Arizona Wildcats basketball: Projecting Selection Sunday
LAS VEGAS — The 18th-ranked Arizona Wildcats are a lock for the NCAA tournament, and have been for most of the season.
But after a struggle-filled 10 games to close out the season, including two in the Pac-12 tournament, the Wildcats went from a No. 1 seed contender in the tournament’s bracket to a likely four or five seed.
Tomorrow at 3 p.m., Arizona will find out its fate (what seed, what region) at 6 p.m. on CBS.
At least a few bracketology experts (SI’s Andy Glockner, CBS’ Jerry Palm) still have the Wildcats as a four seed, while ESPN’s Joe Lunardi dropped the UA to a five seed.
For Arizona, the most ideal scenario would have them as the No. 4 seed in the West bracket, which would give them first and second round games in Salt Lake City, and then (if they make it that far) a Sweet Sixteen and Elite Game at Staples Center in Los Angeles, which would be the region closest to Tucson out of Washington, D.C., Indianapolis and North Texas.
Lunardi and Palm have the Wildcats in the East region (D.C.), while Glockner has them in the South (Arlington, Tex.).
“We’ve got an excellent team,” UA head coach Sean Miller said after Friday’s loss to UCLA. “We’re 25 6, 25 7. What are we? 25-6. I don’t know what seed we’re going to get.
“I think we’ve earned a good seed. We’re excited to be part of the tournament. There is nothing more spectacular as a college basketball player than being a part of March Madness and the NCAA Tournament.”
Here’s a look at Arizona’s case for a No. 4 and a No. 5 seed:
Case for a No. 4
Arizona’s rankings in strength of schedule (26th), RPI (14) and their Sagarin rating (24) are all promising, and impressive. They are the main reason the Wildcats have higher seed projections than all the Pac-12 teams ahead of them in the standings — UCLA, California and (Pac-12 champion) Oregon.
Marquee (non-conference) wins:
The Wildcats went 12-0 in conference play, and at least three of those wins came against NCAA tournament locks (San Diego State, Miami and Florida) plus one team on the bubble (Southern Mississippi). The Miami and Florida wins look particularly good on the UA resume, with the Hurricanes and Gators having a No. 4 and 5 RPI, respectively.
Arizona is a name, it’s a brand. Arizona and UCLA are the most recognizable names in the Pac-12, and the Wildcats probably have the better overall resume, even with UCLA beating the UA three times this year. I don’t know if the selection committee considers name brand, but if they do, expect it to work in Arizona’s favor.
Case for a No. 5
A 12-6 record in a solid Pac-12 is nothing to be ashamed of. But, the Wildcats also went 0-5 against the top three teams (Cal, UCLA, Oregon), plus one loss to Colorado (two if you consider Sabatino-gate a loss). Even worse, they faltered against USC and their lofty 119 RPI.
Before Saturday’s championship game, where Oregon beat UCLA, the Wildcats still had a projection better than the Ducks, Bruins and Bears. I’m not sure that’s justified, but if Oregon doesn’t get a four seed, than Arizona probably shouldn’t either. They probably still will have a higher seed than UCLA, though, after the Bruins lost a key contributor (Jordan Adams) for the remainder of the season.
The Wildcats have looked much better of late. But, the ‘much better’ part includes performances in two losses to UCLA. A “good performance” wouldn’t be enough in March, and that loss to USC in Los Angeles certainly didn’t help the team’s look. Neither did five in their last 10 games including the Pac-12 tournament.
Prediction: Five seed in the West region
— Zack Rosenblatt can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @ZackBlatt.