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An Arizona fan’s guide to the NCAA Tournament

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The Wildcats are not in the Big Dance, but here are some things to watch anyway

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Justin Simon
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The NCAA Tournament begins Tuesday, and if you are an Arizona Wildcats fan you probably feel a little lost right now.

After all, this is only the third time since 2009-10 and fourth time since 1983-84 that Arizona has been left out of the Big Dance.

But if you plan on tuning in anyway, here are some things to watch for.

Justin Simon vs. Arizona State

Simon transferred from Arizona to St. John’s after the 2015-16 season, but he will have another chance to endear himself to the UA fanbase Wednesday when the Red Storm take on Arizona State in a play-in game.

Simon has blossomed in the Big Apple. In two seasons with the Red Storm, the Temecula, Calif. native has averaged 11.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.0 steals per game. Simon does his best work on defense, recently being named the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year.

When Simon transferred from Arizona, he cited playing time as the impetus. He hardly played as a freshman and he knew minutes would be hard to come by as a sophomore since Arizona was set to have Kadeem Allen, Rawle Alkins, Allonzo Trier, Terrance Ferguson and Kobi Simmons on the wing.

The Wildcats sure could have used Simon’s defensive mettle the last couple years, especially in 2017-18 when Arizona had an uber-talented roster but severely lacked a defensive stopper.

It’s fascinating to think about what could have been, but the only thing Simon can do for Arizona now is end its in-state rival’s season.

Buffalo vs. Bobby

If the Sun Devils get past Simon and the Red Storm, they would face the Buffalo Bulls in the first round. You know, the same team that broke UA fans’ hearts last season when they eviscerated the Wildcats by 21 points in the first round.

Buffalo proved that domination was no fluke. The Bulls built on it and enter this year’s NCAA Tournament as a No. 6 seed and the No. 22 team in the country, per KenPom.

Buffalo beating ASU surely would sting for Bobby Hurley, who left Buffalo to become ASU’s head coach in 2016.

Backing the Pac (well, the non-ASU schools at least)

The Pac-12 made a disastrous year a little more tolerable by sneaking a third team (Oregon) into the NCAA Tournament. Now, the Pac-12 has another chance to improve its perception by performing well in March Madness, which would only benefit its member schools.

Arizona fans should find it easy to root for Oregon because the 12th-seeded Ducks are facing the fifth-seeded Wisconsin Badgers in the first round. Time is supposed to heal all wounds, but not enough has passed for UA fans to get over the consecutive Elite Eight losses to Wisconsin in 2014 and 2015.

Meanwhile, the Washington Huskies face the Utah State Aggies in an 8-9 game. USU is the higher-seeded team, but, still, having your conference’s regular-season champion lose to a Mountain West team would not be a good look.

UC Irvine’s family ties

If you are looking for a non-Pac-12 team to root for, look no further than UC Irvine. The Anteaters’ leading scorer is Max Hazzard, the younger brother of former UA legend and walk-on Jacob Hazzard.

UC Irvine also has John Edgar Jr., whose father played two seasons at Arizona and co-captained the Wildcats’ 1986 Pac-10 championship team with Steve Kerr.

The Anteaters have won 16 straight heading into the tourney, one of the hottest teams in the country.

Transitive property

Arizona went 2-8 against NCAA Tournament teams this season, beating Montana and Iowa State. That means, using the transitive property, the Wildcats can claim victory over any teams those two schools beat. (Because that is totally how sports work!)

Iowa State, a No. 6 seed, faces No. 11 Ohio State in the first round. Montana, a No. 15 seed, faces No. 2 Michigan. The Cyclones are the 16th-best team in the country, per KenPom, so they have a real shot of making a deep run.

How did Arizona even beat them in the first place? Mostly because ISU was missing some key players in Maui.

Just enjoy the show

Every March a quote from Mark Titus circulates on Twitter. It says that “if you ever wonder what it’s like to be an Arizona fan, just clench your butthole for two straight hours twice a week throughout every winter.”

So if there is one positive about Arizona missing the NCAA Tournament, it’s that its fans can give their butts a rest. For once, they can sit back and watch the NCAA Tournament without any stress or fear of the inevitable heartbreak.

Besides, after watching the Wildcats all season it could be a nice change of pace to watch some basketball that isn’t 40 minutes of hell.