Here’s How UCLA Stacks Up Against The Rest Of The Sweet 16


The UCLA Bruins Men’s Basketball team has not needed much love from the NCAA community to do what they do best — prove themselves under pressure. With the way things have gone this season, there’s no telling how far the Bruins will be able to go in this year’s March Madness.

With an upset win over SMU in their opening game and a dominant victory over fellow Cinderella UAB in the Round of 32, the only thing standing between them and a berth in the Elite Eight is a rematch with the Gonzaga Bulldogs — a team known for choking in the NCAA’s Big Dance.

But other competition remains, and they are fierce.

An undefeated Kentucky team looking to make tournament history. Duke and North Carolina are still around. Powerhouses like Arizona and Wisconsin remain alive. Underdog teams that have been there, done that like Notre Dame, Wichita State, and NC State still have a claim to stake as the best in the college game.

Here’s how the Bruins compare to the rest of the Sweet 16 field:

1. The Historic Favorites

Mar 25, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari during practice for the semifinals of the midwest regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Even in college basketball, there are names and teams that will forever be etched into the echoes of whatever the future might hold for the sport. Schools like North Carolina, Duke, and Kentucky are more than enough reasons to watch college basketball in the regular season and especially in the NCAA Tournament.

Oh yeah, and all three are still alive in this year’s bracket.

UCLA, on the other hand, stands alone in this category.

And then there’s the Bruins again

We all remember the John Wooden days. What it takes to win at Wooden’s level is something that Coach K (Duke), John Calipari (Kentucky), and Roy Williams (UNC) have replicated very well. Duke has always been a tournament favorite for as long as I can remember, North Carolina is really good at playing the dark horse, and Kentucky is having their best season ever here and now.

While this year doesn’t mark a historically good year (player wise) for UCLA, they’ve managed to advance by sheer heart and desire to win rather than anything raw talent brings to the table.

If the Bruins can get past Gonzaga, they will face the winner of the Duke – Utah game. Should Duke come out unscathed, UCLA will have it’s hardest challenge of the tournament — yes, even more difficult than if they had to play Kentucky.

Duke has Jahlil Okafor. The Blue Devils have been working consistently this season to make Okafor the best in the game down low. While Kentucky also has one of the strongest inside presences, they play more as a team whereas Okafor — for the most part — likes to do things his way with Coach K’s squad.

And we all know how much “fun” UCLA has trying to control the paint; UAB was just an exception.

A team like North Carolina offers UCLA the most exciting challenge, though. The Tar Heels play with a tempo that goes with the flow and matches (usually) any rise or fall in action that their opponent starts up.

But that’s what basketball’s all about, right?

2. The Up & Comers

Mar 22, 2015; Omaha, NE, USA; Wisconsin Badgers players, cheerleaders and mascot Bucky celebrate after the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament against the Oregon Ducks at CenturyLink Center. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin and Arizona have been the biggest competition to the historic franchises as of late. Big threats like Frank Kaminsky make the Badgers a threat from the paint or behind the arc at any point in the game. Kaminsky is by far Wisconsin’s biggest weapon, whereas Arizona takes the team approach that North Carolina and Kentucky are good at.

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Other than that, Michigan State is returning to prior glory thanks to more hard work by head coach Tom Izzo and Louisville is hanging around despite a lack of quality play thus far in the tournament (I mean, UC Irvine nearly knocked Louisville out of the second round — only separated by a whole two points).

The chances are high that UCLA will have to go up against Duke if they move on to the Elite Eight and from there a Final Four showdown with either Louisville or Michigan State is bound to happen.

But first, the Bruins must remember to beat Gonzaga before worrying about the others. The rest of the bracket will take care of itself, UCLA will just have to make the most of it.

3. The Dark Horses

Mar 21, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack forward Caleb Martin (14) celebrates with Wolfpack forward Beejay Anya (21) and Wolfpack guard Desmond Lee (5) after scoring against the Villanova Wildcats in the first half in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Consol Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While some would consider Wichita State an up and coming team, I feel like we’ve only seen one good season from them in the tournament. Yes, it was magical. Yes, sure, it was a Cinderella story. But they didn’t win the title.

Other sources would go as far as to compare them to when the Butler Bulldogs began to take college ball by storm, and while that’s a fair comparison if you were to look at the energy and style each teams play with respectively, there’s one unavoidable difference.

Butler’s made it to several championship games. One of which ended in heartbreaking fashion as Gordon Hayward’s half court shot at the buzzer went halfway in before bouncing out to the ground.

Another team UCLA will need to look out for that would be only a Final Four opponent (if they do play each other — hypothetically) is the NC State Wolf Pack. After taking out No. 1 Villanova, the Wolf Pack showed that they have no mercy.

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While they had a fair shot to beat the top-seeded Wildcats from the get-go, many thought that the underdogs wouldn’t have enough to beat a top-tier program.

UCLA’s heard that excuse before.

The fact that NC State was able to beat a No. 1 gives UCLA all the hope in the world along with a great deal of confidence when No. 2 Gonzaga comes to play on Friday. Of all the teams left in the tournament, NC State is the best underdog team — aside from the Bruins — that’s still ready to make some noise.

Plus, an eight-seed played a seven-seed in the National Championship last year.

Who’s to say something like that couldn’t happen in a Final Four?