WESTWOOD—UCLA has made the NCAA Tournament and Bruin fans rejoice amid cries of conspiracy.
It’s an outcome few expected following Friday’s 70-64 loss to fifth-ranked Arizona, a game labeled as a must-win for a Bruins team with its tournament hopes on life-support.
But on Selection Sunday, amid shrieks of disbelief from fans of small-market teams like Colorado State (27-6), Murray State (27-5), and Temple (23-10), the Bruins (20-13) snuck-in through the back door of college basketball’s annual Springtime dance.
“It’s an agonizing situation to wonder what’s going to happen all throughout (Selection Sunday),” said Temple Coach Fran Dunphy. “Now the angst is over, the disappointment reigns, but hope is still out there that we can finish this season strong with another tournament.”
Any number of arguments can be thrown out for or against the Bruins’ inclusion in March Madness: strength of schedule, point differential, or the NCAA’s personally coined statistic, RPI.
But in all honesty, we will never truly know if UCLA deserved selection more or less than these small-school snubs. Unfortunately, basketball fans will never have the benefit of seeing these bubble teams duke it out for a spot in the tournament.
As of today, all we know is that the tournament selection committee weighed present data in favor of giving the battle-tested Bruins NCAA Tournament validation.
“We felt they were gaining steam,” said chairman Scott Barnes. “They did have a good strength of schedule. They were playing better against tough competition. An example is the last game against Arizona. I think the eye test was also a plus in putting them in the field.”
The Bruins, an 11th-seed, won’t even have to head to Dayton, Ohio to play in the first game. Instead, UCLA faces sixth-seeded SMU in one of the tournament’s most intriguing first-round match-ups.
Thursday’s game will provide a true litmus test of a Bruins squad that has managed, on several occasions, to look paradoxically hapless and dominant in the same game. So which version of the Boys in Blue will present itself on Thursday?
Will the outcry against Big Brother be validated? Will one of college basketball’s most potent brands be ousted on day one?
Will the Bruins finally earn that signature victory that evaded them for the entirety of the regular season?
Stay tuned, folks, the madness is upon us.