UCLA defeated top-ranked Missouri earlier this season. Can it replicate such quality wins in the postseason?
As UCLA continues to combat obstacles towards achieving the high expectations that were set for it this season, the team’s ultimate goal is to thrive in March.
If the Bruins keep up their current level of success, they will earn somewhere between a No. 6 and No. 9 seed heading into the big tournament in the month of madness.
The buzz about Westwood in the preseason was that this team could be on its way to UCLA’s first national title in nearly two decades.
While that dream hasn’t been squandered entirely, it seems unlikely that UCLA will be cutting down nets any time soon given its inconsistent play throughout the season.
Nevertheless, wild things happen in college basketball in the month of March. If UCLA can gain momentum from the Pac-12 Tournament, the story of its uninspiring 2012-13 season may be rewritten.
Let’s take a look at how the Bruins will likely perform this postseason at their current pace.
The Pac-12 is much improved from last season, but it is still undoubtedly the weakest conference of the Big Six.
Arizona and Oregon are currently both ranked in the Top 25 but have experienced their share of defeats against teams from the lower half of the conference, which leaves the conference and conference tournament open for grabs.
If UCLA can manage to win the Pac-12 tournament, it will have substantial momentum and confidence heading into the NCAA Tournament.
Depending on the circumstances, a conference tournament win could boost the Bruins to a No. 5 or No. 6 seed, which would present them with a realistic path to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.
Given the number of No. 1 and No. 2 seeds that have been upset in recent years, UCLA could crack into the Elite Eight if a top-seeded team is taken down early in the tournament.
At its current rate, UCLA will finish in the top four of the conference and will subsequently receive a bye for the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.
Therefore, the Bruins should at least play in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals and should also make the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament.
UCLA’s unpredictability this season—epitomized by a road win against Arizona one week and a home loss against USC the next—suggests that this team may only achieve the bare minimum in the postseason.
As the Bruins continue to grow as a team as the season progresses, they should be able to win at least one game in the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments, but it can’t be ruled out as a possibility that they won’t.
As previously mentioned, the Pac-12 is up for grabs this season, which presents UCLA with the opportunity to win the conference tournament and corral significant momentum heading into the NCAA tournament.
If the Bruins are fortunate enough to receive a No. 5 or No. 6—or even No. 4—seed in the tourney, they’ll have a good chance to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, as they’ll be matched up against teams of lesser and similar talent in the first two rounds.
UCLA knows that it is expected to perform well, and righteously so.
With the Pac-12 Tournament open for the taking this season, the Bruins need to use it as an opportunity to rehearse for the Big Dance. Anything short of well-played basketball will be a disappointment.
With the likely bye that the team will receive for finishing in the conference’s top four, UCLA’s road to a Pac-12 Tournament Championship is three games.
If Coach Howland’s squad only wins one game in the Pac-12 Tourney, its seed will likely be lowered in the NCAA tournament, which may prove a costly demotion to the Bruins’ postseason hopes.
Substandard performance in the conference tournament could slot UCLA as low as a No. 9 or No. 10 seed, depending on regular-season performance as well.
This would likely cause the Bruins to be pitted against a solid No. 7 or No. 8 seed that has been on the brink of the Top 25 for the duration of the season (e.g., North Carolina State, San Diego State and Cincinnati).
As unpredictable as UCLA has been this season, it has recorded some impressive wins over quality opponents.
Amid ugly home losses to Cal Poly and USC, the Bruins have defeated two Top 10 teams, Missouri and Arizona, and could very well repeat those performances in the NCAA tournament.
However, it would be have to be a luck-of-the-draw deal, as UCLA wouldn't stack up well against potential top-seeded teams like the Big Ten's Indiana and Michigan, but may pull off a victory over Arizona or Duke.
As the resiliency of this team seems to wane at the drop of a pin, it’s likely that UCLA will react negatively to losing the Pac-12 Tournament.
Instead of mustering the drive to end the 2012-13 season with a bang, the Bruins would likely be discouraged heading into the NCAA Tournament after losing in the Pac-12 Tournament Final.
The team’s prevalence of freshmen and lack of effective leadership will likely play a factor in its demise in the NCAA tournament.
The Bruins may not be affected by their weaknesses in the first-round matchup, which should be played against a team seeded No. 10 or lower, but their flaws will leave them vulnerable in a second-round matchup.
It may not have been what UCLA or its fans would have anticipated coming into a much-hyped season, but this is the scenario that seems most likely to unfold for the Bruins in the postseason.
The Bruins should win their first Pac-12 Tournament game (assuming they receive a bye), which should be played against a lower-tier team.
Nevertheless, with Arizona, Oregon, Arizona State, Washington and sleeper teams like Colorado vying to win the conference tournament as well, UCLA probably won't make it the to the finals.
The same will be the case for the NCAA tournament.
UCLA should be able to pull through against a low-seeded team (likely a No. 10-12 seed) in the big tourney, but will most likely be outmatched in the Round of 32 and the 2012-13 season will end with whimper.
It would be an anticlimactic conclusion to a season with high expectations, but this is where it seems UCLA is headed in March.