The next couple of days will likely decide whether Arizona’s college basketball fans will have a team to root for during March Madness.
We’re already down to just two Pac-12 teams with potential for post-season play. The Arizona State men are 8-19 over all and 4-11 in the conference, which puts them in 10th place, with no bid to go anywhere.
And the Wildcat women, who hold a slightly better overall mark thanks to a strong start to the season, are sitting in the conference cellar with a 3-12 record. Also no need to pack their bags.
A post-season berth would depend on them winning the conference tournament to get a bid. And that just ain’t gonna happen.
That leaves the Arizona men and ASU women to hopefully represent the Pac-12 – and the state – in the NCAA Tournament next month.
(No, we’re not forgetting about Northern Arizona, also a D-I school. The men (1-13) are on the bottom of the Big Sky standings and the women (3-11) are one rung up from the bottom.)
But both ASU and UofA would have to be considered bubble teams right now, and need to chalk up some wins in their final three games, beginning tomorrow night.
Both squads need one more win to reach that 20-win plateau that makes them attractive to the selection committees. The UA men are 19-9 overall and the Sun Devil women are 18-8, so they have to pocket a couple of big W’s.
The Devils have the tougher task. They’re on the road for the next two games, against UCLA and then USC, and both will take ASU’s best effort. The Sun Devils are in third place in the Pac-12 with a 9-6 mark, but UCLA and USC are right behind, tied for fourth with 7-6 records.
The Cats, on the other hand, are at home and get to play USC first. The Trojans have managed just one conference win and are at the bottom of the Pac-12. And UCLA isn’t tearing up the court; they’re 8-6 and sitting right below Arizona, which is tied with Oregon for fourth place.
The Cats are coming off a disappointing 79-70 loss at Washington, which is tied with California for the top spot in the Pac-12. After playing the Huskies right down to the buzzer earlier in the season, and going into this game with the momentum that comes with a five-game winning streak, the Cats were hoping to pull off an upset in Seattle.
The Cats got 20 points from the local boy, Nick Johnson, but it wasn’t nearly enough to offset the combined 47 points that were put on the board by Washington’s top scoring tandem, Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten.
By comparison, the ASU women will be coming off a 47-42 win over Washington State. Granted, the Cougars are one of the conference bottom-feeders, but it was the Devils’ third straight win and puts some wind under their sails before hitting the road to Cali.
It was an all-around effort, as Alex Earl and Janae Fulcher provided some balanced scoring with 11 points apiece, while a hustling defense forced 20 turnovers and held the visitors to under 30 percent shooting. The margin of victory would have been greater if ASU had been able to keep the Cougars off the glass, where they suffered a -11 deficit.
If the men’s and women’s teams get past their California opponents, next week’s season-ending rivalry games should be just icing on the cake. The men are playing in Tempe and the women in Tucson.
However, it’s going to be difficult to build any hype for this years’ Duel in the Desert. You need evenly-matched teams for that.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)