Mick Cronin needs to lean on Dylan Andrews for a deep Pac-12 Tournament run

The UCLA Bruins have struggled to replace Jaime Jaquez Jr. on the offensive end all season, and by now it's clear that Adem Bona can't be the focal point. So, Cronin needs to let his sophomore guard take over in March and live with the risks associated.

UCLA Bruins guard Dylan Andrews (2)
UCLA Bruins guard Dylan Andrews (2) / James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

After losses in five of their last six games, the 16-16 UCLA Bruins are limping into the Pac-12 Tournament as the conference’s No. 5 seed. Mick Cronin’s team will open postseason play in his fifth season against last place Oregon State and are in serious danger of breaking a streak of three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances. 

UCLA is 115th in the NCAA’s Net Rankings, so unless the Bruins unexpectedly steal the conference title, Mick Cronin’s tenure will have quickly gone from a No. 2 seed in 2023 still on the fumes of a Final Four appearance to disaster in 2024. The program is too cash-strapped to get impatient with its $4.1 million a year head coach, but Cronin could start pining for a return to the midwest. 

However, a deep Pac-12 Tournament run, in the final year of the conference, could put that all to bed and stabilize an athletic department that’s heading for the Big Ten and just saw its head coach leave willingly for a demotion at Ohio State. To pull it off, like he did in 2021 with Johnny Juzang, Cronin will need to lean on his young mercurial guard and live and die by his streaky scoring. 

For three years, UCLA learned to play through Jaime Jaquez Jr. on the offensive end, which meant a lot of high-post touchdowns for the hybrid forward-facilitator. However, on UCLA’s magical hot streak through March Madness, he put the ball in the hands of Juzang, who shot the team from the First Four to the Final Four. 

This year without Jaquez, Cronin tried to run the offense through the low-post with Adem Bona, and he is the Bruins leading scorer, averaging 12.4 points on 58.6% from the field. However, Bona is the only UCLA starter shooting over 40% and the Bruins rank 269th in offensive efficiency. 

The geometry of college basketball, with a smaller court and less elite-level three-point shooters, still allows for effiencent offense to run through the post, like Purdue with Zach Edey, but Bona doesn’t have the gravity of the 7-foot-4 reigning National Player of the Year or his passing ability. Bona averages 2.4 turnovers and just 1.2 assists, so for the Pac-12 Tournament, instead of forcing the ball to Bona which has largely led to an under .500 record, Cronin needs to ride the ups and downs of Dylan Andrews. 

Andrews is not a rock-steady reliable veteran like every head coach wants in March. He’s the type of score-first point guard who can just as easily shoot his team out of a game as into one. Still, hoping for a few heat check perforamnces is this specific team’s best chance. I’m acknowledging that it could end in a disastrous 3-21 shooting shooting night for seven points and a 15-point loss, but the alternative is more of the same, which is also disastrous. It’s glaringly obvious that this team is not good enough to win the Pac-12, even in a down year for the conference, the way its playing. 

On the season, Andrews is scoring 12.4 points a night on 38/30/83 shooting splits with 3.8 assists, but since UCLA’s January 27th win over USC, he’s averaging 15.3 points and hitting 37% of his 4.5 three-point attempts per game. That’s a 12-game stretch of much improved offensive play from the sophomore, but it included a six-game win streak, a five-game losing streak, an 0-7 shooting night with five assists and five turnovers against USC from Andrews, and four 20-point games. 

In all likelihood, the Pac-12 is a two-bid league this season, and with the way that UCLA has played for the past month, nobody would pick the Bruins to be a bid-stealer. Still, a dynamic scorer like Andrews is the type of player who can alter his team’s fate, if given the chance. Like he did with Juzang, Cronin will have to accept the risk to reap the rewards.

If UCLA wins the tournament, who could they play in round one?. dark. Next. fdsfsdfsdf