The beauty of college basketball is that anything can happen in the postseason. Regardless of regular-season success, any eligible team can win it all if they turn the corner at the right time. A great example of that is UCLA. Despite being on the bubble and making the play-in round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, the Bruins upset teams like Alabama and Michigan on their way to the Final Four.
UCLA almost made it to the national championship, but a buzzer-beater kept them from winning it all. With that much success, one would think they would build off of it and make another deep run next year. However, it is hard to make it back to the Final Four. Some programs have never made it.
UCLA was an underdog last season, so they know what it takes to overcome the NCAA odds. Here is why college basketball bettors should be optimistic about UCLA’s chances of making it back to the Final Four in 2022.
UCLA Is Young
Teams who make dream runs to the Final Four are usually led by veterans who will leave for the pros. However, plenty of UCLA basketball players are underclassmen. Their leading scorer Johnny Juzang is a sophomore, and none of their starters were seniors. UCLA had one senior who only played in eight games. Chris Smith tore his ACL, but he will be eligible to return as well if he chooses.
Now, fans will have to wait and see if these players decide to declare for the NBA. Many college basketball stars like to strike while the iron is hot. After making national headlines and shining during the NCAA Tournament, it might be best for players like Juzang to head to the pros. However, those decisions have not yet been made. As of right now, UCLA will return many key players from their Final Four team, and that experience will be valuable as the Bruins try to make it back.
It’s almost impossible to make it to the Final Four in back-to-back years. If you want to do it, you have to rely on veteran players with experience in tough situations. Not only did UCLA win tough games, but they did it in nail-biting fashion. That experience can’t be taught in practice, and they will have a unique perspective as they return for another run.
UCLA Has a Great Head Coach
Mick Cronin just completed his second year with the Bruins, and he is already off to a great start. He has been successful at UCLA, but his NCAA Tournament success goes beyond this brief tenure. He also coached Murray State and Cincinnati to the NCAA Tournament. Overall, he has coached teams to the NCAA Tournament 12 times. That is hard to do with only 18 seasons under your belt as a head coach (17 if you take out the 2020 campaign.)
Cronin has proven that he knows what it takes to get his team into the NCAA Tournament. After that, it still takes quality coaching to make a run. He put on his best performance in 2021, but he’s not done with UCLA.
The Bruins have an insane history of college basketball success. Cronin will never reach the levels of other historic UCLA coaches, but he might be able to make it back to the Final Four if he continues to coach at this level.
Peyton Watson Is On His Way
UCLA might keep most of last year’s players, but they are also adding one of the top recruits in college basketball.
Peyton Watson is a five-star recruit ranked in the top 10. He’s a bit undersized at 180 pounds, but he has room to add muscle to his frame. His length is great, and it helps him as a defender.
Watson could easily be a one-and-done player, but he can still bring pride to UCLA in 2021-22. If the McDonald’s All-American lives up to the hype, the Bruins will be a top team in the Pac-12. That alone will boost UCLA’s hopes of returning to the Final Four.
At the end of the day, anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament. Top teams are upset every year, and a Cinderella story always happens. For UCLA, they hope to catch lightning in a bottle once again.