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UCLA men’s water polo 2023 NCAA tournament predictions

No. 1 seed UCLA men's water polo receives instruction from coach Adam Wright. The Bruins kick off the NCAA tournament with a first-round game against Biola. (Juliet Zhang/Daily Bruin)

This post was updated Nov. 30 at 11:45 p.m.

No. 1 seed UCLA men’s water polo (24-2, 7-0 MPSF) enters the NCAA tournament on a two-game skid from the MPSF tournament – its first two losses of the season. But the route to the NCAA championship game is evident. Biola awaits in the first round, while either UC Irvine or No. 4 seed Princeton is on the docket in the semifinal if the Bruins take home an opening victory. One last game would remain between UCLA and title No. 122. The Daily Bruin’s men’s water polo beat predicts where they think UCLA will finish in the NCAA tournament before the games commence Friday.

Kai Dizon
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: Loss to USC in NCAA Championship

Momentum – the Sports writers’ favorite ambiguous term – can make mediocre teams great and good teams unbeatable.

Unfortunately, the Bruins don’t have much momentum heading into the NCAA championships, which is strange to say about a squad that was 24-0 less than two weeks ago. However, in those two weeks, UCLA notched its first loss of the season against USC in the MPSF tournament semifinals and followed it up with an 11-10 overtime loss to a Stanford team that won’t be playing this weekend.

Despite the Bruins seemingly being amid a free fall, UCLA is undoubtedly talented. As the No. 1 seed, UCLA will take care of unseeded Biola in the first round, and in the second, it will find a way to beat No. 4 seed Princeton, which has lost every game it’s played against a team ranked No. 4 or higher.

After the aforementioned semifinal win over the Bruins, the Trojans went on to win the MPSF Championship, beating the Golden Bears – who’ll be the No. 2 seed this weekend – 13-12, meaning No. 3 seed USC holds the momentum UCLA lacks.

The Trojans will also get to play the entire weekend with home-field advantage, a perk of being the host.

USC beating UCLA in the championship may be the most poetic outcome as the 2023 Bruins continue to be caught in a dream of their 2022 selves.

In both years, they closed out the regular season with an overtime win over USC, opened the MPSF Tournament with a win over Washington & Jefferson, lost in the second round to USC and lost the MPSF third-place match by a single goal.

In 2022, you guessed it, the Trojans delivered the knockout blow to the Bruins’ season, eliminating them in the NCAA semifinals.

Only time will tell if the Bruins ever decide to wake up.

Lamar Tuker
Daily Bruin contributor
Prediction: Loss to Princeton in NCAA semifinal

The Bruins only have one win left in their system before returning the upper hand to their opponents.

Undoubtedly, the No. 1 seed will beat Biola, but the census will not stand when it comes to Princeton. The Bruins have made a point of losing to previously conquered teams.

During the last match with the Tigers, senior attacker Makoto Kenney and redshirt freshman utility Ben Larsen served a hat trick each against the Tigers and contributed half of the team’s goals of the game. The Bruins won by a two-point margin of 12-10. However, this time, it may not end in their favor.

With the losses against USC and Stanford fresh in its system, UCLA’s limelight has dimmed. Meanwhile, the Trojans were crowned as the MPSF Champions after defeating the Golden Bears.

On the East Coast, Princeton reversed UCLA’s pattern as it conquered Harvard – a team it had previously lost against – during the NWPC tournament. The Tigers also blitzed Iona, making it a sentiment to beat teams ranked below them. With only UC Irvine as a roadblock, Princeton is on a hot winning trail heading into the NCAA championships, and UCLA may not be able to keep up.

UCLA proved that both wins and losses initiate a chain reaction.

Although that principle had been upheld during the regular season – the first time the Bruins had been undefeated since 2015 – it also crossed them two weeks ago. Princeton is still on the winning chain, and Irvine – which is two ranks below it – isn’t going to stop it.

The narrative of the Bruins versus the Trojans has run its course. UCLA should widen its trepidation to incoming danger.

Ava Abrishamchian
Daily Bruin reporter
Prediction: NCAA champions

“Trust the captain, trust the crew.”

Any sports season is like a ship’s journey toward the horizon. It must be led, maintained and navigated through choppy waters.

UCLA men’s water polo is this ship, and its journey has almost reached the shore.

Despite injuries and absences that have plagued the squad since the beginning of the year, the Bruins’ performance in the first part of the season displayed an elite level of play that has rarely faltered. They scored well into the double digits throughout the season, including two games in which 12 different Bruins scored.

As the season progressed, UCLA faced off against familiar foes such as USC, Stanford and California, teams that have caused difficulty for the Bruins in the past.

However, this year presented a new team and new outcomes. In back-to-back wins, the Bruins outperformed their Cal counterparts, with hat tricks from senior attacker Rafael Real Vergara, freshman attacker Wade Sherlock, redshirt senior attacker Jack Larsen, and Kenney.

With a diverse roster of veterans and rookies, UCLA was a force to be reckoned with, comparable to the undefeated squad that coach Adam Wright led in 2015 to the NCAA championship.

Until it wasn’t.

It was at the end of the road where the Bruins faltered, losing to the Trojans and Cardinal and placing fourth in a tournament they were set up to sweep.

However, I believe that loss was inevitable. In order to iron out the details, failure is needed, and these defeats opened a Pandora’s box as to how the team can improve. Furthermore, it gave them the time to prepare, a luxury as good as gold.

As the Bruins enter the NCAA tournament, the players have presented their skills, ironed out their faults and prepared for the hardware at the shore.

So, I think it’s time to trust the captain and the crew to bring it home.

Benjamin Royer
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: NCAA champions

Sometimes you need to lose before you win.

Before the protagonist reaches the top of the mountain in any film, they must also hit rock bottom – a deafening low that appears to take them out of focus from their goal.

The Bruins fell to the basement floor two weeks ago at Berkeley. After an undefeated regular season, UCLA dropped back-to-back games against USC and Stanford to close out the MPSF tournament.

But the losses force Wright and company to reassess before the NCAA tournament kicks off Friday. I have no doubt that the energy toward securing a national championship has been prevalent all week long.

In fact, I would be surprised if UCLA did not hoist the trophy at Uytengsu Aquatics Center on Sunday. The route to glory could not be more simple.

Beating Biola should be a piece of cake for UCLA – it’s a David vs. Goliath story, but one that the Bruins should be able to easily handle.

Next up, UC Irvine or Princeton, both of which fell to UCLA during the regular season. And last up, California or USC – the likely two to emerge from the other side of the bracket.

The Golden Bears and Trojans are difficult foes – and although UCLA fell to USC at the MPSF tournament, the Bruins have experience taking down both of their biggest rivals on numerous occasions in 2023.

When all is said and done, Wright’s squad will be on the right side of NCAA history and take home UCLA’s 122nd national championship.

Assistant Sports editor

Royer is the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was previously a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats. He is also a fourth-year communication student.

Kai Dizon
Lamar Turker

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