Roundtable: March Madness projections for UCLA, USC, others

Welcome to March, school basketball followers.

Los Angeles Times school hoops specialists Ben Bolch, Ryan Kartje and J. Brady McCollough are able to reply key questions on UCLA, USC and extra because the Madness begins.

What is the most important impediment UCLA should overcome to achieve the Final Four?

Bolch: Like yearly, it’s going to be about matchups. Even with their lockdown protection, the Bruins are most inclined to being overwhelmed by groups with size and athleticism. UCLA can also’t go into one among its six-minute lulls on offense or enable the opposite group to dictate the vitality with a dull first half. Those are actual points the Bruins can’t appear to beat.

Freshmen Amari Bailey and Adem Bona should make some significant contributions to complement the veteran core that’s been to a Final Four. Bona has to remain out of foul hassle as a result of his absence means the Bruins are basically going four-on-five on offense with one of many backup bigs. Bailey wants to start out pulling down his jumper extra persistently and present a greater capacity to complete across the rim.

Perhaps most vital, the Bruins should proceed their run of constructing the ultimate minutes successful time.

Kartje: Bailey’s reemergence feels vital. UCLA wants as many choices as potential on offense, the place, as Ben referenced, it has been identified to fall into prolonged lulls. That’s what occurred the final time UCLA misplaced, as its offense went fully ice chilly within the second half towards USC. This will not be precisely a stellar capturing group to start out with. If it will possibly rely on a freshman like Bailey to knock down large photographs, together with its ordinary solid of veteran characters, the Bruins may undoubtedly go the gap.

UCLA guard Amari Bailey goes up for a shot towards Stanford ahead Brandon Angel at Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 16.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

McCollough: If the Bruins run into an opponent with measurement and depth on the within, they could possibly be in hassle. All it can take is for Bona to get into foul hassle and out of the blue UCLA is taking part in undermanned within the submit. Jaime Jaquez Jr. has proven he can play as a small-ball large in spurts, however that’s asking loads even for him. The excellent news for Mick Cronin’s group is that Jaquez and Tyger Campbell have seen all of it, and they’re going to have the veteran intuition and know-how to react on the fly to no matter occurs within the throes of the match.

What does USC need to do to achieve the match and lengthen its latest run of March success?

Kartje: If it will possibly care for enterprise this week towards Arizona and Arizona State, USC ought to clinch its third consecutive NCAA match bid. Barring a collapse in each video games and an early exit subsequent week in Vegas, the Trojans ought to enter March as one among its extra harmful sleepers.

How harmful depends upon how properly USC continues to shoot from the perimeter. The Trojans have been scorchingly sizzling from deep of their previous 4 video games, pulling down 44 of their final 90 makes an attempt (49%). And whereas that’s virtually definitely unsustainable — the most effective 3-point capturing group in America, Colgate, is capturing 40% — USC is a completely completely different group when it’s hitting from deep. Once it lastly cools off, USC may also have to be higher on the boards, the place, percentage-wise, it’s more likely to rank among the many worst groups within the match.

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Bolch: Everybody is aware of Drew Peterson and Boogie Ellis can get sizzling and win a sport. But in addition they tend to vanish at occasions, resulting in among the Trojans’ head-scratching losses. For USC to advance to the second weekend of the match, each gamers are going to need to be reliably good. If Vincent Iwuchukwu can proceed his upward trajectory since making his midseason debut, the Trojans can be a troublesome out.

McCollough: At this level, it could take a collapse at Galen Center for USC to overlook out on the NCAA match. The Trojans seem to enter this weekend’s essential homestand on the fitting aspect of the bubble, and so they have a terrific shot to play their approach out of the Dayton play-in video games in the event that they care for enterprise towards Arizona and Arizona State. Win each, and so they’re set to bop. Win one, and I nonetheless assume they’re in until they lose a foul one in Vegas. Lose each, and so they’ll have work to do in Vegas to punch their ticket.

