Told they have a No. 4 NCAA Tournament seed at this point, the Arizona Wildcats probably have their best remaining chance to improve it Thursday.
The Wildcats are 3-3 in “Quadrant 1” games and ASU is the only remaining Quadrant 1 opportunity left on their schedule under the current RPI ratings, unless they meet Washington (46) or USC (50) in the Pac-12 Tournament.
Quadrant 1 games, the highest tier of games now used by the NCAA selection committee to judge a team’s performance, are those against teams with RPIs between 1-30 (if played at home), 1-50 (if at a neutral site) or 1-75 (if on the road). The rest of Arizona’s regular-season schedule contains road games at Oregon (80) and Oregon State (159), plus home games against Stanford (99) and Cal (190).
But Arizona coach Sean Miller had little reaction to the announcement NCAA selection committee placed the Wildcats as the West’s No. 4 seed.
“I can’t control that,” he said.
Miller later added of his team’s current focus, “For us, it’s just so much about staying in the mode of what we can control. We have a big road game against ASU. We have our hands full in preparation for that game. If you do a great job taking care of every day, those other things seem to work out.”
Phelps admitted violation
Arizona assistant coach Mark Phelps disclosed that he committed an NCAA violation that led to his five-day suspension in November, according to a letter Miller sent Phelps on Nov. 9.
The specific rule broken was not disclosed in the letter, which was released in response to a public records request filed by the Star on Nov. 11.
Phelps was suspended from Nov. 10-14 without pay, a period that included UA’s first two-regular season games, while UA forward Keanu Pinder was suspended for the first game because of an unspecified NCAA violation.
Arizona declined the Star’s accompanying request for written record of the reason for Pinder’s suspension, citing student-privacy law.
Arizona has still not responded to four public-records requests that the Star filed with the school in the weeks following the announcement of the federal investigation into college basketball.
On Monday, Arizona also denied the Star’s Oct. 4 request for records of visiting recruits and their schedules while on campus between Jan. 1, 2017 to Sept. 25, 2017, citing NCAA bylaws prohibiting the publicity of unsigned recruits and visits they take.
After the federal probe became public, Arizona commissioned an independent investigation into potential NCAA issues, which may have resulted in the suspensions to Phelps and Pinder. A school official said the suspensions were not a result of the federal investigation.
Miller mum on recruit
While the father of Los Angeles point guard Brandon Williams says his son remains firmly intent on playing for the Wildcats next season, Miller indicated he’s no longer able to discuss him.
When asked during his weekly news conference Monday about the strong senior season Williams is having for Crespi High School, Miller said “I’m not sure I can speak on that because of NCAA rules.”
Williams signed a financial aid agreement for Arizona on Nov. 10, while Los Angeles forward Shareef O’Neal signed the same agreement on Nov. 16, and Miller publicly acknowledged both additions. Through Dec. 17, UA’s official game notes also included bios on Williams and O’Neal, with comments from Miller about both.
“We are looking at him to have an immediate impact,” Miller said of Williams. “We are thrilled to have him.”
While UA compliance director Brent Blaylock declined to comment Monday, the change in Miller’s approach may be due to a small wrinkle in NCAA rules. According to an NCAA official, schools are allowed to comment on players who sign binding letters-of-intent or non-binding scholarship papers but only if they sign either of those during a letter-of-intent signing period.
The fall letter-of-intent signing period was Nov. 8-15, which indicates Miller can talk about Williams but not O’Neal.
Akot role increasing
Freshman Emmanuel Akot is averaging 10.3 minutes in his past three games, after playing five minutes or less in eight games and not at all in four others, in part because he had he tendinitis in his knee.
While Akot’s statistical contributions have been modest, he brings the Wildcats a bigger – and improving — defender off the bench at 6-foot-7.
“I think when he comes in off the bench he has a good sense about him,” Miller said. “He defends, I think his purpose is good. He’s not coming in trying to score as much as he is to play his role.”
• Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle was named the Pac-12’s Player of the Week after leading the Beavers to a sweep of Washington State and Washington over the weekend. Tinkle averaged 24.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists in the two games, with 29 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in OSU’s double-overtime win over Washington.
• UA dropped from No. 13 to No. 17 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. ASU (19-6) jumped back in at No. 25, making their game with Arizona on Thursday a second straight Top 25 matchup.
• Former UA commit Jahvon Quinerly will announce his new college choice Wednesday, according to MADEhoops.com. Quinerly, who decommitted from Arizona in the wake of the federal investigation, is expected to pick Villanova.