The newly crowned Pac-12 Player of the Year, UCLA forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. harkens back to an earlier, quainter vision of college basketball. He's an inveterate hustle psycho, chasing down loose balls and throwing himself into box outs; a senior, outlasting and outplaying all the hotshot freshmen and NBA aspirants; a winner, averaging nearly 18 points and 8 rebounds per game by doing the little things until they compound into big things. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,700 Division 1 college basketball players; Jaquez is arguably the best. Giants, the prophet says, walk among us.

If—when?—the UCLA Bruins win the NCAA Tournament, it'll be because Jaquez won it for them. Alongside talismanic senior point guard Tyger Campbell, Jaquez is the orienting force behind an elite UCLA team. Together, Jaquez and Campbell exude a kind of physical charisma, a compelling magnetism that organizes the Bruins on both ends.

Although the Bruins have weathered injuries to their supporting cast and tried to integrate three freshman into their rotation, their senior duo provided the cohering ligamenture. At times, there's the sense that you could slot any three players around Jaquez and Campbell and they could make it work. As a result, the Bruins are one of the nation's best and most balanced teams; with the nation's best defense and 25th best offense according to KenPom, UCLA is one of only four schools to rank in the top 25 on both ends.

Building on a Final Four run in 2021 and a Sweet 16 appearance last year, this is UCLA's best team since Mick Cronin took the helm in 2019; in fact, it might be UCLA's best team of the century if they can cap off their stellar season with a title. This is a mannered, disciplined outfit; they somehow turn poised restraint into dominance.

Despite not being a great shooting team, they're good in just about all the complementary ways a team can be good. They take care of the ball, but force turnovers (+8.3 turnover differential per 100 possessions); they attack the offensive glass and clean the defensive one (+6.1 rebound differential per 100 possessions). Whereas Alabama overwhelms teams with their torrent of threes and transition buckets or Houston thoroughly outmuscles teams, UCLA's greatest strength is their paucity of weaknesses.

Even in an absolutely brutal West Region, UCLA's frictionless, flawless brand of basketball stands alone. To be sure, the absence of Jaylen Clark will hurt, but they wouldn't face an elite wing scorer until theoretically Kansas' Jalen Wilson in the Elite Eight.

Still, it's unfair to sell this team as some kind of toothless Hoosiers-adjacent collection of hardos who win because of the power of friendship or whatever; UCLA has dudes. Jaquez is a no-doubt NBA player as the kind of exacting sweat merchant who invariably populate postseason rotations; Campbell is a three-time First Team All-Pac 12 point guard; freshman center Adem Bona is a defensive genius and potential first round NBA Draft pick, alternately blowing up pick and rolls with hard hedges and savvy drops; Amari Bailey is a five star freshman whose mom dated Drake and emerged as a go-to scorer  in the Pac-12 Tournament.

In this sense, the pitch for UCLA is simple: they have the steeliness of a veteran squad with the upside of a younger one. Jaquez and Campbell provide them with the floor of an Elite Eight team; Bona and Bailey give them the ceiling of a national champion.