USC takes quite a lot of jokes for the attendance at Galen, however when it comes right down to it, Andy Enfield’s group has gained quite a lot of large video games there throughout their latest stretch. Do it once more this weekend, and the Trojans will enter the match stage of the season with a ton of confidence and — due to the previous few years — an precise pedigree to carry out this time of 12 months.

Who ought to win Pac-12 participant of the 12 months — UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. or Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis?

McCollough: Tubelis, for nearly as good as he’s, has disappeared in some video games down the stretch, which is one thing that Jaquez can’t afford to do for UCLA — and has not performed. The Bruins rely upon him for his or her life power, and he delivers each time, whatever the circumstances. With UCLA clinching the outright league crown for the primary time in a decade, this actually isn’t a debate at this level.

Bolch: It’s no contest. Jaquez takes residence the honors primarily based on his February frenzy of factors and rebounds, to not point out an affect on protection that Tubelis can’t match. Tubelis needed to be subbed out on the finish of the Wildcats’ loss to Arizona State as a result of he was a legal responsibility on protection. Tubelis may end with extra factors and rebounds than Jaquez, however his manufacturing has tailed off just like the group he performs for, Arizona now preventing USC for second place within the Pac-12.

Kartje: Tubelis is a wonderful participant, particularly offensively, however Jaquez has been completely unreal over the previous month. He’s averaging 20 factors and 10 rebounds per sport in February, and, unsurprisingly, UCLA has gained all eight of its video games throughout that stretch. Throw in the truth that Jaquez is way and away the superior defensive participant, and there’s no query who ought to get the convention’s high honors.

Is Mick Cronin proper … does the Pac-12 match matter?

Bolch: Yes … and no. UCLA in all probability must win the factor to get a No. 1 seed or be certain that it’s No. 2 within the West, but when the Bruins are pleased with a No. 2 seed no matter area, then the outcomes gained’t matter (barring a quarterfinal flop). Otherwise, Cronin is correct, it’s all fairly meaningless. His groups have misplaced the primary sport in a convention match and made the Final Four (in 2021) and gained a convention match and misplaced within the first spherical of the NCAA match (in 2019, at Cincinnati).

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Kartje: Depends on what you rely as significant, I suppose. Sure, to Cronin’s level, the precise outcomes and momentum of the convention match could not carry over into March Madness. But UCLA additionally gained’t earn a high seed with out successful the Pac-12 match, which, name me loopy … appears sort of vital?

For USC, subsequent week’s outcomes may show fairly essential. A sudden quarterfinal exit may make Selection Sunday fairly uncomfortable. Regardless, the Trojans would in all probability relatively keep away from a detour journey to Dayton in the event that they’re one of many final groups in. A win or two on the Pac-12 match ought to get rid of that possibility, leaving them within the eight to 10 vary for seeding.

McCollough: Of course it issues. An opportunity to hold a banner is an opportunity to hold a banner. Sure, the Bruins have the regular-season title, however backing that up sends a message that UCLA is certainly the most effective of the west — only a 12 months shy of the Bruins taking part in their final video games as a Pac-12 member. It could not matter what occurs on that Saturday evening in Vegas to the NCAA choice committee, however the Bruins shouldn’t be informal in regards to the prospect of Arizona or USC getting the final snigger in Vegas.

Who are the highest groups to observe throughout the NCAA match and is that this essentially the most parity we’ve seen coming into it in years?

McCollough: It’s fairly wild to see North Carolina, the preseason No. 1 group within the nation, listed among the many first 4 groups out in brackets because the calendar turns to March. Kentucky has made a late push again to the highest half of the bracket, however the Wildcats usually are not among the many favorites to win all of it both. Duke seems removed from harmful in 12 months one underneath Jon Scheyer, too. Defending nationwide champion Kansas and UCLA are the one bluebloods carrying their weight, as Houston, Purdue and Alabama are predicted to be No. 1 seeds. For some purpose, that appears to make folks assume it is a down 12 months for the game, however, mainly, that line of pondering simply reveals how a lot folks actually care about seeing the legendary applications within the video games that matter. Fans might imagine they need parity, a state of affairs the place shocking groups can win the championship, however the TV scores routinely say in any other case.

