Arizona clearly deserved a No. 1 seed even after losing in the Pacific-12 championship game to UCLA on Saturday. But the Wildcats should have been seeded behind Wichita State at No. 3 overall. That might have meant stacking the Wildcats’ region instead of the Shockers’ region. And the committee couldn’t have that.
So, Arizona goes to San Diego and then Anaheim if it can get past a recently rejuvenated Oklahoma State team in its second game. The Cowboys, who lost seven in a row at one point but revived after Marcus Smart returned from his three-game suspension, open against Gonzaga. Normally, the Zags are not a team you want to play early in this tournament, but this isn’t one of Mark Few’s better teams. Games between No. 8 and No. 9 seeds are supposed to be toss-ups, and Few, who is 15 for 15 making the tournament, always has his team ready to play.
Oklahoma State can beat Arizona; Gonzaga probably can’t. If Arizona advances, it could play San Diego State in the round of 16. Don’t be fooled by the Aztecs’ loss to New Mexico; they’re dangerous, especially playing up the road from their campus in Anaheim. Plus, their road to that game should not be too difficult: New Mexico State followed by Oklahoma or North Dakota State. Lon Kruger is the only coach to take five schools to the tournament, but his Sooners are over-seeded at No. 5.
Arizona beat San Diego State in San Diego in November, and that should give the Wildcats confidence in a rematch. That game was before Brandon Ashley got hurt. Arizona has done a wonderful job dealing with his season-ending injury but his absence could be a difference-maker this time of year.
The two best teams in the bottom half of the draw are Wisconsin (No. 2) and Baylor (No. 6). This is Bo Ryan’s best offensive team, but it is not one of his best defensive teams. The Badgers could have some trouble with Oregon in the second round but should survive to face Baylor (upset alert: Baylor over No. 3 Creighton in San Antonio on Sunday; Doug McDermott is wonderful, but the Bluejays depend too much on the three-point shooting).
There’s no clear favorite here. Two coaches in the region have been to Final Fours: Kruger and San Diego State’s Steve Fisher. Ryan has done everything except go to the Final Four. Maybe this is his time.