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Why UCLA must win the Pac-12 tournament to secure No. 1 March Madness seed

UCLA players Dylan Andrews, Jaime Jaquez Jr., David Singleton, Tyger Campbell and Amari Bailey stand on the court.
UCLA players (from left) Dylan Andrews, Jaime Jaquez Jr., David Singleton, Tyger Campbell and Amari Bailey stand on the court during a win over Arizona on Saturday. UCLA’s hopes on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament weigh heavily upon its performance in the Pac-12 tournament this week.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)
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Ten consecutive wins and a runaway Pac-12 regular-season championship have vaulted UCLA into a No. 1 seed in scores of projected NCAA tournament brackets.

It may not be enough to keep the Bruins there.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, one of the nation’s foremost bracket experts, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that UCLA needed to win the Pac-12 tournament to secure a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday.

According to Lunardi, the Bruins are jockeying with Purdue, Texas and Baylor for the final No. 1 seed behind Houston, Kansas and Alabama. Bracket Matrix, which tracks scores of projected brackets, showed UCLA as No. 1 seed in 35 of 85 brackets as of Monday.

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No matter what happens in the Pac-12 tournament next week, the UCLA men’s basketball team deserves to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

March 5, 2023

Lunardi said he elevated UCLA to a No. 1 seed in the West Region in his latest bracket based on its cumulative body of work and strong finish to the regular season combined with Purdue’s having lost four of its last eight games.

UCLA also rose to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll Monday, trailing only Houston. It’s the highest ranking for the Bruins (27-4) this late in a season since they were No. 2 in the coaches’ poll on March 17, 2008.

But the Bruins could lose out on a No. 1 seed if they stumble in the Pac-12 tournament and the other challengers have a better showing in their respective conference tournaments.

“If Texas or Baylor win the Big 12 tournament,” Lunardi said, “they would have an equal or greater resume to pass them.”

Lunardi said it would be impossible for any team to win the Big 12 tournament without logging three Quad 1 wins, which are against top teams and highly valued by the selection committee.

There’s also the possibility that UCLA could get shipped out of the West if it doesn’t get a No. 1 seed if four Big 12 teams secure No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. In that scenario, with Kansas taking the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, a No. 2 seed from the Big 12 would be sent to the West because of bracketing principles intended to keep top teams from the same conference out of the same region.

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UCLA coach Mick Cronin directs his players during a win over Arizona on Saturday.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

Is there a scenario in which UCLA gets a No. 1 seed and isn’t in the West? Why, yes. Lunardi said if UCLA is fourth on the top seed list and Houston is third, the Cougars could end up in Las Vegas because it’s geographically closer than New York.

Lunardi said he hoped that common sense among the selection committee would prevail in that scenario over the letter of bracketing principles.

“I think someone in the room will have to say, well, 100 extra miles for Houston doesn’t matter when they’re already traveling 1,500 miles, so why inconvenience two teams?” Lunardi said. “But I’ve lost arguments of logic before doing this job.”

The possible absence of UCLA guard Jaylen Clark this week because of an unspecified injury suffered against Arizona could impact the Bruins’ seeding … or not.

“If they win the Pac-12 tournament without him, it won’t hurt them at all,” Lunardi said of the Bruins, who were outscored by two points after Clark departed early in the second half last weekend. The committee “will be watching to see if UCLA still looks like UCLA.”

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