Since their loss to the UCLA Bruins in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament on Friday, the only place the Arizona Wildcats have played is on the practice court. There is still a lot happening around the world of women’s basketball that will influence where the team ends up in the NCAA Tournament bracket, though. There are also still a lot of opinions out there about how good the ‘Cats are and where they will be seeded.
What do the pollsters have to say?
Neither the coaches nor the media were bothered by Arizona’s loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament. While the team might have been able to help themselves with a win, the loss didn’t affect their position in either major poll.
Going into the conference tournament, the team was ranked No. 11 in both the AP poll and the USA Today/WBCA poll. When Monday and Tuesday rolled around, they still were. Both sets of pollsters seem to believe that they knew who the Wildcats were going in, and they are still that team.
What does the NET ranking say and how reliable is it?
It is a common refrain that the polls do not affect how teams end up being seeded in the NCAA Tournament. There is certainly an argument for that, but there is also an argument that both the polls and the committee are influenced by media coverage or lack thereof for different teams and players. What there is no argument about is that the NET is supposed to influence how teams end up seeded in the tourney.
This season, the women’s game dropped the use of RPI and adopted the NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) like the men. The NET is not supposed to be the only method of evaluating teams, but it will play its role just like the RPI used to.
Arizona is currently ranked No. 15 by the NET. If that were the only criteria being used, it would still put them in the top 16 seeds, although that doesn’t matter as much this season without home court advantage.
There are certainly reasons to be critical of NET. One of the most obvious for a Pac-12 fan is how highly it has ranked the Oregon Ducks (13-8, 10-7) all season. This is a team that has zero wins against the top three teams in the Pac-12, going 0-5. Their best win is over NET’s No. 37 team, Oregon State, and they also lost to the Beavers twice. Before the Beavers made their late-season climb in the NET, Oregon’s best win came over a Washington State team that has hovered around the 40s of the NET this season, yet they were still ranked over Arizona.
That’s especially a concern in a season when there was little play outside the conference and no one in the league played a tough non-conference slate. Oregon is still ranked tenth by NET—five spots above Arizona (16-5, 13-4), a team that blew the Ducks out twice and beat UCLA once, going 3-3 against the teams that finished in the top four of the conference. The Wildcats’ worst loss was against No. 93 Arizona State, while Oregon’s was against Oregon State, but the Ducks were ranked above the Wildcats long before that loss to ASU.
Considering the oddities of the NET, it will be interesting to see how much faith the committee puts into their new tool.
So, where does Arizona stand according to the bracketologists?
The bracketologists have the NET rankings and the February 28 NCAA reveal of the Top 16 to inform their projections, but some amount of guesswork goes into their seeding projections.
Charlie Creme of ESPN still has Arizona as a 3-seed as of March 8 at the conclusion of play. The most well-known of the bracketologists on the women’s side believes the Wildcats will end up in the Hemisfair region playing Belmont (20-5, 14-3) of the Ohio Valley Conference in the first round.
That matchup would provide some interesting storylines. Christine Clark, the third-year assistant coach for the Belmont Bruins, starred at Tucson High and Harvard. She served as the graduate student manager for Arizona during the 2016-17 season before becoming a recruiting specialist for Florida.
The region features SEC champions South Carolina and ACC champions NC State as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively. This region will feature the lowest of the No. 1 seeds and the top No. 2 seed.
Russell Steinberg of The Next has Arizona as a 4-seed in the Hemisfair region as of Monday. In his scenario, the Wildcats would play Dayton (13-2, 12-1) out of the A-10. He has South Carolina, Maryland and West Virginia as the top three seeds in that region.
The Wildcats have five days to find out who they face. Selection Monday will air on ESPN at 5 p.m. MST on March 15.