March Madness has begun with the launch of the NCAA tournament bracket. Here’s a first look at the group and a breakdown of first-round opponents from UCLA and USC.
UCLA vs. Akron
1. It’s about the matchups. Assuming the Bruins (25-7) get past Akron (24-9) in the first round, they’ll likely face St. Mary’s (aka the team that beat Gonzaga) in the second round. The Gaels are rudimentary but not overly athletic or long, which means it’s a good matchup for the Bruins. The next step will most likely be top-seeded Baylor, which isn’t nearly as scary as it was last season, when it was also known as the team that beat Gonzaga. The Bruins probably did well to avoid a potential showdown with Gonzaga before the Final Four.
2. San Diego Snubbed? Most of the widely used metrics ranked UCLA above Texas Tech, which would have put the Bruins in the San Diego pod for the first and second games. But the NCAA tournament selection committee obviously disagreed, giving the Red Raiders the No. 3 seed that sent them to San Diego while sending the Bruins down the West Coast to Portland, Oregon. Oh well. At least it’s a food lover’s paradise.
3. Long distance error? UCLA’s placement in the Eastern Region means the regional semi-final and final would be at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, should the Bruins advance that far. It’s a long way to make one of the best teams in the country go this far in the tournament. Bring your winter coat.
USC vs. Miami
1. The committee wasn’t that impressed with USC’s unprecedented resume. The Trojans won 25 regular-season games, a program record, but still found themselves the No. 7 seed in Greenville, SC, where they are unlikely to draw many fans. Andy Enfield was hopeful that USC (26-7) would be seeded higher, but the lack of top-tier wins — just two against tournament teams — wasn’t enough. At least forward Chevez Goodwin comes close to home for his USC swan song.
2. USC may have trouble keeping up with Miami. The Hurricanes (23-10) aren’t the most consistent team, but their offense is among the top 20 in the country, according to KenPom.com. A January victory over Duke showed the best that Miami is capable of, and they almost beat Duke again this week in the ACC tournament. Guard Kameron McGusty is one of the leading scorers in the ACC with 17.6 points per game.
3. It’s a tough road back to the second weekend of the tournament. Not only does USC need to shake off its final two weeks to get past Miami, but Auburn and its freshman star Jabari Smith are likely looming in the second round. Wisconsin and its excruciatingly slow pace is another difficulty in the lower half of the Midwest region.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.