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9 Days ‘Till OSU Basketball: UCLA Bruins Preview

Welcome to Westwood Mick Cronin.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA-Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA Bruins

  • Head Coach: Mick Cronin (1st Season) | Overall: 0-0
  • Last Season: 17-15 (8-10) | Post-Season: None
  • Pac-12 Preseason Poll: 8th (148 Points)

Projected Starters

  • Tyger Campbell (Guard - RS Freshman)
  • Prince Ali (Guard - RS Senior)
  • Jules Bernard (Guard - Sophomore)
  • Cody Riley (Forward - RS Sophomore)
  • Shareef O’Neal (Forward - RS Freshman)

The Skinny

The expectations for coaches simply can’t be higher then they are at UCLA.

Former head coach Steve Alford took the Bruins to three Sweet Sixteens in his first five seasons. Halfway through year six in Westwood, he was gone.

Ben Howland lasted ten years in the City of Angels, but even his three consecutive trips to the Final Four wouldn’t help the school see past their “what have you done for me lately?” mentality.

And there was also Steve Lavin, whose charismatic charm and much heralded recruiting prowess was perfect for Los Angeles, that lost his position after one 10-win campaign, following a tenure that boasted five trips to the Sweet Sixteen and an Elite Eight drop-in.

UCLA Basketball
Mick Cronin has stepped into the bright lights of the City of Angels.
Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

So why would anyone take the role with the Bruins to simply battle under the weight of all that pressure?

For a coach like Mick Cronin, the former Cincinnati program director whose L.A. ties don’t stretch far beyond his Netflix subscription, it’s all for the challenge of turning around one of the hallowed institutions in all of college basketball.

The surprise hire of Cronin by UCLA sent shock-waves through the college basketball landscape, as the Cincinnati native had never coached outside the Ohio Valley region and his teams are known for their hard-nosed and antagonistic personalities. Cronin recruits blue-collar talents, not five-star NBA prospects as is UCLA’s trademark, and morphs them into all-league selections, not lottery picks. He’s the opposite of everything about the bright lights and finesse nature of the Bruins program.

And maybe that’s why him being named to the position is just crazy enough to work.

However, it will take more than a deep dosage of hard-earned Midwestern values to get the Bruins headed in the right direction. It’ll take a hard and stern rebooting of a UCLA roster, that has limitless talent, yet a wealth of chemistry issues alike.

The return of big man Shareef O’Neal and point guard Tyger Campbell to the roster after missing their freshmen campaigns due to medical issues may help with building a nucleus not structured simply around one-and-done options. O’Neal and Campbell were both highly regarded prospects coming out of high school in the 2018 class, that could’ve changed the Bruins fortunes last year if healthy.

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at UCLA
Guard Prince Ali will bring some much needed veteran leadership to a youthful Bruins group.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA will also look towards some veteran returners in steady glue guy Prince Ali (9.6 PPG) and oversized wing Chris Smith (6.3 PPG) to help ease into a new culture. It’ll be the success of these talents that bring along a likeable sophomore quarter that includes Jules Bernard (7.6 PPG), Cody Riley (5.5 PPG), David Singleton (5.2 PPG) and Jalen Hill (4.3 PPG) and some inspiring freshmen that Cronin managed to bring to town in wing players Jaime Jaquez and Jake Kyman.

Yet overall, to grow from last season’s 17-15 mark that featured a losing record in league play, the Bruins will need to be quick to adapt to Cronin’s new outlook for the program. Otherwise, it could be another long season in Westwood as yet another one of college basketball’s blue-blood programs struggles to restore itself to it’s once past glory.

Four Non-Conference Games To Watch

  • 11/25 v. BYU* (Maui Jim Maui Invitational)
  • 11/26 v. Kansas/Chaminade* (Maui Jim Maui Invitational)
  • 12/14 at Notre Dame
  • 12/21 v. North Carolina* (CBS Sports Classic)