Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
By Tyler Wiese
In a year in which college basketball is at a high in the “Conference of Champions,” the UCLA Bruins didn’t get any respect over the weekend from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Committee.
The Bruins were the #15 overall seed out of the top 16 teams released in the mid-season bracket. A #15 seed means that they were projected a #4 seed in the tournament and ranked lower than teams like West Virginia (14), Butler (13), and Kentucky (12).
The Bruins currently hold a 23-3 record and are coming off one of their biggest wins of the season against #5 Oregon Ducks.
While the NCAA Tournament Committee stiffed the Bruins over the weekend due to their poor resume, these bears are not hibernating.
Potential top lottery draft pick, Lonzo Ball, and company are on the homestretch of their relatively easy Pac-12 schedule and look to head into the tournament with less than five losses. Even if the Bruins were to suffer a defeat to the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson in a couple of weeks and also lose again in the Pac-12 tournament, the Bruins would be in a solid position.
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While the game in Tucson will most likely have a large influence in the Bruins seeding come March, their potent offense paired with an improving defense will be a spectacle to watch in the tournament no matter what number is attached to their name.
While, the UCLA Bruins do not have a tough schedule that really will stand out to a seeding committee member, they have played valuable games that will definitely translate in the tournament.
Pre-conference games against Michigan, Ohio State, and Texas A&M all passed the eye test as UCLA took care of them easily as well as taking down then #1 ranked Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
Home and away games against Arizona and Oregon are vital to the Bruins as they will have played in some of the most hostile environments in college hoops.
Well for the rest of the Pac-12, the Bruins have taken care of business. Besides for the 84-76 loss coming to their rival USC and a one point win at Colorado, UCLA has won all their games against Pac-12 opponents not named Oregon or Arizona by at least ten points.
“What more could the tournament seeding committee be asking for at this point?”
The UCLA Bruins are undoubtedly the best scoring team in college basketball and have been tested by many quality teams. They have a scoring margin of plus 16 points per game which would put them at fourth in the nation behind Gonzaga, West Virginia and Wichita State respectively.
The Bruins are loaded with scorers that include Lonzo Ball (15.4 ppg), Bryce Alford (15.8 ppg), TJ Leaf (16.6 ppg) and Isaac Hamilton (14.3 ppg). Unless there is a cover on the basket, NBA level defenses will be needed in order to stop UCLA from scoring all over the court.
What is most impressive when you take a look at the Bruins offense is how much they share the ball. UCLA leads college basketball in assists per game at 21.7. Purdue is second in the nation at 18.8 assists per game which is almost three assists less per game.
What more could the tournament seeding committee be asking for at this point?
The Bruins may be young, but they got the leaders they need to make a run in the tournament with Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton.
These senior guards are poised and ready to finally make some noise come March.
Over their first three years, Alford and Hamilton have had back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances with an early exit in the first round to Minnesota in 2013.
Expect to see UCLA much further than the Sweet 16 this year as this is their most talented roster since the days of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Darren Collison back in 2007-2008.
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With two projected first round picks in the 2017 NBA Draft, Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf will want to make the most out of their likely one-and-done college careers.
A recipe for success during March Madness is streaky shooting, and favorable matchups. What UCLA has is many talented and lanky guards in Lonzo Ball and Isaac Hamilton followed up with a solid post presence from TJ Leaf and Thomas Welsh.
Do I need to mention again that they have the best offense in college basketball?
A sharp-shooting offense paired with veteran leaders and an improving defense that has proven they can buckle down in the last couple minutes to win a game translates well to a Final Four run.
Not even an undervalued UCLA team will be stopped in the upcoming months because it is time that these Bruins deserve attention on the national stage.