UCLA Basketball was hot at what seemed like the right time, but faltering on the road to a lowly Washington State squad has fans discouraged. According to ESPN’s Bracketology, the Bruins are nonetheless a sixth seed for the NCAA Tournament. As of now, prior to the PAC-12 Tourney, UCLA’s path to the Final Four is one of the toughest in the nation; looking like this:
Then again, nobody expected or currently expects the 2013-14 Bruins to make a run of that relevance. More likely than not, UCLA as a six seed would beat Nebraska in the first round — six seeds have defeated eleven seeds 67 percent of the time between 1985 and 2012. As tough as it is to predict the madness, for UCLA to make a deep run they would, in all likelihood have to get through Iowa State, Duke (who they lost to earlier this season in Madison Square Garden), and then Villanova — my pick to win the big dance. If ‘Nova was upset, then the Bruins could face the Cardinals out of Louisville.
So let’s say the Bruins do knock off the Huskers and it comes time to play Iowa State in the round of 32, what will go down? Make no mistake, there will be no shortage of points. The Bruins, who rank 11th in points per game wouldn’t struggle to score against the Cyclones — but the ISU is ranked 7th in the nation as it pertains to points. The Bruins average 82, and the Cyclones average 82.5. Each plays great team basketball with UCLA coming in at 5th in the nation for assists, and ISU at 1st — they average 17.3 and 18.6, respectively. Between the Bruins and Cyclones, they shoot an outstanding 48.6 and 46.7 percent, so one may leave this game to rebounding, but even though the Bruins fall to 135th in this category, they only grab an average of 3.5 less than the Cyclones do — and they are the 19th best in the nation as far as rebounding goes. Not to devalue the rebounding aspect of the game, but it’s hard to rely on those four rebounds bouncing your way. This game will come down to defense — and while the Bruins had been great on that end of the court for quite some time, they have fallen flat as of late.
ISU and UCLA are also nearly incidental on the defensive side of the ball. Points allowed, shooting percentage, assists allowed, are all very similar. You can see the Bruins stats here, and the Cyclones here. Though the game may be close, if it comes down to crunch time and the Bruins are playing great defense, they could pull off the win due to their free throw shooting — which is seven percent higher as a team. That’s about the only difference statistically between these teams, so it’ll make for an interesting game.
Should they get through ISU and face Duke, they could potentially win that game. They struggled defensively against Duke early in the season but if they step up on that end of the floor and still score near their average, it would be an Elite Eight bid for the Bruins.
That is by far the best case scenario, and sadly that scenario ends in the Round of Eight as it seems nearly impossible for them to fight their way through Villanova. Then again, this is March Madness, so don’t get to mad when the madness strikes.