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UCLA Basketball Round Up: Passed the Chemistry Test, Now for the Real Test

Josh is going to have to jump higher if UCLA is going to be able to reach the Big Dance.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Josh is going to have to jump higher if UCLA is going to be able to reach the Big Dance. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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It is nice that the Bruins are playing better as a team with good chemistry but to really come close to expectations they have to keep building. Basically the next three games mean the following:

  • A win against Richmond means we may be good enough to be an NIT team
  • A split the Bay Area Weekend against Stanford and Cal, we may have a shot to win the PAC 12 title as this is the toughest road trip of the year
  • A sweep of the Bay area weekend, we are a good team and once again the favorite to win the PAC 12, maybe even get ranked.

I doubt the last would happen and am hopeful of the second. This is a good news bad news situation. Good news is the PAC 12 is bad this year so UCLA may still have a shot. The bad news is UCLA will likely have to win the PAC 12 regular season title or conference tournament to go to the Big Dance.

For this is really more like law school than a chemistry class. It does not matter how good you are but rather how good you are compared to the other teams. And the PAC 12 has some serious issues this year:

The difference is, it's tough telling who this year's elite might be. Of the expected standard-bearers, only Cal (10-2) has played to expectation, while there are still suspicions about Stanford (10-1) and Oregon State (9-2). Three of the purported heavyweights - UCLA, Washington and Arizona - have combined for 14 losses.

Realistically, the season this one approximates is that of 2009-10. Miller's first team entered the conference 6-6. UCLA had losses to Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State and was 5-7 out of the league.

Cal won the regular season, while Washington caught fire down the stretch, won the Pac-10 tournament and thus erased the possible indignity of a BCS league getting one team to the NCAA tournament. The Huskies made the Sweet 16 and the league, albeit with a sketchy representation in the tournament, went 3-2.

How bad it is for the conference:

1 - Wins against teams in Pomeroy's Top 50. The lone victory came when Oregon State knocked off Texas on a neutral floor. The league has just 12 other wins against the Top 100 with half of those victories coming against teams ranked between 92 and 100.

The only top 50 victory for the conference is a team UCLA lost to at "home" a few weeks back. However, while UCLA is looking better, the conference is still having its issues:

Four Pac-12 teams lost nonconference home games[last weekend], two in embarrassing fashion.

On Saturday, Arizona State let NAU make a game-winning three-pointer with a second left. On Sunday, Washington lost to South Dakota State by 19.

. . .

When Cal played Missouri, then No. 21, a month ago, it lost by 39. UCLA lost to Loyola Marymount. USC fell to Cal Poly.

The nation has noticed; the Pac-12 was ranked No. 9 in the nation by Jeff Sagarin on Monday, behind, among others, the Mountain West, Missouri Valley and Atlantic 10 conferences.

Two weeks ago, UCLA coach Ben Howland told the Los Angeles Times that the only way UCLA would make the NCAA tournament, based on its record then, was to run the table in the Pac-12 tournament.

I appreciate CBH's being blunt assessment and honesty on Reeves and on the NCAA Tourney situation. UCLA already has losses that are up in some lists of the conference worse losses in the last 30 years to non-BCS and PAC 12 Schools:

Washington's 92-73 defeat Sunday to South Dakota State was merely another in a steady line of awful developments for a league that had already piled up defeats to Cal-Riverside, Middle Tennessee State, Cal Poly, UNC-Asheville, Fairfield and Northern Arizona.

. . .
We had to define terms. We threw out conference games, because in those, someone's misery is somebody else's profit. So Steve Lavin can breathe easier knowing that the 109-61 loss his UCLA team suffered to Stanford back in 1997 isn't on our books.

. . . What's left, then, is non-league losses against programs that, well, shouldn't have been on the same floor with the high-minded (but low-leaping) Pac-12.

8. Middle Tennessee State 86, UCLA 66, 2011. Granted, the Blue Raiders are 10-2, but it's not a substantial 10-2. They torched the Bruins, purportedly a Pac-12 contender, in November.

UCLA can go a long way toward erasing the pain of the early season by winning the PAC 12. The conference is bad enough they should have a shot if they keep improving and playing as a team. Ironically in the year we are again playing in the Sports Arena, just like the last time we played there, we may have to win the PAC 812 just to go to the NCAA Tourney.

Go Bruins.