Assessing the damage to UCLA’s NCAA Tournament resume

UCLA Bruins head coach Steve Alford during a NCAA Pac-12 basketball game against South Dakota Coyotes at Pauley Pavillion on the campus of UCLA on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017 in Los Angeles. UCLA Bruins won 85-82. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

UCLA approaches the midpoint of the conference season this week with a home series against Cal and Stanford. With a three-game losing streak, the Bruins have a lot of ground to make up if they want to get to the NCAA Tournament this March.

CBS Sports dropped UCLA from its NCAA Tournament projection completely after the Bruins lost to Oregon on Sunday. They don’t even make an appearance in the “first four out” category.

ESPN has the Bruins as a “next four out” team, dropping UCLA from a play-in game, where it was projected before the Oregon loss.

An unpredictable Pac-12 doesn’t seem to be helping the Bruins as ESPN’s Joe Lundardi has only three Pac-12 teams in the field (Arizona, Arizona State and USC), the fewest of any power conference. CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm adds Washington as one of his “last four in” with the Huskies playing in a “First Four” play-in game. 

After losses to Colorado (at home) and getting swept in Oregon, UCLA has tumbled into fifth place in the Pac-12 and seventh among conference teams in RPI:

  • No. 16 (RPI nationally as of Monday morning) Arizona
  • No. 31 Arizona State
  • No. 39 USC
  • No. 52 Washington
  • No. 59 Colorado
  • No. 61 Utah
  • No. 64 UCLA
  • No. 85 Stanford
  • No. 92 Oregon
  • No. 155 Oregon State
  • No. 157 Washington State
  • No. 177 Cal

So what opportunities do the Bruins have left?

  • UCLA has 10 games left (five at home, five on the road) before the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas
    • The Bruins have Cal (Thursday), Stanford (Saturday), USC (Feb. 3), Oregon State (Feb. 15) and Oregon (Feb. 17) at home. UCLA can’t afford any more slip-ups at Pauley Pavilion as four of those five teams are currently ranked below UCLA in RPI. Stanford handed the Bruins their first Pac-12 loss this season and despite a bad start to the season, the Cardinal have won five of their past six.
    • On the road, the UCLA still has the most difficult trip of conference ahead:
      • At Arizona (Feb. 8) and Arizona State (Feb. 10)
        • The Arizona schools are the only teams ranked in the AP Top 25. The Wildcats have finally emerged as the leader in the Pac-12, as expected, and the Sun Devils have lost only one game at home this season (a four-point loss to Oregon).
      • At Utah (Feb. 22) and Colorado (Feb. 25)
      • At USC (March 3) in the regular-season finale

Only time will tell if the Bruins can figure out their leaky defense and exactly how many wins they need to get to the Dance. As a note, last year, the Pac-12 sent three teams into the main draw of the NCAA Tournament and USC was forced to play a play-in game. The Trojans needed an RPI of 41 to get there, despite entering the Tournament at 24-9 overall.

According to Ken Pomeroy, these Bruins (13-7, 4-4 Pac-12) are the worst defensive team of the Steve Alford era. Their adjusted defensive efficiency (the number of points allowed for every 100 possession) of 102.5 edges out the 2015-16 team that finished 15-17. That squad’s defensive efficiency was 101.9.