The next time the Arizona Wildcats lose, their forgettable 2018-19 season will be over.
So believes coach Sean Miller, who said Saturday he does not expect Arizona to be invited to the NIT if it doesn’t somehow win four games in four days next week in Las Vegas to claim the Pac-12’s automatic NCAA tournament bid.
“For us, the focus is on the Pac-12 tournament right now,” Miller said after concluding Senior Day festivities for graduate transfers Justin Coleman and Ryan Luther, which followed Arizona’s 72-64 home loss to rival ASU.
Arizona (17-14) opens Pac-12 tourney play Wednesday against USC (15-16) in the 8/9 game. It’s a rematch of the 2018 final, won 75-61 by the Wildcats.
The 32-team NIT field is selected using the same criteria as the NCAA, which means the new NET ranking introduced this year would factor into the process. Arizona entered Saturday ranked 89th, behind sub-.500 teams Missouri, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Penn State and Texas A&M.
While the majority of the NIT field ends up being power-league teams—the Pac-12 had five entrants last year—regular-season conference champions who don’t make the NCAA tourney get automatic bids. Last year that accounted for 12 teams, and already auto bids have been awarded to Big South champ Campbell, Missouri Valley champ Loyola Chicago and Summit League champ South Dakota State.
Even with a few wins in Vegas, the Wildcats figure to be hard-pressed to get an invite. Only three at-large qualifiers in last year’s field had 15 losses.
Arizona last played in the NIT in 2012, when as a No. 1 seed it lost at home to Bucknell in the first round. Assuming the Wildcats don’t end up in that tourney or the lower-tier CBI, it would mark their first season without a postseason appearance since 2009-10 when they went 16-15 in Miller’s first year on the job.