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Thursday, July 24, 2014 | Last updated: 8:23am

Column: Cats climbing toward No. 1 overall NCAA tournament seed



With two weekends of games to go until Selection Sunday, Arizona men’s basketball is sitting pretty.

While the Wildcats clinched the Pac-12 Conference championship outright with two games remaining in the regular season, they still have plenty to play for. Currently, Arizona is a consensus No. 1 seed in the Western region in the recent projections by ESPN, USA Today, CBS Sports and NBC Sports.

With two wins this week in the Beaver State, the Wildcats will likely assure themselves of a No. 1 seed. You don’t have to be a math major to know that the easiest road to the Final Four belongs to the No. 1 seeds.

Arizona travels well: “U of A” chants can be heard pretty much everywhere the Wildcats play. A fan was even spotted on ESPN wearing a Dirtbag’s shirt in Madison Square Garden during Arizona’s Nov. 29 victory over then-No. 6 Duke in New York City. Still, the UA wants to be the No. 1 seed in the West.

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Photo Courtesy of Jack White, Duke Chronicle Freshman forward Aaron Gordon (11) blocks Duke freshman forward Jabari Parker's (1) jump shot during the NIT Tip Off at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Nov. 29.

In the West bracket, as 1-4 seed, Arizona will get to play its second and third round games in San Diego, regardless of what bracket it is in.

If the Wildcats can stay in that West Regional, those Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games are in Anaheim, Calif. Southern California is packed with UA alumni and is a manageable road trip from Arizona.

Plus, the Wildcats played in San Diego on Nov. 14 and play in the Los Angeles area every year, so those places are familiar and more inviting than the other regions in Buffalo or Memphis.

Arizona’s outstanding résumé is the reason bracketologists such as ESPN’s Joe Lunardi as of Monday have the No. 3 Wildcats as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

Arizona’s résumé:

RPI: 1
Record: 27-2
Conference: 14-2
Road: 7-2
Neutral: 2-0
Home: 18-0
RPI: 1
Strength of schedule: 7
Record vs. RPI 1-25: 4-0
Record vs. RPI 26-50: 6-1
Record vs. RPI 51-100: 6-1

Quality wins: Duke (in New York City), at San Diego State, at Michigan, at UCLA

The Wildcats have a boatload of quality wins, but the top four are easily among the best in the country. While the Blue Devils, Aztecs and Wolverines are all projected to be high seeds, what will be most impressive to the selection committee is that the Wildcats beat San Diego, Michigan and UCLA on the road. Plus, the Duke game was in New York, which is considered Blue Devil territory.

Bad losses: none

UA fans may hate the idea that the Wildcats lost to ASU, but the Sun Devils have a good RPI ranking (28). California (53) is also an NCAA bubble team.
Bad losses are to teams with very low RPI. The UA just needs to avoid a loss at Oregon State (105 RPI) and possibly in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament, and it won’t have any bad losses. Oregon is No. 33.

Last 12 games: 10-2

The Wildcats have been outstanding their last four games and seem to have moved past the loss of Brandon Ashley. The committee looks for how well a team does without key players, and if the Wildcats continue to play like they did on the Rocky Mountain road trip and at home against the Bay Area schools, their road to Dallas and the Final Four will go through California.

—Follow James Kelley @jameskelley520


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