Arizona's loss to rival Arizona State on Saturday could hurt the Wildcats big-time in the race for a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.
Hey Arizona, it's a rivalry game. These kinds of things happen. We totally get that. We can understand that records sometimes get thrown out the window and weird things happen and occasionally the better team doesn't win the game. We get all that.
Here's the thing though: This was not the time for that to happen. Not with everything the Wildcats have at stake.
Saturday's upset in Tempe was a huge blow to Arizona's resume at a time where it could least afford one. The 81-78 defeat -- 81 points to a team that doesn't average 70?! -- was the kind of loss that sets you back on the seed line come Selection Sunday. Sean Miller's team is now 20-3 and 8-2 in the Pac-12, with eight games left to go in the regular season.
The problem here isn't Arizona's record. It's Arizona State's.
The Sun Devils aren't going to the NCAA tournament. At least not as it stands now. This is a team that has struggled all season long. Entering Saturday, Herb Sendek's team was 11-11 and 3-6 in the league.
Arizona State's best win in terms of RPI before Arizona was Harvard, way back on Dec. 28. (Harvard is 75th.) There's simply nothing redeeming about losing to Arizona State. The Sun Devils have been going absolutely nowhere this season, losing to Marquette (on the road) and Lehigh (at home) and getting swept by a so-so Oregon team.
For comparison's sake, Arizona swept Oregon, winning the first game by 18 points and the second by 34.
So if you see the Wildcats pop up on the 2- or the 3-line in a few weeks, you can trace that slide back to this day. Even worse? Arizona, solidly in the conversation for a No. 1 seed in the tournament, stumbled on an afternoon when it was gift-wrapped an opening for one of those top slots.
Kansas lost earlier in the day to Oklahoma State, likely sliding the Jayhawks down a peg. There really won't be a lot of openings on the top line this year, with Kentucky, Virginia and Duke looking as close to locks for No. 1 seeds as can be. That left Arizona, Kansas and Gonzaga remaining as the current top choices for that spot.
With another loss to a mediocre opponent -- Arizona's previous two losses were at UNLV (13-10, 4-6 Mountain West) and at Oregon State (15-7, 6-4 Pac-12) -- the Wildcats have become an easy target for the selection committee to drop.
There's pretty much one rule for the final month of conference play: Don't give the committee an excuse to move you around.
And with its loss to a middling Arizona State team, that's exactly what Arizona did.
It's not impossible for Arizona to get back in the No. 1 seed conversation. The Wildcats have eight games left, including a road trip to No. 13 Utah on the final day of February that could help decide the regular season title. And then there's the Pac-12 tournament, which could help sway the committee even further if the resumes between Arizona, Kansas and Gonzaga become blurred.
The point here is that Arizona is assured of nothing now. It's had a great chance to keep pace with the only other top team in its geographic region in Gonzaga, and it whiffed badly.
So, if you see the Bulldogs and not the Wildcats pop up as the top seed for the West Regional next month, you'll know why that happened.