This season’s surprise selection by the NCAA Tournament committee is going into the Sweet 16.
No. 11 seed UCLA beat No. 14 UAB 92-75 in its Round of 32 game in order to punch its ticket into the next round, where they’ll play the winner of tomorrow’s Iowa-Gonzaga matchup. It’s the first time that the Bruins — in all of their illustrious history — have made the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed, and regardless of the matchup wthere will be storylines galore.
Our first option involves Gonzaga, a team that beat the Bruins by 13 points earlier this year to give UCLA its first loss in Pauley Pavilion. It’s also a rematch of the classic 2006 NCAA Tournament game that left us with the indelible image of Adam Morrison crying on the court after his final collegiate game.
The second option might even be meatier than that though, as it would be a game between Iowa and its former coach Steve Alford, a figure who isn’t exactly the most popular guy in the state after the way he left the program. In fact, the word “reviled” may not even be an overstatement. If those two teams meet in the Sweet 16, there will be quite a bit of animosity in the week leading up to the game.
But instead of those topics, the two questions being asked by most are still whether or not UCLA should even be in the Tournament, or if this run “validates” their selection by the committee that cited their “upward” trajectory as a reason for the choice.
And to be quite honest, I hate that discussion, because it’s not something that can be answered now. It’s Monday morning quarterbacking at its finest. At the time of selection, it was an arguable decision that UCLA should be selected for the tournament, which is why they were on bubble or on “the last four out” lists of just about every bracketologist in the business. This run won’t change the way that UCLA looked prior to the selection being made.
The resume wasn’t great. Teams like Colorado State and Temple almost certainly had better ones. But that’s where the “eye test” comes into play. And don’t mistake it, the Bruins looked like one of the 36 best at-large teams by winning nine of their last 12 and staying close with Arizona twice. Which way of choosing is best? Should you put the best teams or the best resumes in the tournament? It’s a legitimate question either way, and it’s not something that you, I, or anyone else can answer with any sort of distinction without angering people that want it the other way.
One thing I can answer though is that UCLA’s run will not verify the committee’s selection either way. The decision is done, and the Tournament is a matchup-based event that often trades on the currency of luck. And now that the Bruins are here, they can only play and perform against the teams in front of them. They are neither validated by their run to the Sweet 16 nor diminished because they beat a No. 14 seed to get there.
They are simply there, and that’s all that matters now.