Those rankings, right now, might not indicate that UCLA has a good chance at a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. However, the rankings, as of today, aren't very consequential, really, in terms of UCLA's post-season aspirations.
With six regular season games left and then the Pac-10 tournament, what is UCLA's outlook for the NCAA tournament?
A great deal better than you might think.
Even with the loss against West Virginia this last weekend, it's still excellent. In fact, UCLA is still an excellent bet for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
UCLA's RPI is fantastic, even after the WVU loss, as you can see at Ken Pomeroy's site, which accurately re-creates the NCAA RPI.
UCLA is still #1 in RPI, and it has a chance to finish the season over the 0.7 mark in the RPI ranking, a feat which many can't remember any team accomplishing.
So, the theory among some pundits in college basketball is that UCLA, on the strength of its RPI, if it finishes off its Pac-10 schedule strong, is a shoe-in for the #1 seed in the west for the NCAA tournament, regardless of what it does in the Pac-10 tournament.
So, how does it look the rest of the way in the Pac-10 conference?
UCLA is currently 10-2 in the Pac-10, ahead of Washington State by a half game (the Cougars are 10-3).
The next closest in the Pac-10 is USC at 8-4, two full games behind UCLA with six conference games to play for each team.
UCLA has to go to Arizona State and Arizona this weekend, then has the Bay Area schools at home, then goes back on the road against Washington State and Washington.
Washington State will be at Washington this Wednesday, then the following weekend go to Oregon and Oregon State, and then have the L.A. schools at home.
USC, of course, has the same schedule as the Bruins, but flip-flopped.
If UCLA wins out, of course, it wins the conference. If it wins all but one game, and Washington State wins out, then it gets into a very complicated tie breaker situation that can't be resolved at this point in time. IF UCLA goes 4-2 and Washington State wins out, the Cougars win it.
Of course, that could happen. Anything can happen. But playing out likely scenarios, barring a complete collapse, or an improbable run (or any combination of both), by any of the three teams currently at the top of the conference, UCLA is certainly in the driver's seat. If UCLA wins at least five of its six remaining games, and one of those wins is against Washington State, that would be good enough to win the conference outright. If it wins four, you could still argue that Washington State having to win the last five of its games, or beat UCLA in a tiebreaker if WSU loses one, is still a fairly unlikely scenario.
Let's say UCLA loses two of its remaining games, say, one on the road at Arizona, and at Washington State. Washington State would then have to win at Washington, at Oregon, and sweep UCLA and USC at home to win it outright.
USC would need UCLA to go 3-3, and then the Trojans would have to win all of their games to overtake UCLA outright.
Again, anything can happen, but UCLA looks to be in a fairly good position.
The condition of point guard Darren Collison and center Lorenzo Mata is particularly significant. Without Collison, at least, you could see UCLA struggling to win four of its last six games. With a healthy Collison, it's not difficult to envision them winning four.
So, if UCLA wins the conference, and doesn't completely melt down in the conference tournament, because of its RPI, a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament would be highly likely.
But you can't stop there. UCLA, also with its last six games, is playing for the overall #1 seed in the tournament. If it won out, with its excellent RPI, it would have a chance.
Getting the #1 overall seed is hugely significant in making the road to the Final Four far less difficult. If you are the #1 seed overall, you would theoretically face the overall #8 seed in the Elite Eight, as opposed to the last #1 seed (or #4 overall) who would face the overall #5 seed. That could mean the difference between facing a Pittsburgh or Memphis, as opposed to a Wisconsin or a North Carolina.
So, the Bruins are looking good, and just need to finish off the Pac-10 strong. If they do, they'll almost certainly get a #1 seed and are vying for the #1 seed overall.