Is UCLA underrated? The words kind of jump off the page. Like the words don't go together. That would be akin to asking, is Alex Rodriguez an honest guy? Does Mike Patrick hate Duke? The words, they just don't match.
The fine gentlemen at Basketball Prospectus (via Mark Whicker's excellent blog on the Orange County Register site) would beg to differ. John Gasaway says that the Bruins are highly underrated and Joe Lunadri's Bracketology is highly laughable.
If the Bruins want to prove that they are underrated, then they certainly have a great chance to prove it this weekend as they travel to the desert.
First off -- and Gasaway admits this -- the Bruins are projected a No. 5 seed because loss to Michigan doesn't look so hot. But he points out that UCLA has one of the best offenses in recent years based on points per possession. The Bruins average 1.16 points per possession this season, which ranks ahead of last year's mark at this time.
Whatever all that means. The stat geeks can pour out all of the numbers they like, but wins are what matters right now. Where was the points per possession average when UCLA was gagging an 11-point lead at home to Arizona State last month? Those final possessions at the end of the game and overtime where horrific. Everybody remembers the pass, pass, pass, pass and awkward shot combo during the closing minutes. There were actually no points per possession.
But this is a different Bruins team right now. UCLA is just beating opponents right now, they are crushing them. Is this a true turnaround for the Bruins? They can prove it on Thursday night against the stingy Sun Devils defense. ASU is second in the Pac-10 allowing 58 points per game.
The Bruins have shown more aggression in recent games, actually getting to the basket, instead of letting other teams dictate the tempo for them. The Bruins shot only eight free throws against the Sun Devils in the first meeting. UCLA went to the line 31 times against USC, and 18 times against Notre Dame (while holding the Irish to only 10 foul shots).
UCLA has certainly turned a corner. And while that statistical mumbo-jumbo freaks me out, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that the Bruins are a much better team than they were a month ago. Don't be surprised to see UCLA win this one going away.