The Akron Zips, fresh off their upset run through the 2022 Mid-American Conference men’s basketball tournament on Saturday night, got their NCAA Tournament assignment on Sunday afternoon, drawing the PAC-12’s UCLA Bruins in the first round of the East Region bracket.
The Zips will be the 13-seed in the East bracket, drawing UCLA as the four-seed. The 4/13 game is one of the more upset-prone matchups, with upsets by the lower seed occurring approximately 21 percent of the time, with 31 such upsets all-time since the field expanded in 1985.
Last season, fellow MAC member Ohio joined that number of triumphant 13-seeds, upsetting then-defending champion Virginia by a final score of 62-58.
The Zips, led by head coach John Groce, stands at 24-9 overall, with a 14-6 conference record, Early in the season, Akron had an impressive performance against Ohio State, taking the Buckeyes to the wire in a 67-66 loss back when OSU was ranked in the AP Top 25. Other non-conference wins include Marshall of Conference USA and Evansville of the Missouri Valley Conference.
The Zips knocked out the two top seeds in the MAC tournament en route to the NCAA Tournament, beating regular-season champion Toledo in the MAC semifinals before winning against second-seed Kent State on Saturday.
The last time Akron was in the NCAA Tournament was 2013 under then-head coach Keith Dambrot, suffering an 88-42 loss to the fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth Rams at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit, Michigan.
UCLA, meanwhile, comes into the NCAA Tournament off an 84-76 loss to Arizona in the PAC-12 title game, with an overall record of 25-7, including a 15-5 record in-conference. The Bruins were a Top 25 team for most of the regular season, and prior to the conference tournaments, sat at #13 in the country.
The Bruins were considered a favorite to reach the Final Four in the preseason due to their returning talent, but had some notable stumbles along the way, especially in conference play. Key wins for the Bruins in the non-conference season include Villanova and Marquette, both of the Big East. The Bruins also had a loss to tournament favorite Gonzaga at a neutral site tournament in Las Vegas, and a cancelled game with North Carolina originally on the schedule.
The Bruins’ main focal point will almost certainly be Johnny Juzang, an NBA prospect who opted to return to UCLA this past offseason. At current, Juzang averages 16 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game.
The winner of this game will go on to face either sixth-seed St. Mary’s Gaels of the West Coast Conference or the winner of the eleventh-seed play-in game between the Mountain West Conference’s Wyoming Cowboys or the Big Ten Conference’s Indiana Hoosiers.
The game will take place in Portland, Oregon, on Thursday, March 17, at a time and television channel to be determined.