UCLA received outstanding news this past week when forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. announced that he intends to be back in Westwood next season to help UCLA hang a 12th national championship banner.

“When I committed here, we wanted to get this program back on the national stage, back where it belongs among the nation’s elite. I’m proud of what we accomplished the last three years, but there’s some unfinished business,” he said in a message to the fanbase. “I came to UCLA to win a national championship. Shouldn’t that be the goal? I want to hang banner No. 12 in Pauley Pavilion.”

The Bruins have seen reserve wing Peyton Watson and star guard Johnny Juzang enter the 2022 NBA Draft. Guard Jules Bernard has also put his name into consideration for the draft but intends to maintain his eligibility. There seems to be some optimism he could still return.

As it stands, UCLA will bring back its floor general in Tyger Campbell, its offensive fulcrum in Jaquez, a guy in Jaylen Clark who developed nicely throughout the 2021-22 season, and a top-10 recruiting class that includes dynamic guard Amari Bailey and center Adem Bona. That seems like more than enough to remain at or near the top of the college basketball scene. Jaquez could very well be an All-American and National Player of the Year threat next season.

As such, UCLA has earned quite a bit of attention since the 2021-22 season ended and predictions about the upcoming season have started trickling out. UCLA landed at No. 1 in CBS Sports’ early Top 25 at the beginning of April. We lauded the Bruins as the team with the most upside in the Pac-12 heading into next season. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi pegged the Bruins as a No. 1 seed in his first 2023 NCAA Tournament Field of 68.

And yet UCLA is curiously absent from ESPN legend Dick Vitale’s early “Elite Eight.”

The college hoops analyst has North Carolina ranked at No. 1, the team that knocked the Bruins out of the last NCAA Tournament. He has Houston second, Kentucky third, Arkansas fourth, Gonzaga fifth, Duke sixth, Kansas seventh, and Creighton eighth.

UCLA finished the 2021-22 season 11th in KenPom.

North Carolina finished 16th.

Arkansas finished 18th.

Creighton finished 50th.

We shall see.