TAMPA, FL - MARCH 19: Joshua Smith #34 and the Bruins need to finish strong to keep their thin tournament hopes alive (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Let me take these a bit out of order. Presently, can UCLA still make the tournament? And let's be real: there is only one tournament to discuss) The morons at Bleacher Report have a top ten list which says if UCLA wins the rest of their regular season road and home games they can make the big dance. That brilliant analysis does not guarantee UCLA a trip to the dance but it sure would help. The RPI requires a win over Cal at home this week (RPI 49) and all the other games but a more realistic scenario is described by the usually very good Peter Yoon over at ESPN:
As far as the conference standings go, UCLA is currently in a tie for sixth place with Stanford and three games out of first with seven games to go. Chances of winning the Pac-12 title are slim with six teams standing between UCLA and the top spot so the Bruins will be looking to climb into the top four over the last month of the regular season in order to receive a coveted bye in the first round of the Pac-12 Conference tournament.
UCLA must get to at least fourth place to get a realistic shot at winning the Pac-12 tournament as that would qualify them for a first round bye. Of the teams behind UCLA, only Oregon State would even be a long shot to make some noise.
Putting them aside, Washington plays five of their next seven games on the road, closing the season out on national TV with UCLA. Washington has an impressive (well relatively) road win over Arizona and does not play at Cal and Stanford. Along with UCLA beating them, the Oregon schools would have to sweep them for them to get to five losses. I don't think Arizona can beat them at Washington. They will be tough to catch. Cal also plays 5 of the next 7 on the road including going to Colorado which has been very good at home but realistically has just two tough games at Colorado and at UCLA, so they will be tough to catch.
That is the rub, Colorado could get to six losses if they get swept by the Oregon schools and lose to Arizona on the road. That game against Cal is huge for if Cal wins over Colorado UCLA can go 6-2 and pass Colorado as UCLA wins the tie breaker with Colorado because of beating them head to head. Oregon is also a game in front of UCLA and has a sure loss to California on the road, a likely loss at OSU (which beat them at home) and a tough game against Washington at home. Under head coach Johnny Dawkins, Stanford is once again closing the season by tanking in the Pac-12 after a nice start (2009-10 started 4-3, finished 3-8, 2010-11 started 6-6, finished 1-5, this year started 5-1, since gone 1-4) and will be irrelevant.
So this means if UCLA goes 8-0 they can get the bye and maybe miraculously pull out a tie for first but even that is not certain. More likely Cal and Washington are battling for the top spot and UCLA is fighting Oregon and Arizona to get a first round bye in third or fourth place. If UCLA goes 7-1, they need that loss not to be against Arizona to have a shot at passing them. Oregon beat UCLA head to head (I think the tie breaker is head to head competition, as it was in the Pac-10 tournament) so to get ahead of them we have to be ahead in the loss column, which means Washington would have to win at Oregon, with Cal and Oregon State beating them at home. If Stanford can actually play another decent game against Oregon (who they upset the first time but see above ), then maybe we can sneak into fourth place at 6-2.
Confused? Don't worry this is just to have a slim chance to win the Pac-12 tournament and win it to get to the NCAA tournament. Bottom line: 9-0 chance (counting St. John's for this purpose) for the tourney out-right. In conference 7-1 and a good chance of a top seed for the Pac-12. 6-2 equates to a chance depending on who we lose to (not Arizona) or Oregon crumbling. Anything else, forget it. Nestor has more on our expectations for rest of this season (not predictions) on how we want the team to finish here.
Future: let's turn to Shabazz Muhammad for a minute.
The Bruins have been mentioned consistently as a leader in the race for the Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) star's services over the past 12 months. But Ben Howland's team is struggling through a 13-10 season most notable for the departure of troubled forward Reeves Nelson and the success of UCLA transfers at other schools.
"Losing is a bad thing to do but UCLA is a good program and I like Ben Howland and coach (Phil) Mathews," Muhammad said. "They are still there and I'm still looking at them really hard."
Kentucky the school that values recruiting classes over championships is quick to point out not so fast on Shabazz but says something interesting on Tony Parker:
According BruinReportOnline.com (UCLA's Scout affiliate), sources have told them that Muhammad and Tony Parker have "indicated they are coming to UCLA."
UCLA was said to be the front-runner for Muhammad for awhile, but we at NationOfBlue have never bought into that talk. To be honest, Shabazz has no idea where he will be going. I'd say Kentucky is right at the top with UCLA and UNLV, but do not sleep on Duke. They are the team everyone is forgetting.
In short, I believes this "source" is wrong about Shabazz Muhammad. However, it could be correct with Parker.
I had a source with direct contact to the UCLA coaching staff tell me that the staff (mainly Ben Howland) is VERY confident they will get Parker.
Nation of Blue furthers their case by quoting Shabazz's father:
Like Kentucky, other schools are focused on Muhammad. At this point, the official list stands as the following: "Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Arizona, UNLV, and UCLA," in no specific order.
[Shabazz's dad Ron] Holmes said there is no clear-cut team that is paying the most attention to Shabazz at this time. Obviously, all six teams are giving it their all for the talented wing man. . .
Holmes responded to those rumors, as well as prior rumors:
"Well, apparently they haven't talked to Shabazz or myself about it yet. We haven't hinted at a leader or anything like that. And we are not leaning anywhere. A month ago, UNLV led; the month before that, Kentucky led; then, before that, UCLA was the leader, if you go by what people say. We haven't said anything about leaders."
What does this mean? That we are still in the running for Parker and Shabazz. More than that it is hard to say when talking about 18 year olds.
The past: when you think of all the struggles this year, you really got to wish that Wooden Award Top 25 list maker Mike Moser was still here. His presence alone would probably be enough in this sub-par Pac-12 as Moser leads UNLV in scoring, rebounding and steals. Moser talked about his time at UCLA (emphasis mine):
"It was a tough year," said Moser, who originally committed to Arizona and then de-committed when Wildcats coach Lute Olsen unexpectedly stepped down. "We started out losing a lot of games and Coach Howland really rode the seniors that year, because that was the group of guys that he knew and was comfortable playing with.
"I know Coach Howland was just doing what he felt was going to win games. But I know I wanted to win games, too."
For those who don't remember that was a decision to play senior Nikola Dragovic over Moser, even when UCLA was guaranteed a losing record, CBH kept riding Drago. I also think it is hard to say Drago helped UCLA win games. I wonder if he is doing the same "riding of the seniors" in playing Anderson and Jones so many minutes over Powell. I think Powell will be okay but if De'End Parker did not get hurt, I am not sure how many minutes there would have been for Powell. In any case, I still think Powell should play more and riding the seniors 35 and 36 minutes a game is going to make winning the Pac-12 tournament tough with three games in three days (if we get a top 4 seed). On Moser, Howland said:
"Yeah, I wanted him to stay," Howland said after UCLA played Oregon State in Corvallis two weeks ago. "But he was frustrated that he didn't play that much as a freshman, so ... you know, I wished him well.
"I thought he was going to get better if he had stayed with it, and he definitely would have helped us. Look at how well he's rebounding now. He's one of the best rebounders in the country. And I'm honestly happy for him."
So CBH, can you get us to the NCAA tournament, win a game or two, and get Shabazz? That would make UCLA fans honestly happy for this year. And more importantly help for next year.