At noon in Vegas UCLA plays The Ohio State University in another nationally broadcast game on CBS. While it is coach speak , there is something to what Steve Alford says:
They will play the first game of a doubleheader at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the site of this year's Pac-12 Tournament in March. The second game features traditional powers North Carolina and Kentucky.
Ohio State is the only team of the four in the CBS Sports Classic not ranked among the top seven in the nation, but Alford isn't convinced the Buckeyes (8-2) don't deserve it.
"They're only two possessions and about 10 seconds from being 10-0," Alford said. "Florida Atlantic, they lost I think in overtime, last play of the game. And they had Virginia beat at Virginia. ... They're closer to a 10-0 record than an 8-2 record."
Ohio State led Virginia by 16 before losing by two Nov. 30 and lost to lowly Florida Atlantic Dec. 6 in Columbus, Ohio on a last-second shot in overtime.
While UCLA is certainly not looking ahead to their next game against another cupcake in Western Michigan, they may be thinking about their next time in Vegas:
The game is a primer of sorts for the Bruins, a first look at the $375-million arena that opened in April with 18,800 seats for basketball. It will play host to the Pac-12 tournament for the first time in March. UCLA won't be able to say it shot poorly against its conference brethren because it was getting used to the sight lines.
"We'll be able to look back on this because we've been in that building," Bruins Coach Steve Alford said of the game against the Buckeyes.
Strangely Inside "we-cover-UCLA-Basketball-when-they-win" UCLA is hoping the Bruins lose or at least have a close game to get ready for things like this tournament.
Yes, a win over Ohio State would help keep UCLA's record pristine and its ranking (at least) No. 2 in the country. But the advantages of this young team experiencing a tight game - that could potentially lead to a loss - far outweigh either of those. And its too early to start worrying about their NCAA tournament seed.
The Bruins have only played one team in nation's top tier. Granted, UCLA's first trip to Rupp Arena, where they beat then No. 1 Kentucky, could not have landed the Bruins in more difficult circumstances. They are only better for it. In fact, it's easily argued that Michigan is mediocre, as are Texas A&M and Nebraska, the only other Power 5 teams on UCLA's schedule thus far.
I disagree with this on multiple levels. Texas A & M, for example, is a good team. The game does effect UCLA's seeding. However, UCLA basketball junkies may want to match the second game in Vegas of #6 Kentucky vs. #7 North Carolina to figure out where we really are:
The Wildcats enter the weekend ranked among the top 10 in offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency, per KenPom.com, something just two other teams can say. One of those teams is Kansas. The other is Kentucky's next opponent.
And that's just a small portion of what makes No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 7 North Carolina (5:45 p.m. ET, CBS) so fascinating. For months, this neutral-court matchup at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas -- not UCLA's cross-country visit, pfft -- was the one Wildcats fans had circled on their calendar (albeit in slightly less-bold ink than next week's blood feud with Louisville). Now here we are, and those same fans are wondering -- unfairly -- whether Saturday is the moment Kentucky turns "really good" into a win over a really good team.
What's doubly exciting is that the Tar Heels are big, athletic and versatile, and they love to push the pace. Which is to say they're coached by Roy Williams, and which, in a twist, matches up perfectly with this version of the Wildcats.
Recent Kentucky teams, for all their success, have never willingly played at a Williams-level pace. Over seven seasons, Calipari's UK teams have averaged 67.1 (adjusted, per KenPom.com) possessions per game. This season, they average 75.9; their mean possession ends in 13.5 seconds, fourth-fastest in the country. They're flying with Fox-led fast breaks and rebound runouts and Briscoe open-court creativity. The results have been impressive -- even against UCLA, when UK scored 92 points in 83 possessions, only to find itself outdone by an even better, even faster offensive team.
It will be fun to watch neutrally and another idea of how good is UCLA.