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

Ten straight wins and a runaway Pac-12 regular season championship have made UCLA a No. 1 seed in numerous anticipated NCAA tournaments.

It may not be enough to keep the Bruins there.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardione of the country’s leading bracket experts told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that UCLA needed to win the Pac-12 tournament to secure a No. 1 spot on Selection Sunday.

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

Lunardi said he lifted UCLA to a No. 1 ranking in the West Region in his final series based on his cumulative body of work and strong finish to the regular season coupled with the fact that Purdue had lost four of its last eight games.

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

But the Bruins could lose 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 wouldn’t be impossible for any team to win the Big 12 tournament without racking up three Quad 1 wins, which are against top teams and highly valued by the selection committee.

There is also the possibility of UCLA being 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 west due to bracketing principles designed to keep top teams from the same conference from the same region.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin directs his players during Saturday’s victory over Arizona.

(Ringo H. W. Chiu / Associated Press)

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

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

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

The potential absence of UCLA guard Jaylen Clark this week due to an unspecified injury suffered against Arizona could affect 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 left early in the second half last weekend. The commission “will see if UCLA is still like UCLA.”