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Can a win be a loss? If UCLA isn’t careful, it could happen against Alabama State

UCLA forward Cody Riley dribbles the basketball in the half-court offense.
Forward Cody Riley is expected to return to the UCLA lineup on Wednesday against Alabama State, his first game since injuring a knee in the season opener.
(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)
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If things don’t go well for UCLA, beating Alabama State could be a NET negative.

The outcome is essentially decided. Ken Pomeroy, the Albert Einstein of college basketball analytics, has given the fourth-ranked Bruins a 99.9% chance of prevailing against the Hornets on Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion. Through Monday’s games, Pomeroy said, just 16 of 1,578 games (0.01%) between Division I teams this season involved that win probability.

That’s not to say there won’t be drama. Beating Alabama State won’t be enough. Margin of victory is going to matter.

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Bruins coach Mick Cronin is trying to guide his team to a No. 1 seeding in the NCAA tournament for the first time since it held that lofty status in 2008. Standing in his way could be the NET, or NCAA Evaluation Tool, a metric used by the NCAA tournament selection committee that values margin of victory, among other things.

Ranked No. 4 by Associated Press and No. 8 by Kenpom.com, the Bruins (8-1) are No. 22 in the latest NET. Cronin doesn’t just blow it off as the vagaries of some meaningless metric, assistant coach Michael Lewis keeping him posted on where the Bruins stand in the NET.

As much as he hates it, Cronin realizes his team’s path in March could be dictated by the NET. He’s discussed it with his team, as well as the ramifications for games like the contest against the overmatched Hornets (2-9), whose only victories have come against North Carolina Central and Tuskegee, a Division II school.

UCLA expects a quiet early signing day, with coach Chip Kelly building his roster in other ways.

“You have to try to figure out what’s a win for us against Alabama State,” Cronin said Tuesday. “Winning by one? Or do we have to win by 20, 30, 40? You used to just have to win by one, but when they redid this thing and they put metrics into it, you could literally win by 15 and it could be considered a loss in your metric in that, which I think sends a bad message.”

Cronin keeps up on the news. He saw that Inglewood High’s football team won a game 106-0 this season and doesn’t like what it says about sportsmanship.

“I’m a son of a coach,” said Cronin, whose father, Hep, was a legendary high school basketball coach in Cincinnati, “so I know that you should be trying to win the game, get everybody some playing time in the situations [like blowout victories]. But I’ve told our team the facts, here’s the facts of the way the NCAA is doing this, so we need to be ready to rock on Wednesday night.”

UP NEXT

VS. ALABAMA STATE

When: 8 p.m., Wednesday

Where: Pauley Pavilion.

On the air: TV: Pac-12 Network; Radio: 1150.

Update: This could mark the return of redshirt senior forward Cody Riley from the sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee that has sidelined him since the first half of UCLA’s season opener. Cronin said it would be ideal to get Riley some minutes against the Hornets in advance of the Bruins game against North Carolina on Saturday in Las Vegas. “It’s going to take him time — I would think — to get his game conditioning back to where he can be the Cody Riley that we all know and need,” Cronin said. “I’d say two, three, four games maybe before he can get back to his normal self, you would think.”


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