Over the next few days, we will be presenting an in depth preview of our coming game against SMU. At this point, however, we want to take a step back, looking at the entire Southern Region. We will look at who we could potentially play in each round, as well who has a legitimate shot to pull an upset.
2nd Round (Round of 64)
The Bruins will open against the SMU Mustangs, headed by former UCLA coach Larry Brown. The Mustangs boast a gaudy RPI of 12, but that RPI is partially a product of 5 wins over two top 50 RPI schools (#34 Temple and #47 Tulsa) that the selection committee felt were not worthy of a tournament bid. SMU has not beat any other Top 50 schools and is 2-5 versus the tournament field, with the 2 wins coming over 12 seed Wyoming and 13 seed Eastern Washington. This is a great draw for UCLA and a game that they should be able to win.
3rd Round (Round of 32)
If UCLA beats the SMU, they will face the winner of Iowa State vs UAB. The Bruins have already seen UAB this season, beating them in the final game of the Battle for Atlantis by a score of 88-76. While we would be comfortable with our chances against UAB, our far more likely opponent will be Iowa State, who is favored by 12 1/2. Iowa State can be a bit of an enigma at times. They are talented, but can start slow, something that can torpedo any team in the tournament. They just won the Big 12 tournament with 3 straight come from behind victories, and were rewarded by being seeded lower than Kansas. They will be playing with a chip on their shoulder and would be a very dangerous 2nd game for UCLA.
What to root for: A UAB upset here would be a huge boost for UCLA's chances, but the odds are slim.
If UCLA was to get through the first 2 rounds, some interesting potential matchups await them. A rematch of the December game against Gonzaga would be the most likely outcome, a game in which the Bruins came up short by a score of 87-74. Gonzaga should cruise through a first round matchup against North Dakota State. Steve Alford could potentially face his old school in a matchup against Iowa, though Davidson may be too much for the Hawkeyes to handle in Round of 64. Davidson is likely underseeded on the 10 line and a upset could be waiting in the wings.
What to root for: While it is unlikely for Gonzaga to drop their opening game, their struggles with the Round fo 32 are well known. Either Iowa or Davidson could knock off Gonzaga in the 2nd round, and either would be an easier potential Sweet 16 game for the Bruins.
The overwhelming favorite to come our of this side of the bracket is Duke. Neither San Diego State nor St. John's have the offensive firepower to give the Blue Devils a game. Stephen F. Austin is a trendy upset pick against Utah, but I honestly don't see it happening. Utah has struggled down the stretch, but they have considerably more talent than the Stephen F Austin team we faced last year. Georgetown has struggled to make it out of the Round of 64 in recent years, but the lack of defense from Eastern Washington should allow Georgetown to make it through to the round of 32. If Utah can handle Georgetown and former Bruin Josh Smith in the round of 32, they probably have the best chance of anyone in that half of the bracket of beating Duke if they can get into an ugly, slow down game.
What to root for: Anyone but Duke. UCLA would struggle against Duke, so anyone else would be a better opponent.
Chime in below with your thoughts on how the bracket will play out and who you want to see win other than UCLA.