Tucson residents, take a deep breath and relax. Your Arizona Wildcats are still going to be a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. Dave Ommen had Arizona as the top seed in the West region Saturday morning and, despite the loss in the Pac-12 final to UCLA, the Wildcats will remain be the top seed in the same region on Sunday morning.
Rob Dauster had an intriguing post last night about whether the college basketball nation had forgotten about Arizona. Were the Wildcats being overlooked? In some ways, college basketball has become like the Oscars season. The Wildcats were the nation’s consensus top team in December and January, but when they lost to California on February 1st, a loss that was then followed by defeats to Arizona State and Oregon, the assumption was that Zona peaked too early. Like an Oscars-worthy movie that was released during the summer, should we really give Arizona our attention months later?
The UCLA loss is a tiny blip in Arizona’s sterling defensive resume. The effectiveness of the pack-line defense this season makes it difficult for teams to get open on the court, and making a field goal is even harder. The common adage is defense wins championships, and Arizona’s defense could run a gamut of postseason tournaments, if needed.
The one bugbear this year has been Arizona’s offense: when the team experienced their mid-February swoon, Nick Johnson struggled from the field, and the offense appeared stagnant, but the Pac-12 tournament has been a boon for Arizona’s offensive efficiency. Arizona registered double-digit wins over Utah and Colorado, and the team, through three conference tournament games, is scoring 1.14 points per possession, an uptick from their regular season conference rating (1.08).
If anything, the loss will greatly enhance UCLA’s seeding. The Bruins are a six seed in Ommen’s latest bracketology, but we have to imagine that seeding drops tomorrow. This team defeated what was once the nation’s best team, and is easily one of the best twenty teams (a fifth seed) in the country.
The only constant theme during this conference championship week has been the failure of top seeds to win out. Teams like Louisiana Tech and Utah Valley — number one seeds which lost in recent days — have crowded the NIT, and while both UCLA and Arizona were clearly in the field regardless of the Pac-12 tournament outcome, the Bruins win will have an effect on other entrants battling for the lower seeds.