UCLA men's basketball can capture the title this week
March 4, 2021
It is understandable if this season is looking a lot like last season for UCLA Bruin coach Mick Cronin. In his second season as the men's head basketball coach, Cronin has his team in position to win the Pac-12 regular season title with wins over on Oregon in Eugene last Wednesday night and in the regular season finale against USC on Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins are currently 13-4 in conference play, a half a game ahead of both the Oregon Ducks at 12-4 and the USC Trojans at 13-5. Last season, the Bruins finale was also against the Trojans. USC knocked off the Bruins 54-52, with Jonah Mathews hitting the game-winning 3-pointer with 1 second remaining. The Bruins entered that game tied for first place with Oregon, so the loss cost the Bruins a share of the regular season title.
As Cronin put it, "We're going to find out over the next week what we're made of. Are we a year away, or are we ready for this? Are we going to get ready through each one of these trials? Are we going to be tougher at winning time?" Cronin was also not pleased with the late addition of the Oregon game on the Bruins schedule.
Earlier in the season, the Bruins had flown up to Eugene to play a road game versus the Ducks, but the game was canceled minutes before tip-off when one of the game officials tested positive for Covid-19. The other two game officials were forced to be quarantined due to close contact with the infected official. Oregon then had two games in Los Angeles canceled due to Covid-19 issues on the Duck's basketball team.
The Bruins will be making their second trip to Eugene this season and third in two seasons. Oregon was not scheduled to play in Los Angeles last season and the cancellation prevented them from visiting this season. Cronin was not happy about another trip to Eugene, sarcastically joking that, "Hopefully at some point Oregon will play at UCLA in my career at UCLA."
With a win in Oregon, the Bruins would be playing USC in the season finale with the conference title on the line. Cronin is 0-3 versus USC and another loss to the Trojans, particularly to the cross-town rival Trojans in basketball, would not go over well with Bruin alumni and fans. A victory is also important in the local recruiting wars, which have gone well for both USC and UCLA, but slightly better for the Trojans.
The Bruins have not won a regular season conference title in men's basketball since 2013 and only one in the past 13 seasons. USC has not won a regular season title in men's basketball since 1985. There will be a lot riding on this game if UCLA defeats Oregon in Eugene on Wednesday night and assuming USC defeats Stanford on Wednesday night.
The good news is that UCLA, USC, and Oregon, along with the Colorado Buffaloes, are solid favorites to make the NCAA basketball tournament. Every NCAA tournament projection has these four schools in the tournament, based on NET ranking and regular season play. The Arizona Wildcats are on a self-imposed one-year tournament ban due to recruiting violations, so despite a 17-9 record and a Net Ranking of 48 are not eligible for post-season play.