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UCLA Basketball: Wait Until Next Year?

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With the 2015 NCAA national championship game in the books, the pundits are already making predictions for next season. Where does UCLA stand in their projections relative to the top teams in the nation?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

When the final buzzer sounded in the National Championship game between Duke and Wisconsin, we officially moved from the postseason to the offseason. But the offseason lasted for less than a couple of hours, as pundits raced to publish 2015-16 preseason predictions. Before Wisconsin fans had finished shouting "Wait until next year!" we could turn to a handful of self-appointed college basketball experts who, as it turns out, are all quite a bit less bullish on the Badgers' chances next season.

Is it too early to make predictions? Of course not! When the best collegiate players finally reach decisions about declaring for the NBA Draft or returning for another year of college basketball, then we can do this all over again. And when the last of the impact high school players finally make their college choices, there will be yet another opportunity for the pundits to stare into their crystal balls and announce a new preseason Top-25. All that will happen before summer starts. As soon as autumn arrives, there will be new and improved preseason prognostications from the usual suspects, along with media polls and coaches polls.

So why do we even bother with these way-too-early preseason top-25 rankings? Because interest in college basketball hasn't started to wane significantly yet. We've seen this at Bruins Nation too; there continues to be a lot of spirited debate about the direction of our men's basketball program since Steve Lavin's Alford's team fizzled out in the Sweet Sixteen after an uninspiring regular season. So let's take this opportunity to see how the "experts" rate our team's chances in 2015-16. Do they foresee a return to elite status for UCLA basketball?

Take a look for yourself.

Rank ESPN Bleacher Report NBC Sports CBS Sports SB Nation
1 Kentucky Kentucky North Carolina Virginia North Carolina
2 Virginia North Carolina Iowa State North Carolina Virginia
3 North Carolina Virginia Maryland Kentucky Iowa State
4 Iowa State Iowa State Kentucky Maryland Kansas
5 Maryland Maryland Virginia Kansas Maryland
6 Villanova Villanova Kansas Iowa State Kentucky
7 Gonzaga Kansas Villanova Oklahoma Oklahoma
8 Kansas Arizona Baylor Gonzaga Duke
9 Oklahoma Gonzaga Michigan State Michigan State Indiana
10 Wichita State Oklahoma Arizona Wichita State North Carolina State
11 Duke Michigan State Georgia Villanova Michigan State
12 Arizona Butler North Carolina State Indiana Butler
13 Notre Dame North Carolina State Xavier SMU Arizona
14 Utah Baylor Duke Arizona Villanova
15 Baylor Wichita State Louisville Duke Texas
16 Indiana SMU California North Carolina State Michigan
17 North Carolina State Miami UCLA Wisconsin SMU
18 LSU Indiana Georgetown Michigan Cincinnati
19 Louisville Duke Wisconsin Utah Notre Dame
20 Xavier Texas A&M Marquette Baylor Wisconsin
21 Texas Texas Notre Dame Miami Purdue
22 Texas A&M Wisconsin Gonzaga Texas A&M Gonzaga
23 Providence Notre Dame Vanderbilt VCU Louisville
24 Michigan State Florida State Oregon LSU Wichita State
25 Wisconsin Michigan Butler Florida State Miami

[ESPN's rankings are the work of Eamonn Brennan. Bleacher Report's rankings are by C.J. Moore. NBC Sports' rankings are by Rob Dauster. Gary Parrish is responsible for the CBS Sports rankings. Mike Rutherford created the SB Nation rankings.]

In case you missed it, UCLA does make an appearance on one of the lists. Rob Dauster of NBC Sports rates the 2015-16 Bruins as the 17th best team in the country as of today. Unfortunately, that's as good as it gets for UCLA; the Bruins don't appear on any of the other lists.

Now I know what some of you will be thinking--the east coast bias strikes again! It's possible that there might be some truth to that theory, but you'll note that Gonzaga, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wichita State appear in almost all of the rankings.

Could there be a bias against the Pac-12? Again, it's possible, but note that Arizona appears on every list, and Utah appears on two lists. Interestingly, the only ranking in which UCLA appears also features Arizona, Cal and Oregon. My conclusion from this is that Rob Dauster has a Pac-12 infatuation. Both Oregon and Cal in the top-25? Really?

At this point, I should mention the fact that there are a lot more of these preseason rankings on the internet, and I suspect that even more have popped up between the time I started working on this article and the time you're reading it. For the record, the five rankings that I'm using are from what I judged to be the most-widely read sites. Also, I chose the rankings without inspecting them first.

Because there's a lot of variation from one ranking to the next, I created a simple algorithm that processes the five rankings and produces a "consensus" ranking. Basically the algorithm awards points to each team depending on its position on each list and adds a small additional bonus for each appearance. The purpose of the bonus is to slightly penalize teams that get a single high ranking (e.g. Cal) and reward teams that appear on multiple lists (e.g. Texas A&M). In instances where the algorithm awards teams the same point total, the tie is broken by a second algorithm that rewards ranking consistency (e.g., a team ranked 18th and 16th gets bumped up relative to a team ranked 24th and 10th).

The resulting consensus ranking isn't flattering to the Pac-12.

Rank Consensus
1 North Carolina
2 Virginia
3 Kentucky
4 Iowa State
5 Maryland
6 Kansas
7 Villanova
8 Michigan State
9 Arizona
10 Oklahoma
11 Duke
12 North Carolina State
13 Gonzaga
14 Indiana
15 Baylor
16 Wichita State
17 Wisconsin
18 Notre Dame
19 SMU
20 Texas
21 Louisville
22 Butler
23 Texas A&M
24 Miami
25 Utah

As expected, Arizona is predicted to be a top-10 team again in the consensus ranking based on the way-too-early preseason projections. The only other Pac-12 team that sneaks into the consensus top-25 is Utah, and it sits in the last spot by the narrowest of margins. Steve Alford's Bruins don't make the consensus top-25, or the top-30 for that matter.

Nearly all of the teams that people associate with the elite of college basketball are on the consensus list: Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, Arizona, Kansas. Tom Crean's Indiana is on the list. Interestingly, Shaka Smart's Texas makes the list, as does Gregg Marshall's Wichita State.

To be honest, I'm not particularly concerned that Steve Alford's 2015-16 Bruins aren't in the consensus rankings. If it wasn't clear from my opening remarks, I consider these way-too-early rankings a somewhat empty exercise. At best, they represent a data point that says something about a basketball program at a particular point in time.

The problem for Steve Alford and Dan Guerrero is that as the data points continue to accumulate, the picture that emerges isn't consistent with a program in ascendancy. For those of us who want our basketball program to be among the nation's elite again, the fact that our past season is best described as Lavinesque is a serious concern. For Steve Alford, there's no margin for error in 2015-16. It's time to produce results, not excuses.