Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Arizona's Chances to Dance

It's not secret that this year has been a disappointment for the Arizona Wildcats Men's Basketball team. They have underperformed with 2, possibly more, future NBA players on the squad. They have made countless mental errors, been out coached more than a few times, and have been the victim of a few no-calls and bad calls. Of course the latter is out of their hands, and anyone who has had a Pac-10 official at a game this season, or any season, in any sport, has undoubtedly fallen victim to poor officiating. No surprise there.

But the team came out in 2008 going through the motions. It was no secret they weren't a contender for the Pac-10 Title this year with all of the coaching turmoil, and that outside of the Big Three (Budinger, Jordan Hill, and Nic Wise) the team was too shallow to make any kind of real run in the Tourney. But we all still thought that they had a chance at continuing their ridiculous Tournament streak at least one more year.

Things seemed to have changed after the Aubrey Coleman curb check on Chase Budinger, the Arizona team rallied together. There was a fire that hadn't been there. A will to win. They came back to beat the Cougars, they beat Pac 10 leader Washington by playing like the Cats of old, putting up over 100 points for the first time I can remember (Ed. note 11/19/06 over New Mexico State) and then held their lead in a close game against Wazzu.

So with the Cats holding on to a 3 game win streak right now they are about to head up to Oregon to play the Beavers and Ducks this weekend. They beat both teams (Ducks by 5, Beavers by 17) in a home stand at the beginning of January. But the Cats are 0-6 on the road this year with a pair of 1 point losses (Texas A&M and USC). So will these new, fired up Cats finally take down a pair on the road?

The Cats are going to need to learn how to win on the road eventually if they have any shot of going to the Tourney this year. They're sitting at 14-8 (4-5) and 2-2 against AP ranked teams. Their RPI isn't nearly as strong as past years, which helped push them in as an at-large. So the question remains, what do the Cats need to do to Dance in March?

With 9 games remaining a 9-0 mark would put them at 23-8 (13-5) and in my book, unless they get completely blown out in the Pac-10 Tournament, an at-large bid will be waiting for them. The same hold true with an 8-1 mark leaving them 22-9 (12-6). It's when we reach the 7-2 mark to put them at 21-10 (11-7) when the question comes up about Pac-10 Tournament performance. I think, depending on the other Pac-10 teams, if the Cats find themselves in the Top 4 going into the Tournament, they can still get an at large even with a loss, but it would have to be a very close game to get the selection committee on their side.

If the Cats go 6-3 the rest of the way to land at 20-11 (10-8) they will need to show up in the Pac-10 Tournament. With a 10-8 Pac-10 record, chances are they will miss the play in game of the Tournament. So a win with some decent teeth to it in the second round, and a close game in the semifinals against a Pac-10 Top 4 team could get them an at large bid, but nothing is guaranteed. Beyond that the Cats need some help. Finishing 5-4 and being under 20 wins the Cats need to play in the Conference Championship game to garner any type of consideration for the Tournament, and a Conference Championship loss, might not be enough to get that at large bid, unless they stormed through the first 3 games blowing out other Pac-10 teams.

Anything less than that and the only chance the Cats have is with the Pac-10 Tournament Championship in their back pocket. Bottom line, they aren't getting an at large bid with 18 regular season wins. That leaves the $10,000 question. Can the Cats make the Tournament.

They've got 9 games remaining. Five on the road (Oregon State, Oregon, Arizona State, Washington State, and Washington) and four at home (USC, UCLA, California, and Stanford). Are there enough wins in those match-ups? The big question at hand is whether or not the Cats can overcome their inability to perform on the road and if this fun new momentum swing they have been experiencing is there for the long haul.

Based on my past predictions, I don't want to pick the games because chances are I'll get them wrong (I'm like 1-12 on predictions on this site in the last year starting with the Triumphant Tampa Bay Will Win post before their game against the Giants in the Wild Card playoffs. Giants won and went on to win the Super Bowl.) But I will say I see the Cats winning 6 of the remaining nine which leaves the Cats needing a good showing in the Pac-10 Tournament to get an invitation to The Madness. Let's just hope that for this team, it's not too little too late.