UCLA Basketball: A look at coaching candidates in the NCAA Tournament

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - MARCH 09: Head coach Tony Bennett of the Virginia Cavaliers cuts down the net after winning a game against the Louisville Cardinals to a clinch a share of the ACC regular season title at John Paul Jones Arena on March 9, 2019 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - MARCH 09: Head coach Tony Bennett of the Virginia Cavaliers cuts down the net after winning a game against the Louisville Cardinals to a clinch a share of the ACC regular season title at John Paul Jones Arena on March 9, 2019 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images) /

The NCAA Tournament has been announced and as predicted, the UCLA basketball team was not invited. But, here is another reason to keep watching the Big Dance… potential coaching candidates.

The UCLA basketball team will not be dancing this year and that is fine because there is still plenty of reasons to watch with the NCAA Tournament. Why is that? Because we all know that the Bruins are looking for a new coach and several potential candidates are participating in the tourney.

RELATED: The UCLA Basketball 2018-19 Postmortem

So in a way, the NCAA Tournament is an all-you-can-eat buffet that the UCLA athletic department can pick and choose from. With the AD looking to not screw up this coaching hire, they have been targeting some top coaches, but the thing is, if interested, these coaches will not talk to UCLA until they are out of the tourney which is expected as they want to focus on the postseason. We just have to wait a few weeks.

But while we do, let us check out where some of the big names on the board are in the Big Dance and what their path is…

Tony Bennett

Virginia (29-3), South Region 1-seed

More from Go Joe Bruin

Every UCLA fan will have eyes on Virginia. Bennett has been one of the Bruins’ top target for a while and the fact that he has his team as a #1 seed for the second year in a row is a big reason why. Bennett has turned Virginia into a national powerhouse with his brand of defensive-minded basketball. Though we might need to wait a few weeks to see if he wants the job because Bennett is looking to avoid anything close to their first-round exit from last season, so they will be motivated to do some damage this time around. UVA started the tourney against #16 Gardner-Webb and will most likely move on to face the winner of #8 Mississippi and #9 Oklahoma. Things get tougher in the second week as they could potentially face #4 Kansas State/#5 Wisconsin and then #2 Tennessee/#3 Purdue/#6 Villanova/#7 Cincinnati in the bottom portion of the South Bracket. Either way, whether Virginia can go this far is yet to be seen so UCLA will have to wait for Bennett.

Mick Cronin

Cincinnati (28-6), South Region 7-seed

Though he might be a dark horse candidate, Cronin has proven that he can coach as he has his Bearcats playing some solid hoops right now. Bruins fans know all about what Cincinnati can do as they handed UCLA one of their worst losses in the Steve Alford era last December. Cincinnati can get up and down the floor, they play sound basketball and can suffocate teams on defense. Cincinnati has the ability to make it far in the tourney, but that is if they can get past the likes of #2 Tennessee, #3 Purdue or #6 Villanova in the first weekend alone.

Mike Hopkins

Washington (26-8), Midwest Region 9-seed

Though he is not high on UCLA’s coaching board, Hopkins is still a candidate for the UCLA spot because of what he has done up north. Though it was a rocky season in the Pac-12, UW managed to come out on top in Hopkins’ second year as a head coach. Still, the Huskies have some deficiencies (they gave last-place Cal their first conference win of the season just a few weeks ago) and this will be Washington’s first dance with Hopkins leading. It will also be a tough route in the tourney as they start the week against #8 Utah State and could possibly face #1 North Carolina on the weekend. If that is the case, UW might not make it to the second weekend giving UCLA a chance to chat with Hopkins sooner than later.


John Calipari

Kentucky (27-6), Midwest Region 2-seed

Calipari’s name has emerged in the last week prompting many Bruins fans to raise an eyebrow. Is one of the top coaches in the country who works at one of the top jobs in the country where he has won a National championship really considering UCLA? It seems pretty far fetched to think a coach who is comfy where he is at would leave for another top coaching gig, but hey stranger things have happened. Still, with UK as a two seed and not having as difficult of a path to the Final Four as others, if UCLA is interested in Calipari, will have to wait a few weeks to open up talks.

John Beilein

Michigan (28-6), West Region 2-seed

Beilein has done nothing to dissuade UCLA from knocking him from the coaching candidacy as he has kept Michigan relevant in not only the Big Ten but nationally. A deep run would only move him up the rankings as a serious candidate, but he has a tough path, especially in the first weekend. They start things off against #15 Montana but then run into either #7 Nevada or #10 Florida.

Chris Beard

Texas Tech (26-6), West Region 3-seed

Beard has done an amazing job at TTU which is why he is being considered. His first weekend consists of #14 Northern Kentucky, but then have to rumble with #6 Buffalo or #11ASU/#11 St. John’s. That doesn’t seem to be a hurdle, but the second weekend could consist of both #2 Michigan and then #1 Gonzaga.

Nate Oats

Buffalo (31-3), West Region 6-seed

We have our Cinderella as Oats has taken a non-existent program and turned them into one of the hottest teams in the land. The question is, how will he do under pressure in the dance? Though Buffalo has had an impressive season, they have not played many top tier teams, which is partially why they landed as the 6-seed, but teams need to be ready for them. Buffalo starts off against the winner of the play-in game between 11s ASU and St. John’s. Then they have a chance to meet Texas Tech in the round of 32, a game UCLA fans should be glued to. Now if Oats can get his team into the Sweet 16, he should be a top candidate for the UCLA basketball gig.

Buzz Williams

Virginia Tech (24-8), East Region 4-seed

It has taken some time, but Williams has finally got things going at VT, especially this season. Virginia Tech has been able to hold their own — especially this season — in an extremely tough ACC where they had to go against the likes of Duke, UNC, NC State, and Virginia. VT has a favorable matchup against #13 Saint Louis in the first round, but they get a big test on the weekend when they will possibly take on former UCLA head coach Ben Howland and #5 Mississippi State.

Next. UCLA Basketball: The 25 Greatest Bruins of all time. dark

Mike Krzyzewski

Duke (29-5), East Region 1-seed

Just kidding. This is never going to happen.