The UCLA basketball team has an interesting stretch as they head toward the end of the regular season, the Pac-12 Tournament and NCAA tournament. So how could it end?
After what can only be called a disappointing split on their visit to the Arizona schools, the UCLA basketball team head into the final push of their regular season. But at 17-8, UCLA still has a lot of work to do if they want to make it into the NCAA Tournament.
Let’s take a closer look at what the Bruins must accomplish and how the rest of their season may take shape.
The Bruins have five regular season games remaining on their schedule. Of those five games, the last one at USC (8-5 in PAC-12) may be their toughest game. But their next four games will be against middle of the pack teams with a combined conference record of 26-24.
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First up will be a visit from the Oregon schools. Less than a month ago the Bruins went up to Eugene and Corvallis and were swept for the first time since the 2014-15 season. Beating both Oregon and Oregon State this week would cancel out the previous losses and go a long way to boosting the Bruins’ hopes for a postseason bid. After that, the Bruins leave Pauley Pavilion for good this season as they travel to the Rocky Mountains to take on Utah and Colorado.
Last time they met, the Bruins easily handled the Utes at home beating Larry Krystkowiak’s team by 19 points. Unfortunately in their next game, the Bruins came out flat and ended up shooting just 37% in a home loss to Colorado. If the Bruins are able to handle their business at home against the Oregon schools, a split in the Rockies would be acceptable but obviously not preferred. A sweep here would put them at or above the 20-win mark even before heading to USC for their final conference game.
In short, if Coach Alford and Co. go at least 3-1 before playing the Trojans, the Bruins set themselves up nicely to grab a top four spot in the PAC-12 and earn a bye in the first round of the conference tourney.
Prediction: The Bruins go 3-2 in their final five games, stumbling in one of their games at Utah or Colorado before losing their final game at USC. This would still give the Bruins a 3 or 4 seed setting up a second round matchup with Oregon, Colorado, or Stanford in the PAC-12 tournament.
As mentioned before, I think the Bruins will end up as a 3 or 4 seed in the PAC-12. This will set them up to play the winner or either the 5/12 or 6/11 game. If they win this first game, they could face Arizona, USC, or Washington in the quarterfinals. UCLA needs at least one win in the PAC-12 tourney for them to feel more confident about getting into the NCAA Tournament.
If they manage to win two and get into the championship game, the Bruins would be a lock to get called on Selection Sunday. I would love to see them get at least two wins in the PAC-12 tourney which could move them up to a 7 seed in the NCAA Tourney and avoid a matchup with a number 1 seed in the second round.
Prediction: The Bruins earn the third seed in the PAC-12 where they beat Stanford in the quarterfinals and set up game three of the season against USC. In that game, Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh repeat the success they had in beating the Trojans the first time around and get revenge for USC beating them in their final regular season game. Alas, three games in three days will be too much for a Bruins’ team with a short bench as they go down to Arizona in the championship game.
After making it to the finals of their conference tournament, the 22-win Bruins earn a 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They come out strong looking to quiet the pundits who claim the Bruins are only in because of their name and win their opening game.
Next, the Bruins would face (most likely) a more talented and deeper 2 seed. This, unfortunately, is where Thomas Welsh, Aaron Holiday, and Gyorgy Goloman would see their UCLA careers end.
Steve Alford would have another 20 win season and with a top 5 recruiting class coming in and (hopefully) Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands staying one more year, the Bruins would be primed to make an even deeper run in the NCAA Tournament next year.