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The Daily Wildcat

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Column: Arizona men’s basketball could still be a top seed

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Rebecca Noble

Arizona men’s basketball forward Brandon Ashley (21) drives to the basket against Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during Arizona’s 66-63 victory on Dec. 6, 2014 in McKale Center. Ashley and the Wildcats still have a chance to grab the No. 1 seed in the West region of the 2015 NCAA tournament.

While there are four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, when it comes to the top seed in the west region, like “Highlander” or “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” there can be only one.

It’s February and you don’t have to be a bracket expert to realize March Madness is right around the corner. So, it’s time to talk about seeding.

No. 6 Arizona (20-2, 8-1 Pac-12 Conference) is rolling and currently a No. 2 seed by most projections. It is No. 2 Gonzaga (22-1, 10-0 WCC), however, that seems to hold the coveted No. 1 seed in the west.

Getting the top seed in the west means playing the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in Los Angeles. Right now, it looks like the UA could be shipped out to the South Region, whose regional is in Houston, if it and Gonzaga were both to pull off No. 1 seeds.

Regardless of whether or not you think Texas is God’s gift to the U.S. or America’s armpit, a western team should want to go to LA, so while the No. 1 seeds all face 16 seeds in the first round, their road to the Final Four could be a lot smoother.

CBS Sports, ESPN, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report have Gonzaga as the No. 1 seed in the west, but they’re wrong.

Arizona has a better RPI (No. 4 vs. No. 8), a better strength of schedule (20th vs. 57th) and a better nonconference RPI (No. 4 vs. No. 39).

Gonzaga is 1-1 vs. the RPI top 25, 3-1 vs. the RPI top 50, 7-1 vs. the RPI top 100 and 13-1 vs. the RPI top 150. Those are good numbers to be sure, but Arizona’s are better.

Arizona is 2-0 vs. the RPI top 25, 4-0 vs. the RPI top 50, 11-1 vs. the RPI top 100 and 16-2 vs. the RPI top 150.

The only knocks against Arizona are its two bad losses: at RPI No. 83 Oregon State and at RPI No. 105 UNLV.

Gonzaga doesn’t have any bad losses. Its only loss came against a very highly rated team, which was — drum roll, please — RPI No. 4 Arizona.

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi actually said that Gonzaga has a better body of work than the UA, because its one loss, to the UA, is better than the UA’s two losses.

Head-to-head isn’t everything, of course. No one would suggest UNLV or Oregon State is better than Arizona, perhaps because the Wildcats just beat the Beavers by 23 points. But when all other major measuring sticks say the UA has a better resume, it looks like it has a better resume.

Plus, ranking one team below another team because it has worse losses is so negative. That’s not “this glass is half empty.” That’s interrogating people to find out who drank half your beverage.

The Pac-12 is bad this year and it looks like it will only get three NCAA tournament bids, but Gonzaga’s West Coast Conference is worse. It’ll only get one bid unless the Zags zig out of their conference tournament early.

The Pac-12 is sixth in RPI and has an out-of-conference record of 105-41. The WCC is ninth in the RPI and has a nonconference record of 62-43.

Sure, Gonzaga is 12-0 in its last 12 games, but those wins are against teams like San Diego, Portland, Loyola Marymount and Pacific. Arizona is 10-2 in its last 12 games, but it beat NCAA tournament teams like Utah (by 18) at home and Stanford on the road.

People must just like the name “Gonzaga.” After all, they were one of the original Cinderellas. However, to quote another Disney movie, let it go.

Giving it a No. 1 seed would be a waste. Gonzaga hasn’t made it past the Sweet 16 since 1999.

Every year, it loses early, like in 2014, to — drum roll, please — Arizona.

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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