Most likely, Arizona will enter the NCAA tournament prepared to make a deep run as a two seed. That's what Arizona fans and media members believed to be true entering last weekend. However, that all changed in the blink of an eye.
#1 and undefeated Illinois lost their first game of the season to an inferior Ohio State team. #2 North Carolina defeated then #6 Duke. Then #8 Oklahoma State fell to an unranked Texas squad. #10 Washington fell to Stanford, giving Arizona the Pac-10 Championship outright. After this weekend Arizona fans saw a light at the end of the tunnel for a potential No. 1 seed. If they could win the Pac-10 Tournament, that is.
The potential for a No. 1 seed is still very much evident as only one of the three top-10 ranked ACC teams will win the conference tourney. Arizona can be a No. 1 seed if it comes away with the Pac-10 championship, especially if it play and tops Washington in the tourney finals. The strength of schedule may not be strong enough to propel the Cats to a top seed if they do not defeat Washington.
At the other end of the spectrum, Arizona could lose in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament. If this occurs, Arizona should kiss their two seed good-bye and say hello to No. 3 or No. 4.
Not only does Arizona have to play well in the Pac-10 tournament, it also needs to play well for location in the tournament. Arizona would be equally pleased with Albuquerque and Austin. While Albuquerque is the closest to home, it is a mainly anti-Arizona environment as a result of the "clock malfunction" that resulted in an Arizona loss in The Pit. Following the game, Head Coach Lute Olson refused to play there again.
Austin may be more of a hike for players and fans alike, although the environment is not as hostile. Therefore, a No. 2 seed in the Austin region may be worthwhile for the Cats, but they would tell you otherwise. The Cats most likely want a No. 1 seed in March, even if the result is playing in Albuquerque.
The other main reason the Pac-10 Tournament is beneficial for the UA is the ability for the players to work out any last kinks before the NCAA tournament. Arizona is peaking at the right time, and this tournament could get it to its greatest point prior to the tournament.
Salim Stoudamire and Channing Frye have been extremely solid for the Cats all season, and if they can remain consistent, Arizona stands a very good chance. Ivan Radenovic has been solid this season, especially as of late. Hassan Adams has become extremely consistent for the UA contributing many rebounds. Off the bench, Kirk Walters has been contributing solid minutes for the Wildcats.
There are a few positions that could improve for Arizona. First, Mustafa Shakur had an excellent couple of games lately, and will need to keep that consistency and intensity going throughout the Pac-10 Tournament and NCAA tournament. The Pac-10 tourney is a perfect opportunity for the sophomore to increase his consistency.
Secondly, Chris Rodgers needs to improve his play off the bench. Recently he has failed to put up strong numbers, and his defense has been struggling, despite being strong earlier this season. This weekend is a golden opportunity for Rodgers to prove that he belongs on the court.
First up for the Cats comes California. Arizona has destroyed the Golden Bears in both of their meetings this season and if they can maintain their intensity, look for another blowout.
Should Arizona survive, it will face either UCLA or Oregon State. Arizona would much rather see Oregon State, a team they handled in both of their meetings rather than UCLA who they defeated on a last-second Stoudamire three-pointer. In addition, it will be essentially a home game for UCLA, playing only a few miles from their home court.
The players want to see Washington again, and the only way that will occur is if they meet for the Pac-10 Championship. Should Arizona win that game, they could become a No. 1 seed.
This is Arizona's chance to get its game together, gain a higher seed, and travel to a closer location next week. Arizona has the future in its own hands. If it loses early, it could be in trouble come next week. If the UA wins the Pac-10 tournament, it is in great shape for the NCAAs. The difference between winning and losing is probably two seeds. They should be a three seed if they lose to Cal. They should be a No. 1 if they win the championship.
There is more than meets the eye to this tournament, and Arizona could help its cause come selection Sunday if it pulls it out.
Stay tuned to CatTracks.net for continuing coverage of the Pac-10 Tournament and the NCAA tournament. The Wildcat Insider and Cattracks.net staff will be there every step of the way to give you the best coverage possible. Check out the site after the Selection Show throughout the night as we'll be giving our opinions and predictions on the seedings and the tournament.