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Arizona baseball: Lack of Pac-12 Tournament could hurt Wildcats’ chances to host Regional

It’s gonna be a tight battle to host a Regional

Arizona head coach Jay Johnson puts an a hand on freshman third baseman Nick Quintana’s back
Jason Bartel

With a road sweep of the Arizona State Sun Devils in their back pocket, the Arizona Wildcats have just three games left of regular season play remaining before the NCAA Tournament field is announced.

It’s also just three games left to make their case to be a regional host.

For several weeks now, the Wildcats have been right on the regional hosting bubble, and it’s certainly no different heading into the last regular season series.

“I think we’ve earned our way into the discussion,” head coach Jay Johnson said after Saturday’s victory against ASU. “Hopefully the NCAA looks at performances like this. We think we’re deserving of it but we won’t think about it because we can’t control it. We’ve controlled the parts that we can control.”

As of Sunday evening, Arizona was 15th in the RPI according to Warren Nolan, a site that Johnson can’t keep his eyes off of as we come down the stretch.

“27 times a day,” he joked on how often he visits Warren Nolan right now. “Over/under is 27.”

One thing that could hinder Arizona this weekend is the fact that they’re playing three home games against a team that’s hovering around 70th in the RPI, while other teams around the Wildcats will be playing tougher competition at neutral sites in conference tournaments.

Neutral site and away games count more towards a team’s RPI than home games.

“I’m totally good with our setup the way it is,” Johnson said. “I’m not for a Pac-12 Tournament. I feel like coaching in this league is like dog years. This is my second year but it feels like my 14th year. I believe that’s 19 series and they’re all tough. I’m good with our format and I like being able to play five non-conference weekends. Our non-conference RPI I think is in the top five (actually third). If you took a tournament it would lessen your flexibility to do some of that stuff.”

Of course, a little bit of that feeling goes back to Johnson’s experience with the Mountain West Tournament. His Nevada team went 41-15 in 2015, including a 22-7 regular season record in Mountain West play, which won them the conference by three games over San Diego State.

However, the Wolf Pack went two-and-que in the conference tournament with losses to SDSU and New Mexico. And despite the 40+ win season, Nevada was left out of the NCAA Tournament, which Johnson has cited before as a small part of the reason he wanted to make his way into the Pac-12 and take the Arizona job.

“It was really bad,” Arizona right fielder Cal Stevenson, who was a freshman on that Nevada team two years ago, remembered on Saturday. “We had a lot of tough guys on that team, especially seniors, who really carried us that whole year, and to see them go out the way they did it was kinda tough that we would have that feeling of never playing again with each other and it was all over.”

But even with that experience in the back of his mind, Stevenson still wishes that there was a Pac-12 Tournament.

“To a certain extent I wish there was a conference tournament,” he explained. “We could really see where we’re at because teams are a lot different at the end of the year, and you could play to a competitive level. That’s something that I would like to see in the Pac-12 but at the same time it’s kinda tough because you could get snuffed just by playing two bad games in that tournament.”

If you take this year as an example, Arizona’s currently fourth in the standings, and the top four of Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, and UA have really separated themselves from the rest of the pack in recent weeks. So instead of playing three home games against current fifth place team Cal this weekend, Arizona would likely get at least one (if not more) chances to get wins against teams ahead of them in the standings and more importantly, in the RPI.

If they were able to get a win or two out of that, the RPI would be helped a lot more than say winning two-of-three against Cal this weekend.

Even in 2013, former Arizona head coach Andy Lopez lamented the lack of conference tournament because that team was playing its best ball of the year at the end of the season, but got shut out of the postseason after finishing .500 in conference play.

It is what it is though, and with the way this week is setup nationally, Arizona will have its eye on the ACC, SEC, Big 12, AAC, and Conference USA Tourneys since there are plenty of teams from those conferences on all sides of the Wildcats in the RPI. Plus there’s a huge Big West showdown with Long Beach State traveling to Cal State Fullerton.

In recent projections, Long Beach and Arizona seem to be competing with each other to host, so that may be the real series to keep an eye on because the Big West also has no conference tournament.

Or maybe they’ll both get snubbed on that front because conference tournaments are probably the way to go in this day and age.

Pac-12 Baseball Standings

Team Conference record Overall record
Team Conference record Overall record
Oregon State Beavers 27-3 46-4
Stanford Cardinal 19-9 38-14
UCLA Bruins 18-10 29-24
Arizona Wildcats 15-12 36-17
California Golden Bears 13-14 23-28
Washington Huskies 13-15 27-25
Utah Utes 12-15 24-24
Oregon Ducks 11-17 29-24
Washington State Cougars 10-18 24-27
Arizona State Sun Devils 8-19 23-29
USC Trojans 7-21 20-33