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Bradley, No. 305 RPI rating as of Sunday, was one of seven Arizona opponents with an RPI of No. 200 or higher.
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NCAA basketball committee chairman Joe Castiglione explained Sunday that Arizona’s No. 6 seed instead of being a No. 5 or even No. 4 as a result of a weak non-conference strength of schedule.
Castilglione was asked during a teleconference call with media about why California at No. 4 is seeded higher than Arizona despite the teams tied in the Pac-12 standings and they split during the regular season. The Wildcats will play in the NCAA tournament’s South Region starting Thursday at Providence, R.I.
“(Arizona) had a non-conference strength of schedule which was 260,” Castiglione said. “That’s on the high side. When you’re a team that’s getting near 300, that catches people’s attention.”
The Wildcats (26-8) beat seven teams with an RPI of 207 or higher, including conference foe Washington State (No. 207) twice. The victories against the suspect non-conference competition included No. 222 Missouri, No. 252 Santa Clara, No. 268 Pacific, No. 305 Bradley, No. 332 NAU and No. 344 Northwestern State.
“They had six games out of their conference against teams that were ranked 220 and below, including three lower than 300,” said Castiglione, the athletic director at Oklahoma. “That helps pull the metrics, if you will, in one direction or the other.”
The Wildcats dangerously came close to losing one of those games, surviving in overtime against Santa Clara 75-73 in the Wooden Legacy tournament at Anaheim on Nov. 26. If Arizona lost that game, it could have affected the Wildcats’ seed more. As it is, Sean Miller’s team did not have a bad loss.
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Congratulations to chairman Castiglione: Worst job done by a committee since '03 put BYU in a Fri-Sun regional when BYU doesn't play on Sun.
— John Feinstein (@JFeinsteinBooks) March 14, 2016
Selection committee chair Joe Castiglione on Tulsa: Looked for “distinguishing factors.” Four top 50 wins, 8 top 100 wins did it.
— Brian Hamilton (@BrianHamiltonSI) March 14, 2016
Driving distance between Claremont, N.H., & Providence, R.I., is only 138 miles. That's a good reward for Zeus after his four-year career.
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) March 14, 2016
No. 6 Arizona will wait on the winner of the play-in game (no. 11 seed) #MarchMadness history has #6 vs #11 (81-43)
— Dave Cooney (@CooneyLand) March 14, 2016
The lowest team in the RPI Arizona lost to was No. 99 UCLA, a team that beat Kentucky at Pauley Pavilion and Gonzaga on the road.
During that near-loss to Santa Clara, Arizona lost senior center Kaleb Tarczewski with a foot injury that sidelined him for eight games. Freshman guard Allonzo Trier later missed seven games with a broken bone in his right hand.
“We certainly recognize they also had some challenges this year with injuries,” Castiglione said. “We noted that. But you value the four top-50 wins that they had (actually five against No. 16 Cal, No. 29 Oregon State, No. 35 Colorado, No. 46 Gonzaga on the road and No. 48 USC).
“They were .500 on the road,” Castiglione continued about the positive aspects of Arizona’s resume. “They were 6-7 against the tournament field. We’re trying to look at everything in assessing a team.”
When asked about how close Arizona was to being the No. 5 seed in Denver, Castiglione answered, “Well, they were 23 on the seed list. They were third of four teams on that line.” That means Arizona was closer to being a No. 7 seed than a No. 5.
The schedule did not help Arizona, but it’s not entirely the program’s fault.
Missouri and UNLV were attractive opponents two to three years ago when the home-and-home arrangements were made. Missouri, embroiled in controversy over alleged NCAA infractions, is in its second year under a different coaching staff than when Miller arranged the series. UNLV fell apart after its coach Dave Rice was fired midway through the season, succumbing to multiple serious injuries.
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) March 14, 2016
Boise State, which Arizona beat twice, lost seven of its last 12 games after a 13-5 start. The Broncos’ collapse included losses against No. 226 Air Force and No. 300 San Jose State.
Arizona also came a game away from playing No. 2 seed Michigan State in the Wooden Legacy but was defeated by Providence in the second round of that tournament in a late rally fueled by All-American guard Kris Dunn. That was Arizona’s first game without Tarczewski in the lineup because of his foot injury.
Yes, Arizona could have scheduled stronger in some games (Bradley, Pacific and Northwestern State) but no coach will overload his schedule. The series with NAU, a traditional in-state rival, should be kept as one of those normally less-difficult non-conference games.
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.