When all was said and done in Vegas on Friday night for the Arizona Wildcats, we learned that the Cats still can’t figure out how to beat an upper-tier team in 2013. Yes, Arizona beat Colorado in January and on Thursday, but it went 0-5 against the top three teams in the Pac-12, including neutral-site and home losses.
There is no reasonable belief that Arizona will miss the tournament this year. This isn’t 2012, when Wildcats fans had to spend their time sweating all of Selection Sunday. But Arizona’s loss means that it risks dropping in seed rather than rising in seed like it could have with wins over UCLA and Oregon (thanks to the committee always seeming to reward winners of conference tournaments).
Can this Arizona Wildcats team defeat a good team anymore? We don’t really know. Not lately. The last time Arizona defeated a tournament-bound team not named Colorado was a Christmas day tilt with San Diego State. In that game, Arizona found itself down by 8 in the second half before coming back. Before that was a game against Miami (FL), but you can’t put a lot of stock in a win where Reggie Johnson didn’t play.
Then there was that amazing home-game war with Florida and its ridiculous comeback, scoring 7 points in the final 1:15 (aka: a home-court miracle). So other than Colorado and 2012 games with Florida, an incomplete Miami (FL), and San Diego State, Arizona has no other wins over sure-bound teams. (Arizona did win a game over Southern Miss, but they are the epitome of a bubble team looking in.)
That’s a 5-6 record against tournament teams, but a 2-6 record against tournament teams in 2013. So what can we expect next week? Arizona will almost definitely be set against a #12 or #13 seed. Some of those teams will be automatic qualifiers who would have missed if not for winning their conference tournaments, but some of those teams will be of similar quality to Colorado and California. Matchups matter, but Arizona hasn’t shown that it can beat a Top 49 team in a long, long time (in Ken Pomeroy’s latest rankings, Colorado is #50).
After that comes a #4 or a #5 seed, and none of us should currently have much hope that Arizona can defeat that caliber of team. UCLA may rise up to that level, and Arizona is 0-3 against UCLA. (Not that Arizona could play UCLA in the Round of 32, but that’s the type of team we’re dealing with here.) Barring some luck, Arizona will play a team in the Round of 32 that is better than anyone it played in any of its 6 losses.
That should terrify Wildcat fans who want to see Arizona play in the second week. Arizona has shown flashes here and there that it can still be that team who beat Florida and San Diego State and who started this season 14-0. But it hasn’t happened very often and especially not for a complete game. Even the second ASU game, which might have been Arizona’s best of the entire conference season, came with an offensive lapse where ASU closed the gap in the second half.
All said, Arizona hasn’t looked like a team that can make it to the Sweet 16 in a long time, and no one should expect that Arizona will get there barring a great matchup or luck in playing a Cinderella squad in the Round of 32. Given its current play, the 2013 Wildcats may end up in the lore along with the 1992, 1993, 1995, and 1999 teams as those suffering dramatic, heartbreaking first-round upsets.