UCLA has certainly made it challenging for itself to make the NCAA Tournament.
The Bruins do have some things going for them. They have those strong wins against teams with high RPIs; the Pac-12 looks very good in terms of RPI, and UCLA’s RPI and Strength of Schedule is respectable. It very well could come down to the Bruins having to finish off the conference season relatively strong.
We’ve come upon a completely arbitrary goal in terms of its win/loss record. Well, it’s not completely arbitrary; it’s based on some well-accepted assumptions – that any high-major conference team, to earn an at-large bid, would need to get to 18 wins and attain a winning conference record for the NCAA Committee to consider you.
We do have last year to go by, too. UCLA finished the regular season at 19-12 overall and 11-7 in conference. UCLA was considered a bubble team, and one of the last four in, so you can assume that last year’s record is a good indicator of what UCLA needs to achieve this season.
This season’s UCLA team is currently at 12-8 and 3-4. So, the work is cut out.
It’s, then, probably 7 wins away from being a pretty good certainty for the Tournament. That would mean a regular-season record of 19-12, like last season, and 10-8 in the conference. So, it has to finish off 7-4 through the rest of the conference season.
To be clear, there's a chance that 18-13 and 9-9 could do it, but it's not a certainty, and would probably depend on where the wins come and where the losses come. 19-12 and 10-8, though, would probably get the job done.
Here are UCLA’s remaining games:
@ Arizona State
Ken Pomeroy, as of today, has UCLA losing @ USC, @ Arizona, @ ASU, @ Cal, @ Stanford and home against Oregon -- so, losing every remaining road game, and one more of the remaining home games.
Those losses would result in an overall record of 17-14 and an 8-10 conference record, and almost absolutely keep UCLA out of the NCAA Tournament (barring an unexpectedly spectacular run in the Pac-12 Tournament, of course).
Ken Pom also, actually, has UCLA as slim favorites at home against Colorado and Utah, with those two shaping up as the two toughest remaining home games outside of Oregon.
UCLA, of course, is completely unpredictable this season, being able to beat or lose to anyone in the country on any given night. So, even though it’s near impossible to foresee how UCLA will perform in any of its remaining games, we do think Pomeroy might be a little pessimistic, however.
How do we get UCLA to 10-8 in the conference?
We foresee UCLA sweeping the Washington schools this weekend at home. Despite getitng swept the last time these teams played, the Washington schools are, by most advanced stats metrics, the two worst teams in the Pac-12. UCLA is relatively predictable in playing better at home, so we’ll go with the sweep at home against the Washington schools. Put it this way: if they don’t get the sweep, the Bruins are really up against it. That would put UCLA in real danger of ending the season at .500 or worse.
USC is on a little bit of a skid, after getting swept in the state of Oregon. It will be interesting to see how they bounce back against Washington and WSU. We think the Trojans will be up for UCLA Feb. 4th at Galen, and UCLA hasn't played well this year when the Bruins get sped up against athletic teams, so we’ll chalk that up to a loss.
We can’t see UCLA beating Arizona in Tucson, and do believe that UCLA is going to have a tough time in Tempe against ASU. While ASU has over-performed this year, it looks like they’re running out of gas, having lost three in a row, and now they’ll go on the Washington road trip and play USC before facing UCLA. We think, after losing to Arizona, given where ASU will be at that time, this is a Bruin win.
Holding serve against Utah and Colorado in Pauley is going to be a challenge. That sweep is key. Given how many other games there are in which UCLA will be an underdog, it definitely has to get these two in the win column. Again, though, that home slate is shaping up to be the toughest remaining collective home slate, with both teams very capable of beating UCLA, even at Pauley Pavilion.
Talking about sweeps, UCLA needs to avoid one in the Bay Area. It if holds serve up until this point -- beating the Washington schools, ASU, Utah and Colorado -- it would realistically only have to split the Bay Area trip. But UCLA under Steve Alford, and particularly this season, is a considerably worse team on the road, and this road trip is a scary one. The thought of UCLA playing for its NCAA Tournament life against Cal in a packed Haas Pavilion isn't heart-warming.
If the Bruins could head into the final weekend of the season and only need one win against either Oregon or Oregon State to get to 10 wins in the conference, we’d hope they’d be able to get up for that and get one win. Oregon is a tough matchup, given the Ducks' athleticism, and Oregon State will be closer to full strength the next time these two teams play, so that isn't going to be an easy weekend. We'd say, though, that UCLA will manage the split and get to 10 wins.
It's really tough to predict, though. UCLA has been so bad on the road in the conference season that it's tough to really predict UCLA winning any particular conference road game. We could easily see these Bruins finishing anywhere from 4-7 to 9-2.
One thing is for certain: UCLA’s margin for error is razor thin. It can’t afford to lose a game it was expected to win. One slip and it’s probably 18-13 and 9-9, and really living life on the NCAA purgatory bubble.
But then again, given what we've seen from this team this year, it’d be very typical that this team finishes the season at 18-13 and 9-9 – and then wins the Pac-12 Tournament.