UCLA is ranked again (at least by the coaches). Here are five numbers to consider this Monday.
1. UCLA is finally ranked in a National Poll during the PAC 12 season for the first time since 2009. Of course, we are still ranked 24 in the AP poll and #25 in the Coaches Poll.
2. UCLA is ranked number 34 in RPI. Although this is far from an exact science that means UCLA is roughly a eight seed in the tournament.
3. Sole possession of First Place in PAC 12 for the first time since February 2009. As we have been saying over and over that is a long wait for this and it does not mean much every four years unless it has a big payoff. Also, as MPLS pointed out the PAC 12 teams UCLA has beat this year have a combined record of 4-12 in conference. Even USC had a bigger win over Utah than UCLA and they just fired their coach.
4. For all those with visions of this team being great, keep in mind the following Howland phenomenon over the last five years. Howland's teams start bad, are good in the middle, and finish poorly. By the numbers UCLA the last four years :
- Started the last four years (when the losing streak at the start of the season ended different number of games each year)12-18, 40%
- In the middle: 61-23, 73%
- Last five games the last four years: 9-11, 45%
Now I realize the math guys out there can point out how these number are not perfect, since I picked where the losing streak ended to come up with the top number and each year we lost in the PAC 12 Tourney (4 losses and ended in the second round of the NCAA 2 losses). But I think it still is interesting that UCLA team's the last four years under Howland have played their best in the middle of the season.
This year so far seems on that trend toward the high end with a 5-3 start (included the dreaded loss to Cal Poly) and since then a nine game win streak. Will they finish mediocre?
5. The importance of seeding. We have said all along that Howland needs to win the PAC 12 and make a deep run in the tournament. For Howland those things seem to go together. Why? Well let's just say UCLA has been a relative easy team during the Howland years to predict during the tournament. UCLA is your friend filling out brackets.
For under Howland UCLA has performed almost exactly to seed. The exception are close calls, losing in the National Championship Game to Florida and twice winning as a two seed over a one seed. In other words, for Howland to have a shot in the Tournament, he must have a high seed, even to get to the sweet 16. Good news, if he has it he will probably go far. Bad news, if he does not, there is almost no way UCLA goes far.
- As lower seed or higher ranked seed 13-1, 93% (loss to #3 seed Florida in the 2006 Championship game as #2 seed)
- Same Seed 0-1 (Lost to #1 Memphis in Final Four as a fellow #1)
- As higher seed 2-4, 33% (beat #1 Memphis in 2006 Regional Final and #1 Kansas in the 2007 Regional Final both times as a 2 seed)
Because of the PAC 12's relative poor RPI (although better than recent years), UCLA needs to dominant PAC 12 season to have a chance in the tournament. And Howland cannot survive this season by just making the tournament. For example if UCLA finishes second in the PAC 12 and receives a seven seed, the odds are very good UCLA wins one tournament game and comes home. That will mean that in five years UCLA has not even reached a sweet 16. If UCLA wins a weak PAC 12 with a record of 14-4 like UW last year or Arizona the year before, UCLA likely does not get a protected seed either. (UW did not get a seed at all of course and Arizona received a 5 seed.)
The three times UCLA went to the final four under Howland, going into the last game of the PAC 12 tournament they were:
- 2005-6 14-4 in conference, but Ranked #12 and won both the regular season and conference tournaments for a 2 seed
- 2006-7, 15-3, Ranked #3, won PAC 12 regular season title but lost the first round of the tournament, likely causing them to slip from 1 to 2 seed.
- 2007-8, 16-2, Ranked #2, won PAC 12 regular season and conference tournament for a 1 seed
The problem with the above numbers of course is the PAC 12 was much better in those years. So really the Bruins have their work cut out if they want to land a protected seed and go far in the tournament.
So, while some fans may feel giddy about possibly the best team in five years, the bottom line is UCLA is currently not a threat to make a deep run or be relevant in March. UCLA could continue to improve and this team is fun to watch, but Howland must do more than a ranking during the season and a NCAA Tournament bid every other season. Before the season, experts were discussing UCLA as a final four threat and no one should forget that or the last five years.
Congratulations to the players on the ranking.