The Tough Gets Tougher
*Arizona played the nation's hardest schedule and it turned out it wasn't even close. Arkansas, whose schedule was rated the second toughest by collegerpi.com, was a very distant runner-up to the Wildcats in terms of schedule strength.
During the 31 games it played before the NCAA Tournament, Arizona went up against a Tournament team 21 times. That is ridiculously difficult. Throw in the fact that 19 of those 31 teams were ranked and one begins to wonder if Lute Olson is some sort of closet masochist.
So what was the Wildcats' reward for playing the best of the best? How about being bracketed in with three more teams ranked in the top six? If Arizona is to make its second consecutive trip to the Final Four, it will have to beat #6 Gonzaga, #3 Oklahoma and #5 Cincinnati, if the region goes according to its seeding.
Imagine if Arizona were to win the national title. That would mean five consecutive games against teams ranked sixth, third, fifth, first (Duke) and second (Kansas). What, were the '97 Bulls not available?
Of course, this is all speculative, but if the Cats do manage to win their second national crown, no one for the remainder of history can say that they didn't earn it.
Best Game of the Year?
*Assuming Arizona beats UC-Santa Barbara and Gonzaga gets by Wyoming in the first round, the Cats and Zags second-round meeting might be the best game of the entire season from a West Coaster's perspective anyway.
I've gone on record and said that Gonzaga is my "other" favorite team. Though it saddens me to know that one of my favorite teams will be at home watching the Sweet 16 on TV, I commend the committee for setting up an almost surefire match-up between the Western Superpowers.
Arizona assistant coach Rodney Tention has an ongoing contest with longtime friend and Gonzaga assistant Bill Greer when it comes to the Wildcats and Bulldogs.
"I just got off the phone with (Greer)," Tention said Sunday evening, after the brackets were announced. "I've got an ongoing thing with him as to which team is the Best of the West. We went to the Final Four last year so we won it but a couple years ago they made the Elite Eight and they were the best. We're not looking ahead of anybody, but if we played (Gonzaga) it would be a great game."
Tention would get the assignment of scouting the Zags should both teams win their first round games and has a little insight on how the Bulldogs play.
"I've known Mark (Few, Gonzaga's head coach) for a long time," he said. "Back when he was still an assistant there. And then Bill Greer and I hang out on the road while we're out recruiting in the summers."
From a pure match-up point of view, the showdown between Arizona's Jason Gardner and Gonzaga's Dan Dickau would be the best storyline: Two of America's premier point guards going head-to-head for a berth in the Sweet 16.
Still, how Gonzaga ever got a six seed after tearing through its schedule, winning its conference's regular-season and tournament championships and playing as a team ranked sixth in the country all year is beyond me.
College basketball fans will benefit tremendously from the selection committee's mistake when Arizona and Gonzaga play in what could be one of the best second round games in Tournament history on Saturday evening. People have stated that the Zags are the Best in the West all season long and now they will finally get their chance to prove it against the reigning western kings.
Whichever team comes out alive on Saturday night is going to Atlanta. It's as simple as that. And maybe, just maybe, the team that is the Best in the West might get hot enough to be called the Best of the Best.