So much for that rest.
One game, two overtimes and 228 starters’ minutes later the Arizona Wildcats were left with a second loss in four games and a lot of questions.
Can the Cats still reach their lofty goals with this revised lineup?
It’s safe to say the post-Brandon Ashley new season has not started well. There are still three weeks left in the regular season to figure it out but too many losses along the way would leave the UA short of its aspirations.
The plan before the season was to win the Pac-12 championship and earn the No. 1 seed in the West region of the NCAA tournament. Let’s analyze what it’ll take to get there.
A logical projection for the rest of the season is winning at home and splitting on the road. That would mean two more losses and a 14-4 Pac-12 record. Would that be good enough to win the league?
Here are the remaining schedules for the Wildcats and second-place UCLA:
|Week||ARIZONA (10-2)||UCLA (9-3)|
|Feb 19-23||at Utah / Colo||at Cal / Stan|
|Feb 26-Mar 2||Cal / Stan||Ore / OSU|
|Mar 5-9||at OSU / Ore||at Wash / WSU|
It’s interesting how similar the two schedules are. Both teams go road-home-road over the final three weeks. Both teams have a tough road trip this week (Cal and Stanford are fourth and sixth in the conference; Colorado and Utah are fifth and seventh) and both finish with a relatively easy road trip (Washington and WSU are eighth and 11th; OSU and Oregon are ninth and 10th). The big difference is UCLA’s final home games are significantly easier than Arizona’s.
The key is UCLA dropping at least one on the Bay Area trip this week. If it happens the Cats would just need a split to maintain their one-game advantage and stay in good shape to earn at least a tie for the conference crown. But if UCLA sweeps Cal/Stanford and then they get Oregon/OSU/Wazzu as three of their final four games, look out. The good news is the Bruins split both their Pac-12 road trips this year.
So the Pac-12 title remains in play. What about NCAA tournament seeding?
If we go with that 14-4 conference record and project a middling showing in the Pac-12 tournament (one win and one loss) that adds up to a 27-5 record at the top of the resume that goes before the selection committee.
On its own that would be plenty good enough to earn a 1-seed. Three of the four No. 1 seeds last year had at least five losses.
The problem is the committee will also be factoring in the loss of Ashley. Everyone knows the Wildcats were 21-0 before the injury and are 2-2 since. Up above we predicted a final 7-5 after-BAsh record. That’s not going to convince people that Arizona, as it stands now, is one of the four best teams in the country.
I think the over/under is two more losses, including the Pac-12 tournament. If the Cats finish 29-3 they’ll be a 1-seed. If they’re 27-5, they won’t be. 28-4, with an 8-4 mark after the injury? Tough call.
Can the Cats still end up in the West region if they slide off the 1 line?
If Arizona isn’t the No. 1 seed out West it’ll be a team from another part of the country. I don’t see San Diego State being a 1-seed and no other western team is even in the AP Top 25.
Would the committee punish a non-west No. 1 seed by giving a lower-seeded team the geographic advantage? The answer is yes, it happens all the time.
Last year Indiana was shipped as the 1 in the East region and was saddled with Miami as their 2-seed and Syracuse as the 4. Syracuse won the region in Washington, D.C.
In 2012 North Carolina was the No. 1 seed in the Midwest and had to face 2-seed Kansas in the regional final in St. Louis. Kansas won.
The 2011 bracket was a geographic mess. Duke was the 1 out West (Anaheim) with San Diego State as the 2-seed (and Arizona as the 5, tee-hee). No. 1 seed Pitt had to play down South (New Orleans) with Florida as its 2. Ohio State was the 1-seed in the East (Newark) along with both North Carolina and Syracuse. None of the 1’s made the Final Four that year.
• Pac-12 championship? Go get it.
• No. 1 seed? Don’t hold your breath.
• Stay out West? Keep hope alive.
Fix Arizona’s offense? I don’t have any answers but I vote yes.
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