Citizen Staff Writer
ARIZONA WILDCATS BASKETBALL
A special Wednesday edition of NCAA Tournament sense and nonsense:
No Indiana. No Kentucky. No Florida.
Consider this just a friendly reminder to really stop and appreciate Arizona’s 25-year streak of NCAA Tournament appearances.
Kentucky – which didn’t have to deal with two years of interim head coaches, or have its star incoming recruit run off to Europe, or lose two other signed freshmen to transfers – didn’t make the tournament this season for the first time in 17 seasons.
What’s UK’s excuse?
Indiana, whose 18-season streak ended in 2004, has collapsed under the weight of coaching changes and NCAA infractions. With the kind of talent deficiency that Arizona hopes to avoid next season, the Hoosiers were 6-25 this year.
Indiana, amazingly, has been to only one Sweet 16 in the past 14 tournaments.
This is the first time since 1979 that both Indiana and Kentucky have missed the NCAA Tournament.
Just saying: Good programs – the best, richest and proudest programs – all go through tough times.
But there is, of course, only one program in the past 25 seasons that has gone through tough times and not missed the Big Dance.
Florida hasn’t been back since winning back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007. Again, what’s the Gators’ excuse?
North Carolina missed the NCAAs in 2002 and 2003 before finding the right coach in Roy Williams.
Duke missed the tourney in 1995, when coach Mike Krzyzewski sat out most of the season because of back surgery. If not for that, the Blue Devils would be at 26 in a row, one better than Arizona.
Kansas won the national title in 1988, then missed the tournament the next season. The Jayhawks are now at 20 in a row, the second-longest current streak.
Consider teams that have won recent national championships and haven’t had coaching changes:
Syracuse missed the NCAAs in 2007 and 2008. Maryland is making only its second appearance in five seasons. UConn was on the outside twice this decade.
None had to deal with the mess that has plagued Arizona. But the other teams still couldn’t make it to the Dance every year.
“The 25 straight years is great for the university,” said UA interim coach Russ Pennell.
“I am proud of the guys. I’m just so happy for them. There is so much uncertainty, and there’s so much that could go wrong.”
Arizona’s past two seasons have been far from perfect, but they could have been worse.
Enjoy the tournament.
Is this it for ASU?
This is arguably Arizona State’s best team since 1981 – only the 1994-95 squad is in the debate – which leads to this question:
Shouldn’t the Sun Devils be . . . well, better?
This is it? The best Arizona State can do is tie for third in a down year for the Pac-10, fall short of a conference tournament title and earn a sixth seed in the NCAAs?
The Sun Devils might make a long, thrilling run in the NCAA Tournament – with James Harden, anything is possible – but, barring that, it’s kind of sad this could be a high-water mark for ASU in about a quarter century.
Kudos to ASU for a five-game winning streak over Arizona. That’s a lot to brag about, and coach Herb Sendek has done a marvelous job. But given that Harden and big man Jeff Pendergraph will be gone after this season, this could be a one-year blip on the radar for the Devils.
Just another reason to appreciate Arizona’s 25 years of success.
Only four times has the NCAA champion been seeded worse than No. 3 – including No. 4 Arizona in 1997.
The likeliest possibility this season? I’m going with No. 4 Wake Forest, which beat Duke and North Carolina, tied for the second in the ACC and has a supercharged athletic lineup that can play shut-down defense.
Really, the Demon Deacons should have been better than a fourth seed.
Get it right
It’s safe to assume Arizona was the last team in the field, because only two at-large teams are as low as a 12th seed, and selection committee chairman Mike Slive said the Badgers were bumped lower to accommodate bracket rules, such as avoiding a conference foe in an early round.
That has made the Wildcats a flash point for pundits, who predicted other teams to be in the field and, therefore, must criticize the selection of Arizona.
Much of that debate has centered on UA losing five of its last six games, which is a ridiculous argument. You might as well say Arizona doesn’t deserve to get in because it sometimes wears red. Neither argument matters.
The selection committee doesn’t even consider what a team does in its last six games. Foremost, it considers the full season. Much more secondarily, the committee uses the last 12 games as a guide.
In its last 12 games, Arizona went 7-5 and beat Washington and UCLA. As far as bubble teams go, that’s not bad.
So the next time you hear a national writer whining about UA’s bad finish, just ignore it. It’s a bad argument.
• Best first-round big-man matchup: Arizona’s Jordan Hill vs. Utah’s Luke Nevill.
• Best first-round big-man matchup (honorable mention): Washington’s beefy Jon Brockman vs. Mississippi State’s long, lean shot blocker Jarvis Varnado.
• Best first-round guard matchup: Cal’s Jerome Randle vs. Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez. Just a guess: People in ACC country have little idea how good Randle is.
• Best first-round game for offense lovers: No. 8 Oklahoma State vs. No. 9 Tennessee.
• Best long shot to reach a regional final: No. 8 West Virginia.
• Best long-long shot: No. 14 North Dakota State over No. 3 Kansas. Always look for experience and 3-point shooting in your upset pick. The Bison have four senior starters and nail 41.2 percent from behind the arc.
New coach, another trip
This note comes courtesy of Richard Paige at the UA sports information office: Arizona is the third program to make three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances under three different coaches.
The others are Seattle University: (Vince Cazetta, 1962; Clair Markey, 1963; Bob Boyd, 1964) and Southern Illinois (Bruce Weber, 2003; Matt Painter, 2004; Chris Lowery, 2005).
Arizona has done it with Lute Olson, Kevin O’Neill and Pennell.
Who wins it all?
The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy ranked all 65 NCAA Tournament teams in order of who he thought was most likely to win it all.
Now, this is surprising: Arizona is ranked 21st.
That’s ahead of every Pac-10 team except UCLA (No. 14) and Arizona State (No. 16).
The Bruins are way too high on this list. I’d be stunned to see them get past third-seeded Villanova, in Philadelphia, in the second round.
Anyway, DeCourcy’s top four goes like this: Louisville, North Carolina, UConn, Oklahoma.
Not bad, but my Final Four goes like this:
Wake Forest vs. Memphis. Pittsburgh vs. North Carolina.
I’ll definitely have to keep my fingers crossed that DeJuan Blair stays out of foul trouble, but give me . . . Pitt.
Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
No. 12 Arizona (19-13) vs. No. 5 Utah (24-9)
When: 4:10 p.m. Friday
Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5 FM
OTHER CBS GAMES IN TUCSON
9:30 a.m.: Texas A&M vs. BYU
11:45 a.m.: Maryland vs. Cal
4:10 p.m.: Minnesota vs. Texas
6:40 p.m.: VCU vs. UCLA
9:25 a.m.: Tennessee vs. Okla. St.
11:35 a.m.: Temple vs. ASU
6:45 p.m.: Wisconsin vs. Florida St.