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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Expectations for NCAA tourney high

    The latest version of ESPN’s Bracketology includes only five teams from the Pacific 10 Conference, fewer than last year and a surprising number for a league coaches have touted as the nation’s best.

    Although the unofficial NCAA Tournament predictions created by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi fluctuate weekly and include three Pac-10 teams among the first eight out, Pac-10 coaches said on their weekly conference call yesterday that they expect more teams in.

    “”I don’t think there should be a question. We should be able to get six or seven,”” said UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill. “”If there’s a tougher league I’d like to see it. It’s a great league full of star players, great coaches (and) it’s a challenge every single night.””

    The league’s parity could be hurting itself. Six teams are within one game of .500 in league play, with everybody beating up on each other except for No. 5 UCLA and No. 9 Stanford.

    Only three teams are currently ranked in the league – including No. 17 Washington State, which moved down from No. 6 two weeks ago after having lost three of the last four games – but Southern California head coach Tim Floyd hopes the committee pays attention to the number of teams that have been ranked at some point this year, which includes his squad, Arizona, Oregon and ASU.

    “”I’ve said it from day one, there’s nine teams in this league that could win a minimum of two games in the NCAA Tournament,”” Floyd said. “”All I know is it’s an improved league from a year ago and we got six in a year ago. I think a lot of things need to go into account, and I don’t think there’s any doubt top to bottom it’s the best league in the country.””

    Floyd hopes the conference media takes up the league’s campaign nationally to counteract the East Coast bias that often afflicts the Pac-10.

    UCLA head coach Ben Howland still sees the conference as a tough one in which any team can beat anybody else on any given night, as seen in his team’s home loss Jan. 19 against the Trojans, the Bruins’ only Pac-10 loss of the year.

    That’s why Howland was not surprised that Cal swept the Washington trip last week despite having lost five of six entering the weekend, and why he thinks the strength of the league should be considered come tournament time.

    “”I think that we’ll get six at least this year, and I would de disappointed otherwise,”” Howland said. “”We deserve that many and potentially even seven. I think that the teams in this league – we’ll not only get a number of teams in but that they’ll do well because of the competitive nature of our league and how good those teams are.””

    RPI doesn’t tell whole story

    All season long the Wildcats have pointed to their Ratings Percentage Index as a reason why they may deserve a good seed, and the reason human sources ultimately decide tournament seeds is that No. 7 Arizona ranks ahead of No. 10 UCLA in the RPI, something nobody who watched Saturday’s 22-point blowout would think to be true.

    The game represented the perfect storm of the Wildcats playing their worst, running into a Bruins squad that Howland said played one of its best games of the season.

    “”I was really pleased with our performance on both ends of the floor,”” Howland said. “”We did a great job defensively and really executed on the offensive end.””

    The Wildcats now have a week off to regroup before Sunday’s game against ASU, and as O’Neill said in Arizona’s last huddle, sometimes the sour taste that will be in his team’s mouth for a week could be good for the Wildcats.

    “”I know I won’t be feeling good for a week,”” O’Neill said. “”If anybody on our team is feeling good after that performance, then they are on the wrong team.””

    Fellow coaches approve of K.O.

    Having gone one time through the league, Kevin O’Neill’s colleagues have been impressed with the job he’s done as interim
    head coach.

    Oregon head coach Ernie Kent has come away most impressed with the adjustments O’Neill has had to make after taking over for Olson for the season on such short notice.

    “”His team plays very hard and they seem like they’re starting to play even harder in terms of them getting comfortable with him,”” Kent said. “”I think he’s done a fabulous job.””

    Floyd noted how smart the Wildcats have played under O’Neill, likely thinking about the adjustments Arizona’s coach made against Floyd’s triangle-and-two defense to get UA guard Jawann McClellan open shots in Arizona’s win at USC Thursday.

    “”He’s done a great job,”” Floyd said. “”Kevin’s been around the block, he’s extremely talented, great with people, brings intensity to the floor. He’s got the right guys taking shots at the right time on the clock, and I’ve been very impressed with the improvements of (UA forward) Jordan Hill and (UA guard) Nic Wise.””

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