Sam Settles It: UCLA men’s basketball snubbed with No. 2 seed in NCAA Tournament
UCLA men’s basketball players walk to the bench after going down by two to Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game Saturday. The Bruins earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. (Joseph Jimenez/Assistant Photo editor)
By Sam Settleman
March 12, 2023 6:16 p.m.
LAS VEGAS — UCLA had done nothing but battle.
Down two starters to begin the game. Down all three big men by game’s end. Facing a top-10 team at full strength with an army of fans behind them.
The 3 at the buzzer to win the title over Arizona didn’t drop for UCLA, but the Bruins proved everything they needed to before Selection Sunday – guts, resilience and toughness. There might not have been a more impressive loss in college basketball this season.
But the NCAA selection committee, apparently, had already gone to bed.
UCLA men’s basketball slotted in as the No. 2 seed in the West Region on Sunday, but it deserved to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years. Pac-12 tournament champions or not, with or without junior guard Jaylen Clark and freshman forward Adem Bona, the Bruins have put together a resume beyond deserving of a No. 1 seed.
Just hours before UCLA’s two-point loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game, Kansas was run out of the gym by Texas in a 20-point shellacking that marked its sixth loss of the year. The Jayhawks are No. 9 in the KenPom ranking, No. 9 in the NET ranking and No. 10 in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index. Pencil it in – No. 1 seed.
Everyone wants to talk about Kansas’ 17 Quad 1 wins, but five of its six losses have come by at least 14 points. The metrics have the Jayhawks as a fringe top-10 team, and yet the eye test apparently has them as the best team in the country.
Purdue, meanwhile, is the Big Ten champion after taking down the No. 10 seed in its conference championship game. The Boilermakers have a Quad 2 defeat and lost 3-of-6 to close the regular season, including a 14-point loss to a Maryland team that UCLA pummeled by 27 on the road in December. No doubt about it – No. 1 seed.
UCLA? A Power Five-leading five losses, won the Pac-12 by four games, No. 2 in the country according to KenPom, No. 3 in the NCAA’s own NET ranking, No. 4 in BPI, top four in almost every poll in the country. You guessed it – No. 2 seed.
By almost every metric, the Bruins are one of the top-four teams in the nation. And yet there are four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and UCLA is not one of them.
The committee has one job: rank 68 teams based on their resumes ahead of the NCAA Tournament.
It’s not a subjective measure of how talented a team looks or how impressive its best win was. Nor is it a projection of how a team might fare in the tournament with a new injury development.
It’s a retrospective ranking – plain and simple.
But if that’s truly how the selection process works, the committee got one wrong Sunday.
Maybe UCLA is being punished for the loss of Clark for the rest of the season and an injury to Bona. Maybe the Bruins’ 17 Quad 1 and Quad 2 wins somehow couldn’t outshine their five Quad 1 losses – four of which came by nine points or less. Maybe the NCAA’s East Coast bias is rearing its ugly head.
One way or the other, UCLA got the short end of the stick on Selection Sunday.