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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Embracing the tournament’s bubble

    Inside Arizona Basketball (opinion by Bryan Roy)

    You knew it would come to this.

    Down to the wire, the end, the bubble: The Arizona basketball team enters its final weekend of regular-season play in a blanket of haze.

    At this point, the Wildcats (18-11, 8-8 Pacific 10 Conference) have put themselves in a position to clinch a spot in the Big Dance.

    Keyword: position.

    Not a good position, not a bad position. Just a position.

    It’s nothing comfortable, but 18 wins with two regular-season games remaining can either make or break momentum heading into not only the Pac-10 Tournament, but March Madness.

    Even after a two-week span (the seven-game winning streak that crowned Russ Pennell king of Tucson) when it looked like the Wildcats could compete with the Boston Celtics, you knew it would come to this.

    If the season were to end today, here’s what the selection committee would see:

    School name: Arizona.

    RPI: No. 49.

    Strength of schedule: No. 33.

    Quality wins: Kansas, Gonzaga, UCLA, Washington.

    Bad losses: UAB, Texas A&M, Stanford.

    Record over last seven games: 4-3.

    Just how crucial are this weekend’s games to the quest for the program’s 25th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance? Aside from momentum and confidence, it’s the difference between finishing the regular season 20-11 and 18-13.

    It’s the difference between finishing with a winning or losing Pac-10 record – and 10-8 certainly looks a lot better than 8-10.

    It’s the difference between fifth and eighth place in the conference standings, which would be the difference between the burden of a play-in game in the Pac-10 Tournament.

    Then there’s the good possibility of splitting the Bay Area schools this weekend, which would keep everyone guessing, debating and worrying for yet another week.

    A sweep either way would clear things up for the time being. But the short-lived sense of security can only be taken for what it’s worth – remember how wide open the Pac-10 is this season.

    This is a conference in which schools like Washington State and Arizona – teams with eight and nine losses in the league, respectively – claim to be the most dangerous with wins over teams from top to bottom.

    Wazzu has wins over second-place ASU and third-place UCLA. Arizona has wins over first-place Washington and UCLA.

    If the Pac-10 standings were a painting, I would ask my 4-year-old cousin to paint it using only her hands from 15 feet away. It’s not the Conference of Clarity anymore.

    The top tier of teams – UW, UCLA, ASU and Cal – seem to be locked for the dance, all with at least 21 wins.

    The middle tier of teams – Arizona, Wazzu, Oregon State and USC – are separated by just one game, with eight or nine losses each. And all tout quality wins over the upper tier.

    An ESPN analyst picked Arizona as the most dangerous tournament team come March Madness. That would be true if the NCAA decided to move the Final Four to Tucson.

    But until that happens, this is still a team that went the whole season without winning a true road game outside of Oregon – the weakest collective road trip in the Pac-10.

    With 80 minutes of regular season basketball remaining, the future couldn’t be more unpredictable.

    The one thing we do know: Russ Pennell should get a standing ovation Saturday for making it feasible for a column like this to even be published.

    Bryan Roy is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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