If the NCAA Tournament started this weekend, Arizona would probably be in the field for the 35th consecutive time. But there are still three games left in the Wildcats’ regular season, and how they play in those contests will determine just how stressful the leadup to Sunday night’s selection show will be.
D1Softball.com has the UA as one of the last five teams in the 64-team bracket, projected as the No. 3 seed in the Gainesville (Fla.) Regional hosted by No. 14 national seed Florida. The Wildcats would open against Michigan, with Bethune-Cookman also in that regional.
Arizona entered the final week of the regular season at No. 42 in the RPI, down four spots from a week ago due to losing two of three at Cal. The other teams in the “last five in” category—Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon State and Wichita State—all have RPIs between 34 and 38, while the RPIs of the “first four out” teams—Louisville, Utah, Boise State, Charlotte—are 41, 44, 45 and 31, respectively.
In other words, Arizona (32-18, 7-14 Pac-12) may be hanging onto a tourney spot based on its program legacy.
The final series at home against Stanford (34-18, 9-12), which begins Thursday at 5 p.m. PT, provides the Wildcats with a great opportunity to boost their RPI. The Cardinal are No. 33, give the UA more three chances to add to an 8-17 record against top-50 RPI teams, of which ever Pac-12 opponent is.
Arizona’s only win this season against a nonconference top-50 team was a March 5 home victory over Boise State. The Wildcats have losses to No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 Alabama and No. 23 Kentucky while they’ve gone 24-1 against teams outside the Top 50, the lone loss being to projected Big West winner Cal State Fullerton.
While Arizona can do a lot to improve its resume this weekend, it may not be able to ensure a spot just by its own play. That’s because nearly every league in Division I other than the Pac-12 holds a conference tournament, which could lead to some bid stealers.
For example, if Louisiana (No. 27 in RPI) doesn’t win the Sun Belt that would take away a bubble spot since the Ragin’ Cajuns are currently projected as a No. 2 regional seed. Same goes for No. 32 Liberty if it doesn’t win the Atlantic Sun, while “last four teams in” like Charlotte or Louisville could eliminate their drama by getting the automatic bid from Conference USA or the ACC, respectively.