Arizona Does What It Does: Beat Bad TeamsPosted by rtmsf on January 20th, 2012
Kraig Williams is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Arizona-Utah game on Thursday night.
Much like the rest of the Pac-12, the Arizona Wildcats are an enigma in college basketball this season. The Wildcats sit at 13-6 and 4-2 in conference play after blowing by Utah, 77-51, Thursday night. After leading by just five at halftime, Arizona blasted past an undermanned Utah squad in the second half even without Solomon Hill who was ejected from the game for a flagrant-two foul for an apparent blow to the back of Cedric Martin’s head. Beating overmatched teams has been Arizona’s M.O. all year. In terms of RPI (an admittedly flawed statistic, but one the NCAA selection committee uses), the Wildcats have fallen to the best five teams they have played (Gonzaga, San Diego State, Florida, Oregon and Mississippi State). Against the rest of their schedule, they are 13-1 with the one outlier being a road loss to UCLA. Looking at their NCAA selection sheet shows an average RPI win of #180 and an average loss of #52. The Wildcats beat who they are supposed to and not much else this season.
The problem, of course, is this gives Arizona a resume of a plucky mid-major out of a conference like the WAC, not a perennial Pac-12 powerhouse. The Wildcats’ best win thus far is either at New Mexico State, or in the McKale Center against Duquesne, neither of which will jump off the page at you. That, combined with losing to Oregon and needing overtime to take down Oregon State last week at home, was enough to knock them out of Andy Glockner’s mock bracket this week, placing them precariously on the bubble. That same bracket features a myriad of mediocre bubble squads like Minnesota and Marshall making the cut.
Beating a Utah team that came into the game with an RPI of #258 and had booted its best player Josh “Jiggy” Watkins off the team won’t exactly help the resume, but it gets the job done. It’s hard to extrapolate exactly what can be learned in a blowout win over a bad team, but perhaps Arizona’s three-point shooting in Salt Lake City can be something for the team to embrace. The Wildcats shot an even 50% on the night, getting plenty of open looks in transition and off excellent ball movement. Better news for Arizona was making their big run with leading scorer Hill in the locker room after his ejection. The Wildcats led by just five when Hill was tossed and promptly went on a 16-4 run to eliminate any doubt left in the game.
The upside for Arizona is they will still get several shots at quality teams in the Pac-12 that can quickly become their best victory. They continue the Rocky Mountain road trip with Colorado (RPI #68) on Saturday. They visit the Bay Area duo of Cal (RPI #35) and Stanford (RPI #67) to start February and still get two shots at Washington (RPI #87) and Colorado will visit Tucson later in the year as well. A couple of wins in those games and the story quickly changes. So while tons of digital ink will be spilled on how down the Pac-12 is and how it looks like a one-bid conference, remember that it is only January. If Arizona and the rest of the Pac-12 cream can rise to the top, it will all be forgotten by March.