UCLA might have a Texas Tech conundrum in bid to open NCAA tournament in San Diego

Texas Tech forward Marcus Santos-Silva reacts after a score against Texas.
Texas Tech forward Marcus Santos-Silva (14) reacts after a score against Texas during the second half Feb. 19 in Austin.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

The NCAA tournament selection committee has its seeding principles.

Geography doesn’t always rank very high.

In what world would it make sense to send UCLA roughly 978 miles to Portland, Ore., for the first round while also making Texas Tech travel some 1,041 miles to San Diego even though the Bruins and Red Raiders both rank among the nation’s top teams?

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi can envision one.

In his latest bracket, the veteran prognosticator has slotted third-seeded Texas Tech (23-8) in San Diego and fourth-seeded UCLA (23-6) in Portland. Wasn’t the pod system, introduced in 2002, supposed to reduce travel for the best teams? Well, yes … and no.


It doesn’t always work out that way.

Each of the eight host sites for first- and second-round games gets two top-four seeds based on their seeding and proximity.

Arizona, widely projected as a No. 1 seed regardless of what it does in the Pac-12 Conference tournament, is going to snag one of the San Diego spots, bringing along with it the accompanying Nos. 8, 9 and 16 seeds to Viejas Arena.

No. 17 UCLA ended its five-game losing streak to rival USC in a rambunctious and noisy Pauley Pavilion, and now both teams must shift focus to the Pac-12 tournament.

That leaves one more spot for a No. 1-4 seed. The next one on Lunardi’s list that fits the seeding principles is Texas Tech because he projects the Red Raiders as a higher seed than UCLA even though the Bruins are just a two-hour drive down the freeway. (Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin disagree, placing UCLA ahead of Texas Tech in their metrics.)

Texas Tech would prefer to play in nearby Fort Worth, of course, but those spots are currently occupied by projected No. 1 seeds Kansas and Baylor. None of the other first-round sites — Buffalo, N.Y., Greenville, S.C., Portland, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee or Indianapolis — are closer to Lubbock than San Diego.

“Believe it or not — you have to call Rand McNally on this, and I have — San Diego is next for Texas Tech,” Lunardi told The Times, “because Lubbock is so far west in Texas. Basically, what UCLA needs to do is pass Texas Tech on the seed list, plain and simple. Once that happens, they’re in their car on the 5 [freeway] instead of Portland.”

Portland’s Moda Center would be the consolation prize for the Bruins, Lunardi said, in any scenario in which they failed to get placed in San Diego. Even with a loss in its Pac-12 tournament opener, Lunardi said, UCLA would be unlikely to fall to a No. 5 seed that could result in a trip off the West Coast.

“I don’t think they’re going to go down at this point because they’re a very high four [seed],” Lunardi said. “They’re closer to a three than they are to dropping to a five.”

How high might the Bruins climb with a Pac-12 championship that included victories over USC and Arizona?

“They would certainly be no worse than a three at that point,” Lunardi said, “and I could probably plot some scenarios in which they would get to a two, but it’s all pretty unlikely.”

The most important seeding bump for UCLA, according to Lunardi, would be to get a No. 3 seed that would avoid playing a No. 1 before the Elite Eight; No. 4 seeds could play No. 1s as soon as the Sweet 16.

UCLA’s hard-fought victory over a resilient USC team shows the Bruins are in a prime spot to be dancing deep into the NCAA tournament once again.

Rising to a No. 3 seed would also increase UCLA’s odds of playing in the West Region, where it might get another rematch with No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the Elite Eight at Chase Center in San Francisco. In his most recent projection, Lunardi slotted Arizona as his No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, meaning the Bruins would be headed elsewhere.

Lunardi listed UCLA as a No. 4 seed in the South Region in his latest bracket, opening the NCAA tournament against Iona and coach Rick Pitino — Bruins counterpart Mick Cronin’s former boss — in Portland. The Bruins could still get to San Diego with a couple of wins, or a Texas Tech loss to Iowa State in a Big 12 Conference tournament quarterfinal Thursday.

All of which could lead to a new cheer in Westwood: Go Cyclones!