The Arizona Wildcats enter the final two weeks of the regular season with a lot to play for. A piece of their sixth Pac-12 regular season title since 2011 is within reach, and their talent is more than capable of claiming a fifth conference tournament title in Las Vegas next month.
But considering how up and down Arizona has been of late, is it really fair to expect either of those things to happen?
As the Wildcats embark on their final road trip, to Los Angeles, our staff has weighed in on this topic.
Brian J. Pedersen
The short answer is no and yes, respectively. Now comes the explanation.
First, it’s not realistic for Arizona to win the Pac-12 regular-season title because, at this point, the best it (or many any of the five contenders) can hope for is a share of the crown rather than an outright title. If there is a tie for first, with the Wildcats part of it, the league is going to name co-champions and not use tiebreakers other than to determine conference tournament seeding. And the UA isn’t likely to end up with the No. 1 seed since it only has a tiebreaker edge over Colorado.
As for the Pac-12 tourney in Vegas, that’s a very realistic expectation. Gaining the automatic bid isn’t imperative, but it would be a nice way to head into the NCAA tourney with a little bit of steam, particularly since it will very likely mean beating one or two of the teams it has lost to this season. It will all come down to seeding, with the Wildcats’ seed probably ending up in the 2-5 range, and who they face along the way. However, that nasty little problem of being unable to close out tight games may render this all moot and Arizona could easily be one-and-done at T-Mobile Arena and enter The Big Dance as rudderless as at any point this season.
Arizona squandered an opportunity to take control of the regular season title last week when it couldn't close out Oregon at home. Falling short by one point (again) in overtime (again).
However, the logjam atop of the conference standings make everything interesting especially seeing how the Arizona schools visit Los Angeles this weekend. The Wildcats are now in a position where it needs help to crowned champs.
In answer to the first question, the path is there by winning out then getting help from ASU and Oregon losing. That seems realistic but unlikely to expect the Wildcats to win out given what we’ve seen this season.
Now for the Pac-12 Tournament portion of the question. A first-round bye will be a necessity in my opinion. Winning four games in four days is very difficult especially for a team that is likely locked into the tournament at this point. The four-games-in-four-days path is usually for a team that will not get an at-large bid otherwise.
Assuming the Wildcats get a first-round bye, it doesn’t feel as unrealistic. I believe Arizona can beat any team in this conference but that doesn’t necessarily make them the top dog. Given its talent and tests this team has faced throughout the year (albeit not passing all of them), I do believe it’s a realistic expectation for them to cut down the nets in Vegas. I just wouldn’t bet on it because this team is too unpredictable.
Depends on how you define realistic.
I’m not quite so sure it’s realistic for Arizona to win the regular season title, but they have a puncher’s chance. If Arizona sweeps the LA schools on the road and the Washington schools at home, I’d put the odds of winning the regular season title at 50/50.
Getting to that point is much harder than it appears on paper. USC is a talented team, one that almost came back and beat Arizona in the first meeting after being down by 20. The Trojans are also fighting for their NCAA tournament lives and should have plenty of motivation going up against Arizona.
UCLA is arguably the hottest team in the conference, and completely manhandled the Cats the first time around. Factor that in with playing at Pauley Pavilion, and the Bruins will be a tough out. It’s hard to see Arizona escaping LA with a road sweep, but if they do, they have a shot to win the regular season.
Winning the Pac-12 Tournament is certainly possible. Once you get in a tournament format, anything can happen. Okay, is Cal going to win? Probably not, but it’s as likely a team like Colorado wins as a team like Arizona or ASU wins. The key, as Ronnie mentioned, is to secure a first round bye.
My ideal bracket for Arizona would be to snag the 4th seed in the tournament with ASU the 1 seed. It would mean Oregon and Colorado would presumably do battle in the semi-finals while Arizona would face ASU, a team they smacked by 28 earlier in the year. This would mean the Sun Devils winning the regular season title, so I’m not sure Cats fans would want this scenario to play out anyways.
Back in August when it was announced that Brandon Williams would miss the entire 2019-2020 season, I wrote that even without Williams I still expected Arizona to win at least one of either the regular season Pac-12 title or the conference tournament.
At this point though, with only four regular season games remaining, that first option seems more unlikely than anything else.
That’s because the Wildcats’ OT loss to Oregon last Saturday dropped them behind four different teams in the loss column atop the Pac-12 standings — meaning that they would probably need too much to happen in their favor to slide back into the top spot.
To do that, Arizona would likely have to win all of its remaining games and hope that it gets help in the form of multiple losses by Oregon and ASU as well. Colorado would only need to lose once.
Again, too many moving parts to call “realistic.”
However, I think the conference tournament is a different story.
It’s been my opinion for a while now that Arizona’s amount of losses this season won’t really matter if this team can truly click and come together down the stretch.
Seven of the UA’s nine rotation players are in their first year and despite obvious talent, haven’t really gelled perfectly to this point.
There have been games where the Cats have shown they are capable of looking like a great team (the blowout wins at home against ASU and Colorado stand out) but they just haven’t been able to do it consistently.
So, what I’m trying to say is this, there is absolutely a realistic possibility that this UA team can get hot, go on a run, and win the Pac-12 Tournament.
I’m not guaranteeing it will happen but there is at the least a realistic chance.
Honestly, should we expect anything from the Arizona Wildcats? At this point in the season they are what they are, which is talented-but-not-trustworthy. A win over Oregon would have put them in good shape to win the Pac-12 and inspired confidence they could win the Pac-12 Tournament.
As it stands, Arizona is certainly not likely to win the conference but it wouldn’t be a shock to see them leave Vegas with a trophy. But I wouldn’t expect it.