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SAD NEWS: Worst nightmare as quarter back Graham Mertz must leave final decision

After going a disappointing 16-17 a year ago, Mick Cronin realized things needed to change within the dynamics of his UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team.

This is a program with the most National Championships of any school in the country. There’s an expectation that this team will be competing for titles on an annual basis.

Fully aware of this, Cronin went to work in the transfer portal — adding six new players. In turn, multiple Bruins from last year’s roster left the roster. In order to paint this picture with a clearer view, here’s a full breakdown of the roster changes (as of April 30):

For those keeping track at home, UCLA will be welcoming seven (!) newcomers to its roster next year. Six players will be leaving the program for a myriad of reasons.

Of course, the biggest loss was Bona. The reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, he was rumored to have bypassed a sizable NIL deal to try his luck in the NBA.

However, Cronin did build a very well-rounded team with the help of the portal. A major emphasis centered on adding some much-needed scoring punch. UCLA scored only 66.0 PPG a year ago. This included an anemic 33.2 percent from three-point range.

Led by Bilodeau (14.5 PPG), nearly every transfer — Clark (13.2 PPG), Johnson (10.9 PPG), Dailey Jr. (9.3 PPG), Harris (14.3 PPG), Kyle (13.1 PPG) averaged in double figures a year ago. Furthermore, each player brings a little something different to the table.

Clark will come in as a playmaking guard. He can get his own shot, and — as he proved when dropping 36 points in an ACC Tournament loss to NC State — Clark can get hot in a hurry. Johnson is a multi-time all-league defender from his days across town at USC. A true three-and-D player, Johnson will immediately become a fixture for the Bruins. In many ways, being a Midwest native himself, he’s emblematic of the tough, gritty nature Cronin wants his teams to demonstrate.

Kyle also has the reputation as an elite defender. He was the conference Defensive Player of Year for the Jackrabbits this past season. While not as stout as Bona, there are some similarities with Kyle being a springy rim-protecting plus-athlete. He might have a slightly more advanced offensive game as well compared to UCLA’s former center.

Dailey Jr. and Bilodeau are two guys worth getting very excited about if you’re a UCLA fan. Dailey Jr. is a fantastic athlete — excelling in transition and getting to the cup with ease. He has a nice mid-range game, and the versatility to play multiple positions with real prowess on the defensive end of the floor. Harris is one of the country’s best three-point shooters. Also a good athlete, he figures to be one of UCLA”s trusted on-ball perimeter defenders.

Bilodeau is a go-scorer. As he demonstrated with Oregon State, he can put the ball in the bucket via a myriad of ways. There’s a world where Bilodeau moonlights at the forward spot where Jaime Jaquez Jr. had considerable success. Whether it’s isolating on the block, taking his man off the bounce from the top of the key, or even spotting up from three, Bilodeau is the scoring option UCLA simply didn’t have a season ago.

In terms of a starting lineup, UCLA could opt to go several ways. Dylan Andrews will be the team’s starting point guard. Kobe Johnson will start somewhere — whether at the two or the three spot. IF UCLA opts to go with a jumbo lineup, you could see an Andrews-Johnson backcourt with a frontcourt featuring Dailey Jr., Bilodeau, and one of Kyle or Mara.

There’s also something alluring about a five-out lineup, where Bilodeau mans the five spot with Dailey Jr. alongside of him at the four. From there, Andrews and Clark could function as the backcourt, with Johnson at the other wing spot.

When guessing what an early iteration may look like, here’s one guess:

In this situation, Bilodeau and Clark would function as the go-to scorers. Andrews would control the tempo, Johnson would be the defensive stopper/floor spacer, and Kyle will be tasked with protecting the rim. From there, you could then easily bring in a very deep stable of bench players possessing considerable versatility.

You may wonder where this leaves Stefanovic and Mack — two guys who started all of last year. In all actuality, Mack shouldn’t have been forced into the role he was given. Out of necessity, Cronin had to have Mack on the floor to create. As an off-the-bench scorer, he figures to be more dynamic and far more efficient.

As for Stefanovic, he will provide the veteran leadership off the bench as a stabilizing force. Having a three-point shooter/rebounding force at 6’7″ coming in as a reserve is a major plus.

This is a far deeper and more talented roster than a year ago. Cronin has a ton of combinations to play with. In the process, with the added athleticism and experience with this group, UCLA figures to be a major factor in the Big Ten this upcoming year.

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