For the fiftieth time in program history, the UCLA Bruins are headed to the NCAA tournament. The Bruins were named a No. 4 seed in the tournament’s Eastern Region and will face off against No. 13 Akron in their first March Madness game.
It’s no surprise the Bruins are seeded this highly. They finished the season ranked 11th in the nation and only lost seven games throughout their tough season.
Before we look too far down the line, it’s important not to overlook the game that’s right in front of us. The MAC Championship-winning Akron Zips will try their hardest to spoil UCLA’s fun, so the Bruins better have all their attention on this Round of 64 game.
Sports fans interested in legal CA sports betting should look ahead to November 2022. There are multiple ballot initiatives that could potentially be up for a vote to make it a reality.
Is an upset of UCLA brewing in the first round?
UCLA takes on Akron in the Round of 64 at 6:50 pm PST on Thursday, Mar. 17. They are currently heavy favorites in that one, holding a 13.5 point spread over the Akron Zips and a -1500 moneyline.
If the Zips DO pull off an upset here, it would be a significant one. Unfortunately for any MAC-lovers out there though, I just really don’t see it happening.
Akron played against only one ranked opponent all season (No. 17 Ohio State) and lost. Additionally, this Akron team seems to lack proficiency in any part of their game.
Here’s how Akron ranks in some of the most significant offensive categories:
- Points Per Game: 183rd (71.2 points)
- Rebounds Per Game: 243rd (35 rebounds)
- Assists Per Game: 325th (11.9 assists)
To put that all in comparison, here’s how UCLA ranks in those same three categories:
- Points Per Game: 55th (76.4 Points)
- Rebounds Per Game: 113th (37.1 Rebounds)
- Assists Per Game: T-130th (14.0 Assists)
It certainly appears that UCLA is leaps and bounds ahead of their first opponent.
Bruins fans really shouldn’t sweat this round of 64 matchup–but the round of 32 is where things could get interesting.
Three second-round possibilities
If things work out according to seeding, the Bruins would take on No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s. That in and of itself is an incredibly hard game, as Saint Mary’s is one of the best defensive teams in the country.
I do think the Bruins would be able to edge out a win over the Gaels, but the line would be a lot closer than it was against Akron.
But assuming some madness ensues and Saint Mary’s gets bounced, that would leave either Wyoming or Indiana (they play their “First Four” game on Wednesday) to oppose the Bruins in the second out.
Wyoming doesn’t scare me much–but it’s the Hoosiers that I think pose a threat to everyone on this side of the bracket. If the Hoosiers can make it past Wyoming, they pose a serious threat to Saint Mary’s. In turn, they would pose a threat to UCLA in the next round, as well.
Hoosiers sophomore Trayce Jackson-Davis has been playing phenomenal basketball lately. If that carries over into the tournament then a bunch of teams are in a world of hurt.
This could end up being a huge round for the Bruins, as games against Saint Mary’s or Indiana Could prove difficult. If I’m a Bruins fan, I’m hoping the Wyoming Cowboys somehow sneak their way in. If they don’t, I’ll be biting my nails.
Looking ahead: The Sweet Sixteen and beyond
If UCLA survives the first weekend, their matchup in the Sweet 16 would most likely be against No. 1 seeded Baylor. This, unfortunately, may be where the road ends.
Baylor has such a smooth offense and can hurt opponents from any part of the court. They have four guards averaging over 10 points per game and three forwards averaging more than five rebounds per game.
This Baylor team would be the most well-rounded opponent the Bruins would have to face. As a result, they would cause a serious threat to the Bruins championship hopes.
However, if the Bears fail to reach the Sweet 16, then the Bruins would most likely be playing either Marquette or North Carolina. If this happens, then I love their chances at an Elite Eight birth. Marquette runs one of the highest-paced offenses in the country, but UCLA has the experience and defensive prowess to combat that.
North Carolina, on the other hand, has been a bit streaky all year. They may crumble under the pressure, especially with a head coach making his first tournament appearance.
The overall odds of a Final Four run for UCLA
Right now, the farthest I see the Bruins possibly going in this year’s NCAA Tournament is the Elite Eight. If they beat Baylor, I think the team’s season ends at the hands of Purdue.
This UCLA squad is special and has the potential to upset Baylor if given the chance. Having said that, a second straight Final Four run may be a bit too much to ask.