Wednesday night was the NCAA's deadline for players to retain their collegiate eligibility by withdrawing from the NBA Draft, and the biggest winner of that deadline was the UCLA Bruins. Star Johnny Juzang, who led the Bruins to a surprising Final Four run this past season, did withdraw from the draft and UCLA is now a +1200 second favorite behind Gonzaga on the William Hill Sportsbook college basketball odds to win next year's NCAA Tournament.
Juzang, a transfer from Kentucky, had a good regular season for a middling UCLA team by averaging 16.0 points and 4.1 rebounds as a sophomore. Those numbers didn't exactly stream NBA Draft material. However, in the NCAA Tournament he averaged 22.8 points and shot 50.9 percent from the field in the Bruins' six games. His 137 points were the second-highest NCAA Tournament total in UCLA history (which has had a fair share of good players), trailing Hall of Famer Gail Goodrich's 140 points over four games in the 1965 tournament.
The Bruins weren't even supposed to win their First Four game vs. Michigan State but did behind 23 points from Juzang and then made it all the way to the national semifinal before losing on an epic overtime buzzer-beater to Gonzaga. Juzang led all scorers with 29 points. The CBS Sports Big Board ranked him as only the No. 49 overall prospect in the July 29 draft.
"We are very excited Johnny will be returning to UCLA," Bruins coach Mick Cronin said in a statement. "Johnny was an important addition to our team last year. He is a great player and an excellent teammate. Obviously, we had a special run in March and Johnny, playing on a sprained ankle, was magnificent along with his teammates. We are all excited to get back to work and build on our success."
Also deciding to return to Westwood was forward Cody Riley. He started all 31 games last season, averaging 10 points and 5.4 rebounds – both career highs. However, guard Chris Smith announced that he won't return for a fifth year of eligibility. He averaged 12.6 points and 6.4 rebounds while starting the first eight games before a season-ending ACL injury. Considering Smith wasn't around that long, every major contributor is back for UCLA.
Cronin adds a touted freshman in forward Peyton Watson, ranked by sister site 247Sports as the No. 8 player in the nation and tops in California. In addition, center Myles Johnson has transferred in from Rutgers and is immediately eligible (like all transfers these days). He averaged 8.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a season ago and is from Long Beach, Calif.
Gonzaga probably will open at No. 1 in both preseason polls and won't be caught as the betting favorite to win the 2022 NCAA Tournament – the Final Four is in New Orleans – but UCLA should be No. 2 in both polls. CBS Sports' Gary Parrish has Gonzaga at No. 1 and UCLA at No. 2 in his latest Top 25 And 1 rankings. The Bruins have won a record 11 national titles but not since 1995.
UCLA's full schedule for next year isn't out yet, but the Bruins will play North Carolina in the eighth CBS Sports Classic, which will be played Saturday, Dec. 18, at a site TBA.
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