The Arizona Wildcats announced Tuesday that they have self-imposed a postseason ban for the 2020-21 season, what they are calling “a proactive measure in their ongoing NCAA enforcement process.”
It will keep them out of the NCAA and Pac-12 Tournaments.
The UA felt it was the right thing to do after the NCAA investigation “revealed that certain former members of the MBB staff displayed serious lapses in judgment and a departure from the University’s expectation of honest and ethical behavior.”
While not being able to participate in March Madness is disappointing, here’s what Arizona can look forward to.
A Pac-12 regular season championship is still on the table
A national championship and Pac-12 Tournament championship is out of the picture, but the Wildcats are still capable of winning their first conference regular season championship since 2018. The Pac-12 is pretty weak and the unusual circumstances of this COVID-19 season mean some whacky things are bound to happen.
Picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12, the Wildcats are 1-1 in conference play right now, with a road loss to Stanford and a home win over Colorado. Considering those are two of the better teams in the league, that’s not a bad spot to be in.
KenPom projects Arizona will go 12-8 in conference play, just one fewer win than Oregon, the preseason favorite.
So as long as a couple breaks and bounces go Arizona’s way, they should be in contention all season.
It’s time to play spoiler
Arizona was expected to be one of several Pac-12 teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Now that it won’t be dancing, it can take pride in preventing others from joining the fun.
Arizona just so happens to cap the regular season with a home game vs. ASU. Wouldn’t it be awesome to win that game and put a late dent in the Sun Devils’ postseason chances?
At least there’s some closure
While a self-imposed postseason ban might just be the start of the sanctions coming Arizona’s way—it has reportedly been accused of several Level I violations—at least we know for certain what this season holds. That’s better than being in perpetual limbo waiting for the NCAA to drop the hammer.
Imagine being strung along until March, only to find out at the last-minute that all those regular-season games you stressed about had no actual bearing on a potential postseason run.
There should be more focus on development
UA coaches and players still owe it to themselves and fans to try to win every game, but there is not nearly as much pressure to do so. A conference championship would be nice but, let’s face it, Arizona fans usually judge a season based on how the team fares in the postseason.
This is a team that, for now, will be returning every key player next season, so you can think of this season as one big test run for next year when experience will be the group’s greatest strength and a deep NCAA Tournament run could be well within reach.
Several players have talked about how close this team is, and it’s fun to think about what they can accomplish after having a whole season to hone that chemistry. That easy win over Colorado showed they’re already pretty good right now.
The stakes being lower this season also means it wouldn’t hurt if Sean Miller gives minutes to a guy like Tibet Görener. The Turkish freshman hasn’t been in the rotation, but his 3-point shooting could make him a valuable player moving forward. To this point he has only played nine minutes, almost all in garbage time.
Will there be any opt outs?
From a basketball perspective it doesn’t make much sense for players to leave the program right now.
This is a free year of eligibility because of the pandemic, and Arizona players have pro aspirations. Every time they take the court it gives them a chance to develop against quality competition and put their games on tape for pro scouts.
Even practicing is hugely beneficial. How easy would it be for them to work on their games outside of UA’s bubble right now? Gyms are closed in many places.
Of course, if players are more worried about their health amid this coronavirus pandemic, then opting out is understandable. Not only does traveling to games put the players at risk, but they also have to do daily COVID-19 testing every morning and live an isolated lifestyle that prevents them from seeing their family in person, a strain on their mental health.
The Wildcats have several international players and living in a new country with all those restrictions in place can be especially taxing.
The seniors have an easier decision to make?
Seniors like Ira Lee and Terrell Brown are eligible to return next season, and you’d have to think the chances of that happening are even greater now. Do they really want their final year of college to end without even a shot at the postseason?
A recruiting boost?
Arizona hasn’t landed any five-star prospects in the last two recruiting cycles (2020 and 2021). Yes, that’s partly the result of an altered recruiting philosophy that prioritizes multi-year players over one-and-dones, but the program’s uncertain future has played a role too.
Now that Arizona has instituted a postseason ban, it can tell recruits, ‘Hey, that’s behind us now, so you don’t have to worry about it when you get here.”
Who knows if that’s even true—like I said, more sanctions seem imminent—but it can’t hurt.
All eyes should be on the women’s team come March
Assuming the NCAA Tournament doesn’t get cancelled again, the Arizona women’s team will be making its first appearance since 2005.
Currently ranked No. 6 in the country, they have a legitimate chance of winning a national championship. The fanbase’s focus should now be on them this March. They deserve it.
If you’re a diehard Arizona fan, you were probably going to follow their postseason run anyway, but this is a great opportunity for the women’s program to captivate casual fans who haven’t shown interest in the past.