the country."
Katz didn't have much to say about Jaquez, but credited him for being a key part of UCLA moving forward.
"Gets overshadowed a little bit with the Bruins, but he's a scorer, he's a baller," Katz said. "He's a winner."
On the written version of Katz's list up on NCAA.com, this is what NCAA digital journalist Stan Becton had to say about Jaquez:
While Jaime Jaquez Jr. might have been overshadowed at UCLA, Katz sees the 6’7’’ wing as a scorer, a baller and a winner entering the season. After improving his stats in the regular season, Jaquez took the next step in UCLA’s Final Four run averaging 15 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 45% from three. Jaquez’s continued growth as a player is part of the reason many have the Bruins as a preseason favorite to return to the Final Four.
And here is what Becton wrote about Juzang:
After leading UCLA to the Final Four, Johnny Juzang is the top returning player entering the 2021-22 college basketball season. In the NCAA tournament, Juzang averaged 22.8 points on 50.9% shooting from the field. However, after suffering a heartbreaking buzzer-beater defeat, Juzang return to the Bruins better, stronger and more focused. Katz forecasts an outstanding season over the course of the year for one of the best players in the country.
Interestingly enough, not one other player from the Pac-12 made Katz's top 25. Arizona State's Remy Martin transferred to Kansas and Cal's Matt Bradley transferred to San Diego State, and those two came in at No. 12 and No. 24, respectively.
With two top-10 players and not much top-tier talent on the conference slate, at least in Katz's eyes, UCLA is expected to be in the driver's seat in the Pac-12. The Bruins haven't won a regular season conference title since 2013 or a conference tournament since 2014.