UCLA's NCAA Tournament Chances

Feb. 23 -- We take a look at UCLA's potential NCAA Tournament resume...

UCLA (16-12, 8-7)
RPI: 47
SOS: 13
Wins against RPI Top 50: Oregon, Utah
Remaining Schedule: Washington, Washington State, USC, Pac-12 Tournament.

It's very difficult to handicap UCLA's chances of making the NCAA tournament at this time, with two weekends of regular season games remaining along with conference tournaments. The only thing we know right now is that, to even have a chance, they have to win the three remaining home games plus something in the conference tournament. If they lose any of the home games remaining — against lowly Washington, Washington State, and USC — they're almost certainly out of the at-large discussion and then have to win the conference tournament.

But say they win the three home games. It's still impossible to know whether it would take one, or possibly two, Pac-12 tournament wins to get them in. It's possible that they win the three home games, then win two games in Vegas, and they still don't get in. It's also possible that they qualify with only one win in Vegas. There are too many variables right now to say much definitively about their chances for reaching the tournament.

For one thing, we don't know how many bids will actually be up for grabs. There will be upsets in the conference tournaments that will take away some at-large bids. For example, right now the only team going from the WCC is Gonzaga. But if the Zags get knocked off in the conference tournament by, say, St. Mary's, then that's one less bid available since Gonzaga now takes an at-large bid and the Gaels get the automatic bid for winning the conference tournament. So when it comes to the major conference tournaments, Bruin fans should be rooting for no upsets. It may make for great drama, but any improbable conference tournament runs by the lesser teams in the conference will mean one less potential bid for the Bruins.

Also, the teams UCLA is competing with around the country have 3-4 remaining conference games before they even get to their conference tournaments. There's still a lot of basketball to be played and things could change dramatically in the next three weeks.

Here are some of the teams that UCLA fans should be rooting against:

Boise State, BYU, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Davidson, Illinois, Indiana, LSU, Miami, North Carolina State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Rhode Island, Texas, Texas A&M, St. John's, Temple, Tulsa and Xavier. Each of those teams is similarly on the bubble, and any spot occupied by them is one fewer for UCLA to claim.

We could also include Oregon and Stanford in that list, but as of right now, the three games UCLA has won against those two teams rank among the Bruins’ best four wins. The more Oregon and Stanford win down the stretch, the more likely they are to finish in the RPI Top 50, which will boost UCLA’s resume. So, while there are certainly arguments to be made for those two teams losing more games to keep them out of the NCAA Tournament, there’s also UCLA’s resume to consider.

By the numbers, assuming UCLA wins the remaining three games in the regular season and then goes, say, 2-1 in the Pac-12 Tournament, UCLA’s record would be 21-13. A few 14-loss teams have received at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament in the past, so the record alone wouldn’t preclude UCLA’s inclusion in the field. Right now, UCLA’s RPI is 47, and it probably won’t change significantly through the end of the regular season, though it could bump up a bit with a good matchup or two in the Pac-12 Tournament. For sake of argument, let’s say UCLA’s RPI ends up in the 40 to 45 range with a 5-1 record down the stretch. For the big conferences, that range of RPI usually makes a team pretty close to a lock — Cincinnati in 2006 was the last team to get snubbed with an RPI of 40 or lower (using the modern formula devised in 2005). So, assuming UCLA earns at least one more matchup with Utah or Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament, while also winning out through the end of the regular season, that should give the Bruins a decent argument for one of the final at-large bids and a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament.

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