Big Dance, Bruin Nation, CBS Sports, ESPN, Los Angeles, March Madness, NBA, NCAA Tournament, Pac-12 Conference, Pauley Pavilion, San Diego State, Selection Sunday, Southern California, UC Irvine, UCLA, UCLA Bruins, Westwood
The Bruins will be trying to earn the right to hang a twelfth one of these in Pauley Pavilion during these next three weeks
FOR THOSE WHO DON’T ALREADY KNOW:
HERE, AT A GLANCE, ARE THE THREE COLLEGE BASKETBALL TEAMS CALLING SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA HOME WHO ARE AMONG THE 68 SQUADS PARTICIPATING IN THIS YEAR’S NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT:
* UCLA BRUINS – 20-13 overall, finished 4th in the Pac-12 Conference, lost to Arizona in Pac-12 Tournament Semifinals, #11 seed in South Regional, will face #6 SMU in Louisville, KY on Thursday
* UC IRVINE ANTEATERS – 21-12 overall, Big West Conference Tournament Champion, finished 2nd in the Big West during regular season, #13 seed in the East Regional, will face #4 Louisville in Seattle, WA on Friday
* SAN DIEGO STATE AZTECS – 26-8 overall, Mountain West Conference Regular Season Champion, lost to Wyoming in Mountain West Tournament Final, #8 seed in the South Regional, will play St. John’s in Charlotte, NC on Friday
Before I continue…
I would like to formally, profusely, and sincerely apologize to the UCLA Men’s Basketball Program and the entire Bruin Nation for stating that their name would not be called on Selection Sunday and they would be relegated to the NIT.
Apparently someone on the selection committee was a big Bruin fan as in a significant surprise that drew much criticism and wrath from pundits such as CBS Sports’ Doug Gottlieb, odds and predictions were defied in a major way and UCLA was chosen as one of the 68 teams in what in my opinion is the greatest event in all of basketball:The NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.
Like more or less everyone else, I was firmly convinced that these Bruins, due to their struggles at the beginning of the season and the fact that they were a pathetic 3-11 away from Pauley Pavilion, would be heading for the ultimate sports consolation; the National Invitational Tournament.
Anteater standouts Mamadou Ndiaye, who at 7’6″ is the tallest player in Division 1, and Alex Young (#1)
One can imagine my shock when I saw on ESPN’s bottom ticker that coach Steve Alford’s team was in and would be playing Southern Methodist University, which coincidentally is coached by a man who took the Bruins to the title game back in 1980, Larry Brown.
From a biased point of view it was certainly a happy surprise.
However, I can understand the objections of Gottlieb and ESPN’s Jay Bilas as they were brutal in denouncing UCLA’s selection into the “Big Dance”, being that things were terrible in Westwood at times; no one, as much as they try, will forget what was arguably their worst performance ever when they scored just seven points in the first half against top overall seed and top-ranked Kentucky, losing to the Wildcats by an embarrassing margin.
It goes without saying that it will be up to Alford and company to prove those guys wrong, to make them owe the Bruins, as Apollo Creed told Rocky Balboa in “Rocky III”, “…an engraved apology.”
As for the other two programs based in this part of the country, it wasn’t nearly as surprising to see them punch their tourney tickets as both UC Irvine’s Anteaters and San Diego State’s Aztecs were solid teams all season.
Particularly SDSU as they have been considered the best team in Southern California for a few years, coach Steve Fisher’s squad making the Sweet Sixteen in 2011 and 2014 and winning at least 22 games for nine years in a row and counting, including at least 30 during those Sweet Sixteen years.
All right, enough delay! Here’s how I see things unfolding with these Bruins, Anteaters and Aztecs:
UC Irvine did a wonderful job in earning their first ever trip to the Big Dance, but unfortunately I don’t see them doing anything different from what roughly 98% of the teams seeded 13th have done:
Be greatly outmatched by a big-name program and go home as a one-and-done, “Thanks for playing – hope you had a great time” team.
As for San Diego State, they have the best chance among the SoCal three to advance past their first game as they have by far the best draw, playing a St. John’s squad that in my view is beatable.
Assuming that those Aztecs do get past that Red Storm from New York City, however, their journey is virtually guaranteed to suffer a devastating crash-and-burn as they would be facing #1 seed Duke.
What about my alma mater’s basketball team from Los Angeles’ Westside? I’m sure everyone’s asking that at this point…
Considering all the uproar about being admitted into the tourney, I’ll bet anything that no one outside of Bruin Nation is giving UCLA much of a chance against those Mustangs from Dallas, whose main claim to fame is the “Death Penalty” that their football program suffered in 1987 and ’88 due to the blatant violations in recruiting that SMU’s well-heeled boosters apparently didn’t care about stopping (check out ESPN’s 30-For-30 Documentary “Pony Excess” sometime).
However, I’m not among those pundits who are predicting the Bruins’ slaughter.
And it’s not just because I’m an alum either as UCLA has played rather well of late, giving Arizona a real battle in their Pac-12 Tournament semifinal match and clearly showing improvement in the months following that 39-point debacle against Kentucky.
I’m going to officially call the Bruins’ upcoming date with SMU a toss-up; sure, they could easily lose it.
But they could also win it.
Even though an almost certain defeat to third-seeded Iowa State looms if they do.
A group of Aztec players on the floor during a game break
Not that it matters in the long run as this season’s March Madness should really be called “The Kentucky Invitational”, due to those Wildcats from Lexington’s current record being 34-0 with not a close sweat-it-out win among the bunch.
Indeed, I’ve been calling them “The NBA’s 31st team” all year, as (barring any stunning upsets) they are poised to become the first program since Indiana in 1976 to be an undefeated national champion.
All they need to do is win six more contests and not take anyone lightly.
As for UCLA and the other SoCal schools in this Big Dance, there’s nothing more to say except these three words:
“Best of luck”