The Arizona Wildcats played one game in the past week and won it in convincing fashion. They traveled to Tempe to take on their in-state rival Arizona State Sun Devils and played some of the best defense that I have seen this year.
The Wildcats moved up one spot in both polls to No. 6 but are still behind a two-loss Louisville team. This begs the question: “Will the ‘Cats get a chance to move up in the rankings since the Pac-12 Conference is nowhere near as strong as the rest of the country?”
Arizona will be host to the UCLA Bruins on Thursday night, who had won 10 straight games and was ranked at No. 24. The Bruins’ nine-point loss to the Oregon Ducks at home on Saturday undid all the hard work of the past six weeks and all the talk of a resurgent Bruins team has stopped.
The Bruins (15-4, 5-1 Pac-12) are a half-game ahead of the Wildcats in the conference and are a big underdog heading to Tucson. If the Wildcats win this game as predicted, their remaining schedule looks to be a cakewalk.
The Wildcats are currently ranked No. 2 in the RPI with a 5-1 record against the RPI Top 50. Other than two games against UCLA and one at Colorado, the Wildcats don’t face any other teams in the Top 50. The remaining teams on the Wildcats’ schedule, excluding Arizona State (whom they recently exerted their dominance upon), either have a losing conference record or overall losing record.
Come March, the selection committee does not look kindly on teams, through no fault of their own, that play soft schedules. No. 1 Duke also has a less-than-competitive schedule remaining but still has to face a North Carolina State team that handed the Blue Devils their first loss on Jan. 12. The true surprise of the ACC this season is the Miami Hurricanes (13-3, 4-0 ACC) who are ranked for the first time at No. 25.
Michigan, Kansas, Syracuse, Louisville, Florida and Indiana all have tough schedules ahead of them and could move up in the RPI and polls with big wins, while Arizona plays the likes of 8-11 USC and 9-9 Utah.
In looking at the AP Poll, the Big Ten has the most teams represented in the Top 25 with five, the Big East has four while the ACC and the SEC have three teams each.
The SEC—in basketball? What used to be a University of Florida-only conference now has a 13-4 Missouri team and a 15-2 Mississippi to contend with.
Even more surprising than the SEC in basketball is the Miami Hurricanes with the No. 1 strength of schedule ranking and a No. 4 RPI ranking going 7-2 against the RPI Top 100. It seems that LeBron James isn’t the only one that has taken their talents to South Beach.
But back to the Wildcats, they have played amazingly well up to this point with only one small blemish on their record. The 70-66 loss at Oregon on Jan. 10 was a tough loss for the ‘Cats, but it also served it purpose. Coach Miller and his squad are no longer worried about if they can remain undefeated. If they hadn’t lost that game, they would undoubtedly be ranked No. 1 in both polls and the pressure would be immense.
The only thing left to worry about now is playing well and coming together as a more cohesive unit as they approach the Pac-12 Conference Tournament and the NCAA tournament. As long as they focus on winning and getting better, where they end up in the tournament is out of their control.
Will they get a No.1 seed? It’s not looking good right now, but who knows what the future will bring for Coach Miller and company? Stranger things have happened.