Arizona-ASU at McKale

The Wildcats have six games left at McKale. Photo by RC for Wildcat Universe

The Pac-12 championship will be decided in the (relative) east.

The Arizona Wildcats and Utah Utes both won a pair of basketball games over the weekend to leave the two highly ranked teams tied atop the conference standings. A breakdown of the remaining six weeks shows one team has the schedule advantage the rest of way.

This is what each of the two contenders faces over the remainder of the regular season:

Arizona and Utah’s remaining schedule by week

Week ofARIZONAUtah
Jan 28Ore, OSUat UCLA, USC
Feb 4at ASUat Colo
Feb 11at Wash, WSUStan, Cal
Feb 18USC, UCLAat OSU, Ore
Feb 25at Colo, UtahASU, ARIZ
Mar 4Cal, Stanat WSU, Wash

The advantage here goes to Arizona with two additional home games. As an added bonus, none of the Wildcats’ remaining road trips is longer than three days. The games against the Washington schools are on a Friday and Sunday while the Colorado / Utah games are on a Thursday and Saturday.

The Utes on the other hand have a couple four-day road trips. Their visits to L.A. and the Oregon Trail both feature Thursday / Sunday games. Arizona fans don’t need a reminder that the loss to Oregon State was at the end of an extended trip.

Utah’s one remaining ace is the most important game on the list – the rematch with the Wildcats on Sat. Feb. 28 – takes place in Salt Lake City.

Here is a look at the two schedules in the order of the Pac-12 standings:

Arizona and Utah’s schedule and results by opponent

ARIZONA (6-1)-
at ARIZONA (6-1)-L
Utah (6-1)W-
at Utah (6-1)-
Oregon St. (5-2)miss
at Oregon St. (5-2)L
Stanford (5-2)
at Stanford (5-2)Wmiss
Oregon (4-3)miss
at Oregon (4-3)W
Wash. (3-4)missW
at Wash. (3-4)
UCLA (3-4)W
at UCLA (3-4)miss
Colorado (3-4)WW
at Colorado (3-4)
Wash. St. (3-4)missW
at Wash. St. (3-4)
Arizona St. (2-5)W
at Arizona St. (2-5)W
Cal (1-6)
at Cal (1-6)Wmiss
USC (1-6)W
at USC (1-6)miss

In this regard the Utes had the slight advantage when the season started. Three of Utah’s four misses – Oregon, OSU and at Stanford – are games against teams that currently have a winning conference record while all four of the UA’s misses – Washington, WSU, at UCLA and at USC – are against teams with losing Pac-12 marks.

This is negated however because with 11 games left the schedule lines up perfectly with both Arizona and Utah having exactly one game against each of the other teams in the conference. In other words, the remaining strength of schedule for the two teams is identical – a combined opponents’ conference record of 36-41.

Things change significantly after this week when Arizona plays Oregon State and Oregon (combined Pac-12 record of 9-5) for a second time while Utah finishes up the season series with UCLA and USC (4-10). From that point on the Wildcats’ remaining opponents’ winning percentage drops to .429 while the final nine games on Utah’s schedule are against teams with a combined league mark of 32-31 (.508).

Add it up and Arizona remains the team to beat. The Wildcats have a leg up in the head-to-head, more home games and are a week away from having a sizable advantage in strength of schedule down the stretch.

But you still have to take care of business on the court. Utah’s six Pac-12 wins have been by an average of 24 points with no victory by fewer than 17 points. If the Utes keep killing non-Arizona teams the showdown at the end of February will be for a share of the conference title. If the Cats throw up another Oregon State-like clunker along the way Utah could win the league outright.

Arizona fans are in the interesting position of rooting against Utah but not that much. Wildcat Universe wants to win the conference championship of course but needs Utah to remain highly ranked in order to help the Cats’ bid for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The ideal scenario would be the UA winning the next eight games while the Utes stumble one time to fall a game back in the standings. That would mean a high-profile battle in SLC between a 26-2 team and a 23-4 team with Arizona leaving Utah no worse than tied for the Pac-12 lead going into the final weekend of the regular season.

It’s a two-team, 11-game, round-robin race through the Pac-12 to see which team from the “east” is most fit to wear the most prestigious crown in the west.

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