Arizona Basketball: Five Steps to a No. 1 Seed in March
There is no denying that getting a top seed in the NCAA tournament makes a huge difference. The first round is a breeze and no team has ever lost. In the second round the No. 1 plays a team which finished the year outside the top-25. Getting to the Sweet Sixteen as a first seed should be done with ease.
From there the first seed plays a four-seed, which if you go off Joe Lunardi's Bracketology would be the teams ranked 13, 14, 15, and 17. But a two seed plays the three seed, oftentimes a great team.
Lunardi has the three seeds as the teams ranked 9, 10, 12 and 18. A first seeded team does not play a top-10 team until the Elite Eight. Getting that first seed makes the road to the championship so much easier.
So what does Arizona need to do to get to that first seed? This article explains.
Get a Little Help
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Even if Arizona continues its stellar year, it will be compared to the other great teams in the country.
As I see it, there are at least two teams that are not going to lose more than two conference games and will likely win their tournaments as well: Florida and Kansas. They are both playing at a very high level and their conferences are weak.
If this ends up being the case, and I suspect it will, Florida and Kansas will be No. 1 seeds.
The best team out of the Big-10 (the best conference), either Indiana or Michigan will get another. That leaves one No.1 for five contending teams: Michigan or Indiana (whichever does not win the Big-10), Duke, Syracuse, Louisville, and Arizona.
If Arizona is contending with great seasons from Syracuse or Louisville, this is going to be difficult to match up with.
The Big East is not as strong as it has been in the past, but with four ranked teams and seven "rank-able" teams, it is still the second best conference. The Pac-12 in comparison, has two ranked teams and is probably the fifth best conference.
But Louisville already has three losses, one being a bad loss to a 12-6 Villanova team. The Cardinals do not look as strong as once thought and after couple more losses will be out of the mix.
Syracuse however, is having an incredible run. They are already 17-1 and the remainder of their schedule is not all that difficult; they only play two ranked teams and they are both at the Carrier Dome.
The Orangemen have a chance to finish with close to 30 regular season wins in a very good conference. This is a tough resume to top.
Duke looks like a different team without Ryan Kelly. They have lost two of three since his injury and got absolutely slaughtered by Miami on Wednesday night.
This does not bode well for the Blue Devils and unless they can change things dramatically and quickly, they will be a No. 2 seed.
The worse of Michigan and Indiana will likely not walk away with a No. 1 seed unless they only lose to each other. With the league being so strong, I don't see this happening.
Each team will probably have at least a couple losses outside of each other. The second place finisher will likely get a No. 2 seed as well.
So with all that said, Arizona needs a very strong performance from this point on to stay in the conversation for a No. 1 seed. Getting a little help from one of these teams would be a good first step.
Beat the Lesser Teams on the Schedule
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To be a No. 1 seed you have to be a great team for nearly the entire season. It sounds almost too obvious to express, but great teams always beat the teams they should beat.
They don't tussle or mess around with inferior competition. Games against bad to average teams for the likes of Arizona should be easy victories.
But more importantly, they can't be losses. Bad losses hurt much more than mediocre wins help.
To beat UCLA twice but then lose to Utah and Washington State moves the Wildcats far from discussion of a top seed. Losses to the lower tier teams in the conference will eliminate a bid for one of the four No. 1s.
If you look at the other strong candidates, they have made mincemeat of bad or average opponents since starting conference play. Michigan has beat the bad teams it has played by 28 (Northwestern), 28 (Iowa) and 15 (Nebraska).
Duke beat Wake Forest by 18, Clemson by 28 and Georgia Tech by 16. Florida has played scary ball in its four games since starting in the SEC. The Gators have won by 33, 22, 21 and then beat the heck out of Missouri in a 83-52 victory.
Arizona has already had trouble with Utah but came away with a win. They controlled the game against Oregon State. The three other games were against quality teams.
