Arizona managed to snag one of the tentative top 16 NCAA Tournament seeds that were announced Sunday, but the Wildcats may not want the path that comes with it.
In announcing an early reveal for the second straight season, the NCAA Tournament selection committee said the UA would be the West Region’s No. 4 seed if the tournament began Sunday.
That scenario would put the Wildcats in a potential Sweet 16 matchup with West No. 1 pick Purdue, which smacked the Wildcats 89-64 in the Bahamas on Nov. 24 and won 19 straight games before losing at fellow Top 16 seeds Ohio State and Michigan State last week.
The West Region assignment also means a UA-Purdue rematch would be at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. The Wildcats have lost four straight Elite Eight games in Southern California: At Anaheim in 1998, 2003 and 2014, plus one in 2015 at the Staples Center, where the UA also lost a Sweet 16 game in 2013.
But just getting a preferred top four seed, which would mean Arizona likely heads to San Diego for first-weekend NCAA Tournament games, might have been something of a minor upset for the Wildcats at this point.
Most of the Wildcats’ metrics point to a No. 5 seed: They have a Sagarin rating of No. 14 but an RPI of 18, and they are ranked No. 24 in Kenpom, and 21 in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index.
“I was surprised they were seeded that high,” CBS bracket analyst Jerry Palm said of Arizona after the selections were announced.
At 20-6 overall, Arizona has a 3-3 record in “Quadrant 1” games (home games against 1-30 RPI teams, neutral games against 1-50 and road games against 1-75) and 6-3 in Quadrant 2 (31-75/51-100/76-135).
Sagarin ranks UA’s strength of schedule 54 overall, while Kenpom rates its nonconference schedule the 79th strongest.
Virginia received the top overall seed to date while Villanova and Xavier were the other two No. 1 picks.
Alkins back in rhythm
After shooting a combined 4 of 20 in UA’s losses to Washington and UCLA, sophomore Rawle Alkins said he simply took more shots in practice between games to get “the feel back in my shot.” He said his confidence never wavered.
“I always had confidence in myself,” Alkins said. “That’s partly why I kept missing was because I kept shooting. I’m always thinking the next one’s going in.”
Senior center Dusan Ristic said Alkins brings something different when he’s on.
“Many times this year Rawle brings us some kind of toughness,” Ristic said. “When he plays well, it affects everybody on the court and everybody plays with a chip on their shoulder with extra energy, and tonight was an example of that.”
After Arizona lost 82-74 to UCLA on Thursday, UA coach Sean Miller said he spoke with his reserve players about their importance. Miller played all his starters at least 30 minutes Saturday against USC but mixed things up off his bench.
Forward Keanu Pinder played nine minutes against UCLA on Thursday and 12 against USC; Emmanuel Akot played 11 against UCLA and seven against USC; Ira Lee didn’t play against UCLA but played five minutes after being inserted when the Trojans kept making easy drives to the bucket during one first-half stretch.
“There are some guys who may not fill the stat sheet but their role in a game like (Saturday’s) is vital — to come in the game, play really hard and rest our starters,” Miller said.
“One of the things that happened to us in the UCLA game is we wore down. You have to believe in your bench, but they have to know what to do when they come in. Ira, Keanu, they came in and made positive plays. Emmanuel’s day will come, but right now we need him to be a really good defender, a guy who takes care of the ball. He did that tonight.”
Walton’s Tucson world
ESPN and Pac-12 Networks analyst Bill Walton says he loves staying for back-to-back games in the same city and that he loves visiting Tucson.
That made last weekend his kind of trip.
Walton stayed in town between working ESPN broadcasts for Thursday’s UA-UCLA and Saturday’s UA-USC games, saying he spent Friday visiting the UA Tech Park, the Center for Biological Diversity while also visiting with the school’s Office of Sustainability.
Walton said Tech Park is “the future,” and raved about the rest of his experiences in town, as always.
“I love research. I love college. I love English,” Walton said Saturday. “My dad taught English. John Wooden taught English.”
Walton said he spent lunch Friday with his wife, Lori, and also went for a short hike near La Paloma.
On Saturday, Walton said he spent most of his time with UA and USC practices. He left Sunday to return home to San Diego and host a fundraiser for the Challenged Athletes Foundation.