With the Pac-10's regular season completed, and the conference tourney set to begin tomorrow night, it is time for another look at UCLA's standing in terms of seeding and placement for the NCAA tournament. This time, I will also be touching upon the seeding and NCAA outlook for the other conference teams heading into conference championship week (if only to say: "Oregon State's NCAA chances: ROTFLOL").
With last week's split in Washington, UCLA's spot in March Madness - if only as an at-large - is set. The issue facing the team now is where they will be seeded in the bracket, and in which city they will be playing their games. As much as the particular seed they are given, the location of their games, especially the opening weekend games is quite important, as the team has historically taken playing close to home very well. In addition to a more favorable placement in the opening round, a run in the tournament could allow the Bruins to challenge Arizona as the top-seeded Pac-10 team, and with it a chance of being placed in the West Region - if the Bruins can advance that far in the tournament - being played this year in Anaheim.
I will be posting a more extensive preview of the Pac-10 tournament tomorrow, but to lead into the seeding talk, the Bruins open the conference tournament on Thursday against the winner of tomorrow's Oregon/Arizona State game. While winning this tournament is needed only as a matter of better seeding on Sunday, a loss in this opening game would hurt. Not 'knock us out of the tourney' hurt, but a loss to either Arizona State (RPI-147, KenPom-113) or Oregon (RPI-151, KenPom-98) probably knock us down a seed line from where we are now.
Delving into a couple of the current brackets out there, Joe Lunardi's has moved the Bruins up a seed-line from last week's position in his latest bracket (3/8) for ESPN, resulting in UCLA holding the 7-seed in the East region, playing St Mary's in an all-California first round game in Chicago, with the winner playing 2-seeded Notre Dame. Lunardi noted in his (ESPN Insider) blog that the Bruins are solidly in the NCAA field as of today, with 15-20 teams between them and the play-in round.
The latest bracket at CBSsports.com (3/8) has the Bruins falling a seed-line since last week (As opposed to Lunardi's promotion by a seed-line), with UCLA now a 9-seed, but in the West (Anaheim) region playing against Old Dominion in a first round game in Chicago, with the winner playing Notre Dame. Andy Glockner's (3/8) bracket at SI.com sees the Bruins fall a seed-line from last week, with UCLA now an 8-seed in the Southeast region, facing Florida State in a first round game in Cleveland, with the winner facing Jamie Dixon's Pitt Panthers.
SBNation's bracketology site - Blogging the Bracket - moved the Bruins down the S-curve a bit, with today's updated S-curve showing UCLA as the final 8-seed (#32 overall on the S-curve), down from a 7-seed last week. Like the CBS bracket, this one also has the Bruins in the West region, with a date against Notre Dame in Chicago as the 'reward' for winning its first round game. The opening matchup in this bracket, however is a west-coast battle with WCC-tourney champion Gonzaga.
As for the rest of the Pac-10, there are currently two other teams which can consider themselves safely in the field of 68. The Arizona Wildcats (RPI-17, KenPom-29) spot in the tournament has been considered solid for several weeks, the only question being how high of a seed they can play themselves into. Lunardi's latest bracket and S-curve update has the Wildcats as a 5-seed in the West region. SBN's bracketologist has Arizona as a 5-seed in the Southwest, playing the winner of one of the play-in games (at-large version) in Denver, with the winner playing Louisville. CBS has Arizona as the 7-seed in the southeast (CBS really not liking the Pac-10's seeding chances), playing Gonzaga in Chicago, with the winner facing Purdue; while Glockner has UA as the 7-seed in the East region, playing Georgia in a first round game in Charotte, with the winner facing UNC.
Washington's spot in the NCAA's had been assumed from the start of the season, though a swoon through the second half of the Pac-10 season had begun to put that spot in jeopardy. Their home victory over the Bruins likely secured their dance ticket, and just in time, as with the suspension of starter Venoy Overton for the conference tourney, and the availability of Justin Holiday questionable this week due to a concussion, the Huskies would not have wanted to rely on an opening round victory on Thursday to keep them off the bubble. Lunardi currently has UW as a 10-seed in the Southwest region, playing also-slumping Villanova in the first round in Charlotte, with the winner going on to play no longer slumping North Carolina. SBN's bracket site has Washington as a 10-seed in the Southeast region, facing Temple in a first round game in Tampa, with the winner playing Florida in the next round. CBS has the Huskies as the 11-seed in the Southwest (and on the bubble), playing Kansas State in a first-round game in Charlotte, with the winner advancing to face Wisconsin. SI.com's bracket copies Lunardi's projection for the first game, with a UW/'Nova Southwest region first round game in Charlotte, but with the winner facing Duke.
There are two more Pac-10 teams that, while not currently on the good side of the bubble, are considered to have a chance to play their way into the bubble conversation with a couple of wins this week. Last Thursday's game between Washington State and USC was supposed to be an at-large elimination game of sorts, one in which the Cougars came out on top. However, Southern Cal (RPI-69, KenPom-42) played their way back onto the periphery of bubble talk with a close, yet convincing victory in Seattle on Saturday night. Lunardi currently has them as one of his first four teams outside the bubble (the first four teams on the bubble being participants in the opening round/play-in games). SBN's bracket guru has the Trojans as the 4th team out of the bubble as of today. Glockner sees SC as 'in the mix' for a bubble spot, though not yet on the bubble or among the first four out. His blurb on the Trojans:
Is a road split enough? The Trojans got the "good" one with a win at Washington and they have a pretty sizable stash of quality wins, but the overall resume is still heavily specked with warts. The Trojans get Cal (season split with road teams winning both) and then probably would see top-seed Arizona.
Washington State (RPI-74, KenPom-49) finds themselves in a slightly less advantageous position as of today, but thanks to injuries to the teams most likely awaiting them before Saturday, likely have a better chance of playing their way into the NCAA discussion than to the Trojans. Lunardi currently has WSU about half a dozen spots outside of the play-in games, while SBN's bracketologist also has them at roughly that same position on the s-curve. Looking at the teams ahead of them, it is certainly possible for the Cougars to jump some of those teams and get themselves in the final discussion in the committee room; with Washington's personnel issues for this week, they have a fair chance of advancing in the Pac-10 tourney, where a possible matchup with the Bruins could be their chance to play themselves into the field.
That leaves the remaining five teams without a realistic shot at an NCAA tourney bid without winning the conference tournament. Cal (RPI-66, KenPom-65) has the strongest bid of these five teams, both at winning the tournament (as the only other team not requiring four game to win the tourney) and of having had a bubble argument. Some in the Cal community - such as their broadcast crew at last weekend's game v. Stanford - think that Cal has a legit shot at an at-large if they win twice this week. In a recent bracket chat, Lunardi thinks that this is a longshot at best. They are not among the 'first four out', or the 'next four out' in any of the brackets cited in this post. The same can be said for the remaining foursome; Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State and Arizona State.