Looking at the remaining schedule, the Cats have eight games which should be no-brainers, against teams that fall below a "good team" label.
That category would include USC (X2), Washington State (X2), Utah, and then home games against Cal and Stanford and Washington (playing on the road at Washington is always a difficult task and therefore not included in the eight).
All of these games shouldn't pose trouble for a No. 1 seed-caliber team and if Arizona can win them all, it makes getting to that No. 1 seed much more likely.
Finish No Worse Than 15-3 in the Pac-12
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Of all the top teams in the nation, Arizona has the steepest mountain to climb to get to a No. 1 seed. Their resume is nearly impeccable (16-1, (4-1), No. 2 RPI, No. 4 SOS).
They have great wins over very good competition. Yet this is not enough. They must overcome obstacles other clubs just don't have.
The Wildcats come from the Pac-12, which although has made a strong recovery from the dreadful season last year, still carries its stigma. The conference continues to be seen as weak and nationally this takes its toll.
Not a single team on Arizona's remaining schedule is ranked. Only one team has a top-20 RPI (Colorado). UCLA is the only other top-50 and they are at 44.
Stanford (69), Washington (70), ASU (74) and Cal (81), USC (128), Utah (137) and Washington State (189) are all on the schedule. This worsens RPI, SOS and will make a No. 1 seed more difficult.
Moreover, part of the Wildcats national profile is a result of their play. Many of Arizona's victories have been by the skin of their teeth. They were a missed three-pointer away from overtime with a bad Utah team and struggled in wins over other quality competition.
In their first road test, Arizona lost on national TV to Oregon. The game against Colorado was a loss in the minds of everyone who saw it, except the only people that actually matter, the officials.
On top of all of that, there are a lot of great teams this season. I count eight teams that are legitimately competing for a number one seed (Michigan, Syracuse, Indiana, Florida, Kansas, Louisville, Duke and Arizona).
To stay with the aforementioned great teams throughout the country, Arizona must win at least 15 of their Pac-12 games.
To lose four against the competition they will be facing will not stack up with the packages the upper echelon teams put before the Selection Committee.
Beat UCLA at Least Once
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The Bruins, regardless of what the rankings say, have have the talent to beat anyone in the country on any given night, including Arizona.
They are a top-15 team veiled in a perception of mediocrity because of one bad loss. If it weren't the game on November 25 against the Cal Poly Mustangs, the Bruins would be 16-3 with losses only to ranked teams and Georgetown.
The perception would be much different.The perception would be more closely aligned to what the Bruins are.
In actuality this is a very good team which is getting better. They have balance between youth and experience, size and great guard play, and then they have an NBA level go-to guy in Shabazz Muhammad.
This is going to be a tough game for Arizona. The game in Pauley Pavilion is going to be even tougher. But the Wildcats need to get one of these two.
Losing twice would not only put the required 15-3 mark in jeopardy, but it cast doubt once more on the Wildcats as the real deal.
In a season where many experts already say Arizona is fool's gold as a top-four team, more doubt will not help on Selection Sunday.
At least one win against the UCLA Bruins is absolutely required.
Win the Conference Tournament
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If Arizona finishes the Pac-12 slate at 15-3, they will be left with a 27-3 record entering the Pac-12 Tournament.
If the Wildcats advanced to the title game that is two more victories leaving them at 29-3. This would be one of the best records in school history.
If they were to lose that game their resume at that point would be 29-4 (15-3), Pac-12 regular season title, victories over No. 5 Florida, No. 17 San Diego State, Miami (a win that looks better every day).
Arizona's RPI would be very high as well (second right now but is likely to drop as their schedule eases up).
Yet with all the strong teams in this year's field, I think they need one more win to lock down a No. 1 seed.
They need to win the Pac-12 Tournament. To finish at 30-3, with a regular season and tournament title, along with all their good wins, would be too much to deny.
While all this January talk is premature for that Sunday coming in mid-March, these are the things Arizona must do to get that coveted top seed.