The Arizona Wildcats finished their non-conference schedule with a 9-4 record, which was neither the best- nor worst-case scenario for this revamped team.
The highlights: Arizona beat Iowa State in Maui, then won a hard-fought road game against UConn.
The lowlights: Arizona was blown out by Gonzaga and Auburn in the Maui Invitational, lost on the road to Alabama, then dropped a rare home game to Baylor in rather embarrassing fashion.
Now the Wildcats enter conference play, taking on a Pac-12 that ranks (by a wide margin) as the worst major-conference in college basketball, according to KenPom.
But since Arizona’s next game isn’t until Jan. 3 against Colorado, let’s pass the time by making some predictions. Will this UA team, which is firmly on the bubble right now, reach the NCAA Tournament?
Ryan Kelapire: I don’t think so. Already with four losses and just one or two quality wins, depending if you count UConn, Arizona does not have much room for error against a weak Pac-12 where quality wins will be extremely hard to come by.
If you are one of those people who think the Pac-12 is a two-bid league like I am, Arizona will need to finish in first or second place in the regular season or win the conference tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Right now, I would pick ASU and Oregon to finish ahead of Arizona, with UCLA and Washington just a notch below the Wildcats.
So is it possible Arizona makes the tournament? Of course, but it seems unlikelier than not. Assuming the Wildcats don’t win the Pac-12 Tournament (though that is not a safe assumption), they will have to go something like 14-4 in conference play to make the Big Dance. Arizona proved in the UC Davis game that it can pretty much lose to anyone this season, so that will be a difficult mark to reach.
I have also thought about this if Arizona winds up being a bubble team: will the Selection Committee slight the Wildcats for their involvement in the FBI investigation and omit them from the tournament? Or will the committee go the other way and reward Arizona for its tradition and well-traveled fanbase that will generate the revenue the NCAA is always after?
Brian J. Pedersen: Yes, but it’s far from certain.
If I had to give a percentage chance right now I’d say 65, which sounds good or bad depending on how you look at it. Considering how Arizona has looked to this point, it’s great to give them better than a 50-50 chance right now, but from a historical perspective it’s bad since most years a bid was all but a given at this point.
Based on ability and results alone, it doesn’t look good. But once you bring into the discussion the rest of the Pac-12, things get a lot better. Let’s face it, this league is pretty horrible, and outside of Oregon there isn’t another team in the conference that has the combination of talent and coaching to be heads and shoulders above the Wildcats.
Take out coaching, and you can include a few others, most namely UCLA, but that’s a topic for another day.
Here’s what I think it will come down to: how Sean Miller adjusts during the break to make sure his limited team is in the best position to win. Knock him all you want, he’s dominated against Pac-12 competition, going 120-40 in the regular season and 17-6 in the conference tournament. Miller knows these opponents and will find a way to beat enough of them to get in.
Arizona probably needs to go at least 13-5 and reach the conference tournament final to ensure a spot, however.
Zant Reyez: I still think they barely get in just for the simple fact the Pac-12 is horrible. I think this team finishes no worse than fourth in conference, gets two wins in the Pac-12 tournament and get an eight or nine seed. Once in the tournament, coach Sean Miller will see back-to-back first round exits.
The UC Davis game shed light on the talent of this team. I’d say sneaking into the Big Dance would be an accomplishment for this Arizona team.
Ezra Amacher: Arizona’s chances at earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament were kept alive Saturday night, when the Wildcats escaped UC Davis and then watched ASU pick up the Pac-12’s first true signature win of the non-conference season. For the Wildcats to remain on the right side of the bubble, they’ll need to beat the Sun Devils at least once while picking up another dozen or so wins in conference play.
In almost any other year, Arizona would be a sure pick to beat up on the rest of a beleaguered league, but this year the Wildcats are among the beleaguered. The only Pac-12 teams I’d count as quality opponents are ASU and Oregon. If Arizona can go 3-1 in its games against those two schools, then the team will have a decent shot at an at-large selection. Otherwise, Arizona will almost surely have to win the Pac-12 Tournament in Vegas, which looks like a crapshoot at this moment.
Kim Doss: No. I don’t think there’s enough quality win material in the Pac-12 to make up for the pre-season. In reference to the FBI scandal that Ryan refers to, I don’t think that Arizona has the good will of the past that occasionally got them into the tournament with a questionable record. It’s either win the conference tournament or be satisfied with the NIT this year.