Arizona seeks Pac-12 gold in Las Vegas, top seed in NCAA tournament

Scott Sandulli
12 Min Read

The road to Arizona’s next big sporting event is about to get the
green light as Selection Sunday for the 2024 NCAA Men’s Basketball
Tournament looms. With judgment day upon us, here is a look at  bracket
projections, updated through games on Mar. 12.

On the No. 1 seed line, Houston, Purdue, and Connecticut are
universally accepted as three of the four teams expected to grab the top
spots. The last one, though, remains a topic of discussion and one of
particular interest in the Valley.

Tennessee, as the leading team in the SEC, and the ACC’s best in
North Carolina, are part of conferences that are projected to field more
tournament teams than the Pac-12, which Arizona leads. In this
projection, the SEC has seven teams earning bids, while the ACC claims
four, in comparison to the Pac-12’s three. The odds aren’t great, it
seems, for the Wildcats to hear their name called on the top line come
Sunday, but what may work in their favor is a rather undefined selection

The NCAA’s Selection Committee doesn’t have step-by-step criteria for
establishing their rankings, but some factors are taken into
consideration. For Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s head bracketologist who is
recognized as one of the nation’s most recognizable college basketball
minds, the committee’s behavior in the past points to its current

This go-around, Lunardi believes that Tommy Lloyd’s Arizona team has
to take care of business at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, which
begins Wednesday, and hope for help elsewhere to get its second top seed
in three years.

“Arizona needs to win the Pac-12 tournament,” Lunardi said. “There’s
no way they can suffer a loss there that wouldn’t hurt them. (North)
Carolina and Tennessee would have to fall short in their tournaments,
too. I think Arizona is definitely the third of that group.”

ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg shares these
sentiments. Greenberg sees Arizona’s previous slip-ups at Oregon State
and USC as ankle weights, considering the Pac-12 lacks
tournament-caliber teams compared to the SEC and ACC.

“I think Arizona played their way out of it (the No. 1 seed),”
Greenberg said. “The problem with the Pac-12 is that there aren’t enough
opportunities for Quad 1 wins. I don’t think their conference
tournament is going to give them the quality wins that would put them
back up on the one-line.”

Falling behind in the ever-pressing strength of schedule metric,
Arizona does close the gap in two other key aspects: the NET rankings
and Quad 1 victories. The NET rankings, a metric invented by the NCAA
before the 2018-19 season, order teams nationwide based on efficiency
and results. Efficiency-wise points per possession offensively and
defensively factor in with the strength of opponents played, whereas
wins and losses come into play in a team value index as well.

Quad 1 wins vary on the quality of the opponent and the location of
the game. A Quadrant 1 win is defined as defeating a NET top 30 team at
home, top 50 on a neutral court and top 75 in true road contests. Via
the NET rankings on Wednesday, only victories over Colorado and
Washington State at the neutral site for the conference tournament would
constitute Quad 1 wins, and the Wildcats would only meet the Cougars or
Buffaloes in the title game.

As of Wednesday, Arizona paces this trio as the No. 4 team on the
list, with Tennessee and North Carolina close behind at 5 and 7,
respectively. The Wildcats also nudge the Volunteers and Tar Heels with
eight Quad 1 wins to their seven. Lunardi believes this particular
statistic holds tremendous weight among the selection committee.

“If your league is deep, and you have more Quad 1 opportunities, say
being in the Big 12 versus the Pac-12, the Quad 1 column has clearly
become the most important consideration among many,” Lunardi said.
“Then, the league that you’re in matters a ton. You’re going to get like
15 of those chances instead of six, eight or 10. It seems that quantity
matters as much as quality in that. In the NET era, NET and Quad 1 are
coins of the realm.”

Playing quality teams in your league and scheduling a strong
non-conference slate also matters, at least to LaPhonso Ellis, a
featured college basketball analyst at FOX.

“They (the selection committee) consider things like strength of
schedule,” Ellis noted. “Who did you play in the non-con(ference), how
did you fare in the non-con, what players were available?”

With such comparative track records in those two key categories, the
strength of schedule likely puts Tennessee and UNC in a better position
for a No. 1 seed than Arizona. Luckily for the Wildcats, as the premier
team on the West Coast this season, things would work out
geographically, as they would head to Salt Lake City on the first
weekend and Los Angeles for the regional rounds should they advance.

Moving down to the bubble, plenty of teams find themselves on the cut
line, with work to do this weekend to cement their spot. Having done
all they can, Indiana State will watch the action of the week with
angst, knowing the Sycamores squandered their chance at an automatic bid
in the NCAA tournament by dropping the Missouri Valley title game to
Drake. Indiana State’s case for inclusion seems murky, with a lone Quad 1
in conference win, but the sheer number of wins, with 27, contributing
to a notable NET rating of 29th, keeps them afloat in the debate.

“I really, really believe that Indiana State should be in,” Lunardi
said. “I would put them in over at least a half dozen .500-ish major
conference teams that are going to get in. But history shows that I’d be
on the wrong side of that bet more often than not. The things of value
just don’t align with Indiana State because they have one Quad 1 win.“

While criteria such as the NET and Quad 1 wins continue to apply on
the bubble, Greenberg looks at the inclusion question with less of an
emphasis on the analytics.

“My eyes see what the NET is seeing,” Greenberg said. “To me, wins
against the field is really important. Best teams you’ve beaten, if you
beat really good teams, it shows that (you) can get in the tournament
and win a game. You want teams that can win a game.”

Everyone else, though, still has the opportunity to play their way
in. Texas A&M and Villanova are two schools that have launchpad
opportunities in their tournaments, as the SEC and Big East have seven
and six teams projected in the field, respectively. This gives the
Aggies and Wildcats multiple chances to enhance their resume with Quad 1
wins. Should either of them string off multiple victories, bubble teams
in lower-bid conferences like Colorado and Virginia will have to do
damage of their own to hold their spots.

“This time of year, you have to win games,” Greenberg said. “You have
to extend the season … For all of the teams, you’ve got to win the
games you’re supposed to and then go get one against the field.”

On the safer side, barring a winless weekend, Mississippi State,
Michigan State, Virginia and St. John’s should be comfortable on the
chopping block for now. Most of the intrigue of the week will go to the
teams on the bubble, and rightfully so. Ellis, a former player at Notre
Dame, and Greenberg, previously the head coach at Virginia Tech, know
this all too well. Having seen the light and dark sides of Selection
Sunday, both share in the pain of the unknown.

“It’s gut-wrenching,” Greenberg said. “Only way to describe it. I
have a hard time watching (the selection show) because I know for some
of the teams watching, that coach is going to have to walk in front of
those guys sometimes with no answer. That’s a brutal feeling.”

The pressure of the week and the inevitable wait on Sunday to find
out if they did enough to make the Dance can be excruciating, a feeling
some of the aforementioned teams will surely share in the coming days.

“It’s indescribable,” Ellis continued. “It was an uncomfortable
experience for us. You’re waiting with anticipation. The more teams that
are revealed early on, the level of anxiety rises even higher. You’re
just hoping that your name is called. One of the most uncomfortable
feelings in sport that I’ve ever experienced.”

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Scott Sandulli ,
Sports news | , 2024-03-14 12:32:36
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