Perhaps the biggest determining factor of how UCLA's season will be judged is how this team does in the NCAA tournament. And the seeding for the NCAA makes a huge impact on the team's chances in the tournament.
UCLA's basketball team is currently 18-8 overall and 10-6 in Pac-10 play, which puts them in a tie for fifth place in the conference.
It's almost a certainty that UCLA will be in the NCAA tournament. Even though they've fallen out of both Top 25 polls, and even if they crash and burn in the next couple of weeks, their RPI is currently 22, and Strength of Schedule is 11. They have big wins over Kansas and Alabama, and got their much needed on-the-road victory against a top 25 team in the Stanford win. They also have the UCLA name, so even if they come in sixth place in the Pac-10, they're almost guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Most bracket and seeding projections have the Bruins pegged currently as anywhere from a 5 to an 8 seed in the NCAA tournament. The issue, though, is that there is a considerable difference in that range of seeds when it comes to tournament implications and how the season could ultimately be judged as either successful or unsuccessful.
UCLA's two remaining Pac-10 games and the Pac-10 tournament will go a long way to determining its seeding in the NCAA tournament. The factors will be whether UCLA can finish strongly – that is, beat a Top 20 team in Oregon, and finish with strong wins against ranked teams in the Pac-10 tournament. The NCAA tournament committee also weighs heavily how you finish the season, specifically your last 10 games of the season. UCLA is currently 5-5 in its last ten games, but if it could finish with a flourish, it would considerably help in that aspect.
Here are some scenarios of what seed UCLA could get in the NCAA tournament based on how it finishes the regular season.
-- If UCLA sweeps the Oregon schools and wins the Pac-10 tournament, they're probably pegged as a four seed.
-- If UCLA beats Oregon and gets to the finals of the Pac-10 tournament, they'd probably get no worse than a five seed and probably a four seed.
-- If UCLA beats Oregon, but loses in the first or second round of the Pac-10 tournament, they're probably looking at a five or six seed, possibly a seven.
-- If UCLA loses to Oregon, but wins the Pac-10 tournament, they're probably a four seed, possibly a fifth.
-- If UCLA loses to Oregon, but doesn't get past the second round in the Pac-10 tournament, it's probably a six or seven seed.
-- If UCLA loses to Oregon and loses in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, it could fall to an eight seed.
Why are these differences so important? For this season to be deemed a reasonable success, given the expectations and rankings at the beginning of the season, it's probably safe to say, minimum, UCLA would have to reach at least the Sweet 16. For many, it could actually be an Elite Eight visit, given the expectations of the season. But let's just settle on a Sweet 16 visit being generally within the realm of acceptance. And look at the difference it makes in your draw for the NCAA tournament.
If you're a four seed, you have a relatively easy road to the Sweet 16. You face a 13 seed in your first round NCAA game, which would be a team like Central Connecticut or UNC Wilmington. In the second round, you face a five seed, which could be an Ohio State or Mississippi State. Another huge advantage: If UCLA gets a four seed, they're probably not traveling too far.
If you're a five seed, it's a little tougher, but still not that difficult to make it to the Sweet 16. You face a 12 seed in the first round of the NCAA tournament. While you'd think a 12 seed isn't too imposing, a favorite first-round upset every year is a 12-seed beating a 5-seed. A typical 12-seed would be Butler or BYU. In the second round, you'd face a four seed and would be an underdog. You'd face a team like Oklahoma State, Connecticut or Gonzaga. A five seed or worse more than likely gets them shipped out, where the Bruins will have to deal with time differences, jet lag, and potentially hostile local fans.
If you're a six seed, it's getting tougher. You face an 11 seed in the first round, someone like Wisconsin or Boston College. In the second round, you are definitely an underdog against a three seed, facing possibly a Kentucky or Florida. UCLA will almost be guaranteed of getting shipped to a bracket in the East, Midwest or South.
As a seven seed, it is getting tougher, but it's considerably a better road than an 8 or 9 seed. As a seven, you get a 10 seed in the first round, possibly a team like Michigan State or even Pepperdine. In the second round, you're getting a two seed, a school like Pittsburg or Oklahoma.
Eight or Nine Seed
It gets quite a bit rougher to make the Sweet 16 if you fall to an 8 seed. If you're an 8 or 9 seed, you're facing a #1 seed in the second round, which is big jump (especially this year) in difficulty from a 2 seed. If you're an 8 seed you get a 9 seed in the first round, or of course, vice versa, which is basically a toss up game. You'd be playing a team like possibly Stanford, Utah or Texas. And then, in the second round you're facing a #1 seed – Duke, Maryland, Kansas or Cincinnatti probably.
UCLA, in order to get a four seed and be favored in its first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, needs to probably beat Oregon and get to the finals of the Pac-10 tournament.
If UCLA finishes the season with anything less of a performance, they're looking at a five seed or worse, which makes you more than likely an underdog in every second-round NCAA matchup.