During CBS' selection Sunday show this afternoon, in-studio "analyst" Doug Gottlieb trashed the selection of UCLA on national television on three separate occasions: (1) when the Bruins' selection was announced; (2) when Gottlieb was given his next platform for general commentary; and (3) when he posed a UCLA-related question (his only question) to Scott Barnes, Chairman of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. Simply stated, Gottlieb vociferously opposed the inclusion of UCLA in the field, calling it, among other things, "a joke." His insistence on beating the same drum during the show may have been curious to some.
Why was Gottlieb so opposed to UCLA? Let's start with a brief history of the man himself. For those readers who are relatively new to BN, this may be new to you. Old timers will be familiar with these facts.
Gottlieb went to Tustin High School in Orange County. He grew up in a Bruin family, with two of his siblings attending UCLA. Gottlieb was a very good prep player, but wasn't heavily recruited by UCLA out of high school, so he instead went to Notre Dame for college ball.
During his freshman year, Gottlieb stole credit cards from three separate people, one of which was his roommate, and charged over $900 on the cards. The Irish allowed him to publicly state that he was leaving Notre Dame, although he was actually expelled.
After sitting out a year, Gottlieb was very interested in UCLA and the Bruins, then under Steve Lavin, had shown interest in Gottlieb. Alas, UCLA signed another point guard--Baron Davis--and Gottlieb instead went to Oklahoma State to play for Eddie Sutton. Rumor has it that Gottlieb never forgave UCLA for these perceived snubs.
So now Doug is a "talking head" on television and "nattering nabob" on the radio. Over the years, whenever the subject of UCLA basketball comes up, he rarely if ever has had anything good to say. For example, he has criticized Bill Walton as being unprofessional and uneducated.
So, it is against this backdrop that we must measure Gottlieb's comments. Now, let me be the first to say that I am not a fan of our current head coach and, frankly, I am not emotionally invested in this team in the way I have been since I stepped on campus in 1987.
I cannot, however, sit idle when Gottlieb attacks UCLA without even the thinnest veil. UCLA's selection "a joke?" Absolutely not. Unexpected? Yes. The Bruins have been a bubble team for weeks. Although many of the more popular pundits picked UCLA outside the 68, they were never out of the conversation. But look a little deeper at the numbers and you can see why the committee included the Bruins in the field.
Scott Barnes alluded to it when Gottlieb asked how in the world the NCAA could be so obtuse as to include the basketball challenged Bruins (my words, not Gottlieb's). Barnes essentially responded that it was UCLA's schedule and improved play down the stretch. Let's look at the schedule.
The number I constantly see thrown out by bracketologists is "schedule against the RPI top 50." UCLA is 2-8 against the RPI top 50. While that looks terrible at first blush, 6 of those losses were against teams that have now been seeded #4 or higher in the NCAA tournament (i.e., projected to be Sweet Sixteen teams):
UCLA @ UK (#1 seed)
UCLA @ Arizona (#2 seed)
UCLA vs. Arizona (neutral court)(#2 seed)
UCLA vs. Gonzaga (only home loss)(#2 seed)
UCLA vs. Oklahoma (neutral court)(#3 seed)
UCLA vs. North Carolina (neutral court)(#4 seed).
That's a pretty formidable slate of opponents. Remember when we used to complain about the soft non-conference schedule UCLA had during some of the Howland years? This is a far cry from that. Take out two of the four of the above-referenced non-conference losses, and replace them with win over a Fresno State or Northern Arizona. UCLA goes from 20-13 to 22-11 and nobody is saying a word about their inclusion in The Big Dance. I do not believe in moral victories coming from losses but I am not the committee, and the committee definitely took the Bruins' level of competition into consideration, and looked past some of the lazier statistics that certain bracketologists rely upon in giving their takes.
Barnes also said that the Bruins passed the "eye test." That was in interesting choice of words, considering IE Angel's excellent weekly breakdown of UCLA on the gridiron during football season. Although I am not sure I agree with Barnes, there can be no doubt that this UCLA team has gained confidence as the campaign pressed on and is playing much better basketball over the second half of the season.
Things changed right about the time that Norman Powell took charge of the team and they began to exploit UCLA's mismatches in the front court. The Bruins can look very good at times on offense--and equally poor at times, sometimes in the same game--and have improved on defense, especially in their zone defense with Looney at the top of the key. I think the committee saw improvement, and saw UCLA threaten Arizona, a legitimate Final Four contender, more than any other team in the PAC 12 tournament. It also doesn't hurt that UCLA has a very dynamic player in NP4.
UCLA playing in a major conference also makes a difference. Just like in football, there are few if any games that a team can "take off" in a major conference. With all due respect to the Colorado States and Murray States of the world, there are no San Jose States, Nevadas, Tennessee States, or Austin Peays on the conference schedule (OK, maybe u$c* falls into that group). Finally, UCLA's history makes a difference. To borrow a bit of soccer parlance, the "neutrals" will tune in to watch UCLA. Murray State? Tulsa? Not so much.
Frankly, we shouldn't be having this conversation. Making the tournament should never be the baseline for a successful UCLA season and it isn't now. This is not cause for celebration. We are UCLA, for pete's sake.
Fans can bemoan the lack of talent, but some of the players that allegedly "lack talent" were All Americans in high school. Fans can bemoan the fact that we don't have a deep bench because of unforeseen academic ineligibility, but it was the job of our highly-paid head coach to anticipate potential issues such as these.
A poker buddy of mine who went to Duke commented to me yesterday night during the PAC 12 championship game that UCLA, like Duke, should be in the mix for a championship every year. He asked, "who is UCLA recruiting against, west of the Mississippi? Arizona, Kansas, and (maybe) Gonzaga? Who else?" He is right.
I am glad that NP4 and Kevon Looney are getting an opportunity to extend their UCLA careers in a tournament that actually means something. I am glad that the guys returning next year are getting a chance to get tournament experience.
And I cannot let Doug Gottlieb go unchecked in his hyperbolic, off-base comments about the merits of the NCAA including UCLA in March Madness.