I’m enthusiastic about seeing if Purdue can recover from the hump and make it again to the Final Four. My intestine, primarily based on latest outcomes, is that this can be a disappointing Boiler flameout. The Brandon Miller drama is more likely to engulf Alabama’s season. Houston has a ton of stress with the Final Four coming to its metropolis, and the Cougars’ offense is able to throwing up an actual dud on any given evening.

It’s going to be a kind of years when the matchups inform the story. I can’t wait to get my fingers on that bracket!

Bolch: Beyond the plain high seeds, I feel TCU may make an prolonged run given Mike Miles Jr.’s return from harm, and Marquette has turn out to be scary good in coach Shaka Smart’s second season. I wouldn’t advise anybody betting on Alabama to go all the way in which given the Brandon Miller brouhaha that can comply with the group wherever it goes, and I’m anticipating slumping Purdue to go down comparatively early even when the choice committee continues to consider the Boilermakers ought to be a No. 1 seed (they shouldn’t).

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The feel-good story of the match could possibly be Northwestern in solely its second look. Unlike of their 2017 debut, these Wildcats have the expertise to win a couple of sport.

Kartje: Don’t be stunned if we see a number of middling seeds nonetheless alive deep on this match. Connecticut has the firepower and the prowess on the glass to make some noise in March. Indiana and Maryland are two Big Ten groups peaking on the proper time with the potential for deep runs. And I by no means need to mess with Gonzaga this time of 12 months. Especially after seeing it deal with St. Mary’s, one other pesky contender, on Saturday.

McCollough: Gonzaga robust within the match? I don’t know. The Bulldogs have blown quite a lot of No. 1 seeds in recent times. I can be fascinated to see if having a decrease seed will assist them play at the next degree, with extra of their pure underdog vitality of the previous.

Who will win the Pac-12 match and who will win the nationwide title?

Bolch: I’m going to go along with a twist and predict that USC will get on a roll and wins the Pac-12 match, knocking off each Arizona and UCLA alongside the way in which. As for the nationwide title, I’m going to say elite protection prevails and Houston comes away with the championship 40 years after Hakeem Olajuwon didn’t field out Lorenzo Charles.

Kartje: No must overthink how it will play out within the Pac-12. UCLA has confirmed itself time and time once more to be the highest group within the convention, and whereas USC obtained the most effective of the Bruins of their final assembly, I don’t see the Trojans taking them down once more, this time within the midst of one other prolonged win streak.

Tramon Mark and Marcus Sasser cheer during a Houston game.

Houston guards Tramon Mark, left, and Marcus Sasser have a good time after scoring towards Tulane on Feb. 22 in Houston. The Cougars are among the many high groups within the nation and will win a nationwide championship.

(Kevin M. Cox / Associated Press)

As for the Big Dance … properly, that’s a complete crapshoot. I wrestle to recollect the final time a match subject has felt this huge open. Balance is all the time vital come Tourney time, and just one group ranks contained in the Top 10 in each offensive and defensive effectivity, based on KenPom. That’s Houston. Looks like I’m becoming a member of Ben on the Cougs’ bandwagon. But don’t be stunned if a decrease seed comes out of nowhere to win it this 12 months.

McCollough: Arizona followers are going to take over Las Vegas, and, since Mick Cronin doesn’t appear to assume the match is that vital, his gamers could also be saving their edge for the weekend after. I just like the Wildcats to win it and assure themselves that No. 2 seed.

With no bracket to go off, I’ll go along with Baylor as a group that I’m going to lean into. The Bears’ guards are relentless and all or any of them can go off anytime. They additionally appear to be coming collectively on the proper second of the season. Further down, I’m intrigued by Miami. The Hurricanes had been one win away from the Final Four final 12 months, and, like Baylor, their guard play is great. Plus, do-everything large man Norchad Omier is a beast on the glass.