Greg Hansen: No sixth sense: Arizona's basketball fate unpredictable

2013-03-18T00:00:00Z 2013-03-18T11:02:58Z Greg Hansen: No sixth sense: Arizona's basketball fate unpredictableGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A sixth seed was Kansas, 1988, running the table, cutting down the nets Arizona so desperately hoped would become treasures in Lute Olson's trophy case.

A sixth seed was Gonzaga, 2002, a loser to No. 11 Wyoming.

A sixth seed was Michigan, 1992, which reached the national championship game.

The madness does not play favorites.

Seeded sixth in 2006 were Michigan State, a first-round loser to George Mason, and Oklahoma, a first-day loser to Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Notre Dame was a sixth seed in 2007. It was sent home by No. 11 Winthrop. In 2001, No. 6 Wisconsin was humbled by Georgia State.

The madness does not pay attention to pedigree.

In 2007, sixth-seeded Duke was moved to tears, bumped off by a team whose initials, VCU, were unfamiliar everywhere.

In 1987, sixth-seeded Providence, coached by boy wonder Rick Pitino, rolled into the Final Four.

In its vast history of NCAA tournament games, 74 in all, Arizona has never been a sixth seed. What are the odds, over more than 50 years, that Arizona has played a No. 6 seed once?

In 1996, in Tempe, the third-seeded Wildcats took sixth-seeded Iowa apart 87-73.

One thing we have learned across all the years is that it is foolish to immediately proclaim, as CBS provocateur Doug Gottlieb did Sunday, "Belmont will beat Arizona."

Well sure, why not? There have been far more prodigious shockers and wild predictions.

In 1993, sixth-seeded Cal bumped off Duke to get to the Sweet 16. In 2000, sixth-seeded Indiana, the mighty Hoosiers, became fodder for No. 11 Pepperdine.

Belmont is nobody's backwoods bumpkin. I have a witness: Me.

A few hours before Arizona was to lose to West Virginia in the ill-fated Kevin O'Neill season, 2008, I sat courtside at Capital Centre in Washington, D.C. I was in the first row of press seats, immediately behind the Duke bench.

With 12 seconds to play, Belmont led Duke 70-69.

"I hope this becomes the greatest game I have ever seen," I told my colleague, Patrick Finley. "I think I'm going to rush the court with the Belmont fans."

Alas, Duke scored and survived a 35-foot Bruins' buzzer-shot to survive 71-70.

I saw Mike Krzyzewski's face turn to a whiter shade of pale.

Belmont was a No. 15 seed that day. It will not be awed by sixth-seeded Arizona on Thursday. The madness long ago ceased to surprise those who watch it or those who play it.

In 1988, sixth-seeded Villanova reached the Elite Eight, as did the sixth-seeded Minnesota Gophers of 1990. You want more recent proof? In 2010, sixth-seeded Tennessee survived until the Elite Eight. In 2001, a sixth-seeded USC team coached by Henry Bibby, stormed into the Elite Eight.

You may argue that Arizona is better than a No. 6 seed, but given the last two months, it's a hard sell.

On the January day the 14-0 Wildcats were No. 3 in The Associated Press poll, this is how the top 10 went:

1. Duke, 14-0.

2. Michigan, 15-0.

3. Arizona, 14-0.

4. Louisville, 13-1.

5. Indiana, 13-1.

6. Kansas, 12-1.

7. Syracuse, 14-1.

8. Gonzaga, 15-1.

9. Florida, 10-2.

10. Minnesota, 14-1.

Since then the Wildcats have gone 11-7. By comparison, Gonzaga has gone 16-1, Louisville 16-4 and Florida 16-5. Arizona did not keep pace. Of that early top 10, only Minnesota, 6-11, has fared worse than Arizona.

The Wildcats' so-called body of work is such that they deserve to be favored in one NCAA game and, if they win, be matched in a toss-up in the Round of 32. And that's how it came down.

From what I can determine, Belmont is the equivalent of Arizona State or Stanford, or another mid-pack team from the Pac-12. New Mexico, which would await in a possible Round of 32 game, is roughly as good as Colorado and Oregon.

Those who cry that the Pac-12, and especially Oregon, was jobbed by the NCAA selection committee, I have a four-letter reply: Nuts.

The Ducks scheduled far too many nonconference games that were about as difficult as a 2-foot putt. And within the Pac-12, in a luck-of-the-draw rotation, it didn't play at Arizona or ASU, both potential losses. The RPI numbers reflect such. Oregon finished the regular season on a 5-6 streak. That'll get you a 12th seed every time.

On Selection Sunday, the NCAA did the Wildcats right. Remember how it felt on the same day last year? Arizona got a No. 1 seed - in the NIT.

Nobody cared. More than 5,000 McKale Center seats went unsold. The Wildcats scored a mere 54 points and were humbled by Bucknell.

This is better, no matter how long it lasts.

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