Last season, UCLA was the 11-seed in the East Region and No. 44 on the overall tournament seed list when it went to the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins were ahead of just two other at-large teams, Wichita State and Drake, and entered into tourney play at the First Four riding a four-game losing streak.

The Bruins then won five straight to earn a spot in the Final Four.

They beat Michigan State, BYU, and Abilene Christian, then downed 2-seed Alabama and 1-seed Michigan. Few outside of Westwood thought the Bruins could make the run they did.

This season, the Bruins are a more favorable team. As a 4-seed, the Bruins are showing up in darkhorse sections of tournament previews.

UCLA head coach Mick Cronin knows how to handle both sides of it.

“We taught everybody last year that our seed doesn’t matter,” Cronin said, per the Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch. “It just doesn’t.”

Cronin went on to say, “We gotta beat Akron or our season’s over and you have to approach it that way. You start thinking about whoever you have a chance to play after that, you’ve got problems.”

If chalk prevails, the Bruins would have to beat Akron, then 5-seed Saint Mary’s in the second round, then 1-seed Baylor in the Sweet Sixteen, and finally 2-seed Kentucky in the Elite Eight to get back to the Final Four.

Certainly a tall task, but this is a 25-7 UCLA squad that just played for a Pac-12 title and features five of the top six point-scorers from last year’s Final Four team. They’ve certainly faced worse odds.

The Bruins play Akron on Thursday at 6:50 p.m. PT on TBS.