For UCLA and USC, Tournament Time is Now
March 11, 2019

This has not been a great season for major college sports in Los Angeles. Certainly for the mighty UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans, the last six months have been utterly forgettable. Neither team was bowl eligible in football. It was the first time in this millennium (since 1999) that neither school had a winning record. The basketball teams this year, have been just about as bad.

The Pac-12 Conference regular season is over. USC went 8-10 in league play, and 15-16 overall. The Trojans have never really been known as a basketball school anyway, but the Land of Troy has to be disappointed with this one. They weren't favored to do well against the Arizona schools, UCLA, and Washington, but Trojan Nation (I hate that term) thought they were building something. This has to be considered a step back.

In Bruinland however, the sky is falling. If you like some good news before getting clobbered with bad stuff, we can tell you that UCLA finished ahead of USC. Barely. We can also tell you that they had a winning record this year. Again. Barely. UCLA was 9-9 in conference, good enough for seventh out of 12 teams. They were 16-15 overall.

Most UCLA followers know they were so bad, they lost to a school that they scheduled during Christmas break, just to allow the players to get some work in. Liberty beat them 73-58 at Pauley Pavilion on December 29, and after that game, for the first time in school history, a head coach was fired mid-season. The athletic department made sure the door hit Steve Alford in the pants on the way out, and assistant Murry Bartow was appointed head man on an interim basis.

So, neither team should be doing any big dancing in March, nor should they be. However, one of them could. It's unlikely, but because no team in the conference is really very good this year, and a conference tournament title means an automatic bid to the NCAA championships, the possibility is still there. UCLA is the seven seed, and will play number 10 Stanford Wednesday night. Eighth seed USC tips off the Pac 12 tourney against ninth seed Arizona (talk about disappointment, the Wildcats were supposed to be at or near the top). If UCLA wins they get second seeded Arizona State, and if USC wins, they get regular season conference champ Washington. Neither road is a good one, but that is the road both schools paved for themselves, and deserve.

You know who has to be loving this in Los Angeles? The Rams and the Chargers. Just think, three years ago there was no pro football in LA. Now, the Rams are coming off a Super Bowl appearance, and the Chargers made the playoffs. The Lakers stink, the Clippers are bad again, and the Kings have the worst record in the National Hockey League's western conference. In Orange County, the Ducks aren't doing much better, and the Angels figure to be mediocre at best in new manager Brad Ausmus' first season after Mike Scioscia finally hung up his managerial spikes.

Of course, there are the Dodgers, coming off of back-to-back World Series, and getting ready to try to get back and win it this time. Meanwhile, UCLA and USC become more and more of an afterthought in the LA sports landscape, There is college baseball, too, though, UCLA is ranked second in the country (behind Vanderbilt). Sorry 'SC fans, four Pac-12 conference teams are in the top 25, but the Trojans aren't one of them.

Overanalysis: Spring training games are fun to watch, especially if you like following the progress of minor leaguers, but the news that comes out of training camps can get ridiculous. I've been blaming the teams, but maybe it's because reporters have nothing else to talk about. Angels pitcher/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, coming off of elbow surgery, threw a baseball six feet. That's considered progress.

More ridiculousness: Teams love to give status reports about their players, without really saying anything. The Dodgers have insisted that Walker Buehler is fine, even though he hasn't thrown a pitch yet. Now there's a question about whether he'll be available come Opening Day. Clayton Kershaw can throw the ball more than six feet, but his Opening Day status is still up in there air. Kershaw's been battling a sore back, so the reports are understandable. Buehler isn't hurt, but threw a career high number of innings last year. Just be honest when it comes to updates. It's starting to look like the Dodgers (and other clubs) are just making things up.

Adjustments: The San Diego Padres have a Japanese right-handed submarine pitcher named Kazuhisa Mikita who was striking out batters by throwing 57 miles an hour. It has to be the slowest non-knuckleball I've ever seen. In a game this week against the Texas Rangers, Mikita fanned two straight, but then gave up a monster home run to Hunter Pence. Apparently Pence was sitting on the slow ball.

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