No bus ride for UCLA, but Bruins’ March Madness trip still might be a short one

UCLA coach Mick Cronin, left, confers with guard Johnny Juzang.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin and guard Johnny Juzang get a chance to make another Final Four run in the NCAA tournament beginning Thursday with a first-round game against Akron in Portland, Ore.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

Most of the guesswork was eliminated only moments into the NCAA tournament selection show.

Texas Tech, widely known to be jostling with UCLA for the final spot among protected seeds in the San Diego pod, was one of the first teams to appear on television screens. The Red Raiders were a No. 3 seed in the West Region and they indeed had snagged that spot in San Diego, even though it’s some 1,034 miles from campus as opposed to just a short bus ride for the Bruins.

It was somewhat baffling for those who closely follow college basketball metrics. UCLA ranked higher than Texas Tech, according to analysts Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin, while residing just one spot behind the Red Raiders in the NCAA Evaluation Tool that’s among the data points used by the tournament selection committee.


The complete 68-team bracket for the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

This year, that 12-member committee included someone with a strong interest in the Bruins’ fate. UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond spent six long days and late nights weighing the merits of almost every team except the Bruins, leaving the room whenever the school’s four letters were mentioned. He didn’t even watch UCLA’s Pac-12 tournament championship game against Arizona, only learning the Wildcats had prevailed when he was told they had become the conference’s automatic qualifier.

Jarmond reached out to Cronin afterward to reaffirm his belief that the Bruins were ready for bigger prizes.

“I texted with him to [say], ‘Hey, tomorrow’s a new day and March Madness is here and this is your time,’” Jarmond told The Times on Sunday afternoon.

With San Diego no longer a possibility, UCLA was assured of playing its tournament opener in Portland, Ore. The question was in which region. One by one, the options dwindled. The West was out of play. Then the South. Then the Midwest.

That left the East. Finally, with only a handful of teams left to announce, UCLA (25-7) materialized as a No. 4 seed, headed to the Moda Center to face No. 13 seed Akron (24-9) in a first-round game Thursday evening.

One season after a startling run to the Final Four, the Bruins face what might be an even more potholed path. Waiting in the second round could be No. 5 seed St. Mary’s, one of just three teams to beat Gonzaga. Up next might be top-seeded Baylor, the defending national champion, followed by No. 2 seed Kentucky.


This March might be more madness than magic for UCLA and USC, who face tough roads to the Final Four in the Big Easy. Both teams must overcome some stiff competition in their regions to reach the Sweet 16 and beyond.

March 13, 2022

What did Cronin make of matchups possibly featuring one heavyweight after another?

Seedings, schmeedings.

“We taught everybody last year that our seed doesn’t matter; it just doesn’t,” Cronin said, referring to the Bruins winning five consecutive games inside the Indianapolis bubble to go from the First Four to the Final Four.

As if to reinforce his point when asked about a possible seedings snub, Cronin said he was more concerned with getting his team reservations for El Gaucho, a swanky Portland steakhouse. The place came highly recommended by longtime friend and former Portland Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey, who probably neglected to mention that the Chateaubriand for two goes for $155.

Asked his feelings about UCLA’s placement as the school’s athletic director and not as a member of the selection committee, Jarmond intimated that he was satisfied with the process that sent the Bruins to the Pacific Northwest.

“Being a part of the committee, I can tell you that the work that’s done is very diligent and thorough; there’s a lot of time and studying and effort amongst the 12 members,” Jarmond said. “All of the decisions that are made, there’s so many metrics that are used, but at the end of the day, one of the things that the committee looks at is who did you play, where did you play them and how did you do.”

UCLA received a No. 4 seed and will start its push to return to the Final Four in Portland while USC is a No. 7 seed and Cal State Fullerton is No. 15.

March 13, 2022

Any credible retrospective on UCLA’s season would highlight a home loss to Oregon — even without fans — and a road setback against Arizona State — even in triple overtime — as catalysts for the team needing to board a plane this week instead of a bus.

What’s more important is the team’s more recent results, which have included some of its best basketball of the season while trying to recapture its form from a year ago.


“I feel like we’re very together right now and connected,” guard Johnny Juzang said, “and I think that’s the biggest thing going into the tournament.”

Ultimately, to borrow a phrase from former Angels manager Mike Scioscia, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing or where you’re playing but how you’re playing that dictates success.

“What’d we teach you last year, you know?” Cronin said. “It’s all how we start playing now.”