Arrow-right Camera
Subscribe now
Eastern Washington University Basketball

Best of the West rankings: Washington State, Saint Mary’s climb as Arizona takes its quest for a No. 1 seed on the road

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

Five weeks and change from Selection Sunday, Arizona remains in hot pursuit of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament as it embarks upon the most difficult road trip in the Pac-12.

It’s an oversimplification to suggest the Wildcats must sweep Utah and Colorado to keep pace in the race for a top seed. There are far too many variables at play.

But in one respect, the mountain swing is essential for the Wildcats: The chance to accumulate Quadrant 1 victories, perhaps the most valuable commodity in the selection process.

Largely because of the Pac-12’s ongoing mediocrity, Arizona won’t have as many Quad 1 matchups down the stretch as the top teams in other power conferences.

The situation looks promising at first glance, based on the number of Quad 1 wins by candidates for No. 1 seeds (subject to change):

Connecticut: 8

Purdue: 8

Arizona: 6

Houston: 5

Marquette: 5

North Carolina: 5

Kansas: 5

But below the surface, trouble lurks. The Wildcats have just two chances to accrue additional Quad 1 wins over the final month of the regular season: The duels in Salt Lake City and Boulder, Colorado, this week.

None of their other road games (Arizona State, USC, UCLA) or home games (Arizona State, WSU, Oregon and Washington) will meet the Quad 1 requirements based on Wednesday’s NET rankings.

Which brings us back to the imperative mentioned above. The Wildcats sure could use a sweep of the mountain schools. At worst, they must have a split.

Because as Arizona wades through a litany of mediocre opponents down the stretch, its competitors in stronger leagues will face a steady stream of Quad 1 opportunities.

To the Best of the West rankings …

1. Arizona (17-5, 8-3 Pac-12)

Last week: 1

Results: beat Cal 91-65 and Stanford 82-71

NET ranking: No. 3

Next up: at Utah (Thursday)

Comment: One matter that should not be overlooked in the selection process: Only three of Arizona’s 17 wins are considered Quad 4 results (the least valuable). By comparison, Houston, the top team in the NET, has seven.

2. Colorado State (18-5, 6-4 MW)

Last week: 3

Results: won at Fresno State 73-6, beat Boise State 75-62

NET ranking: No. 26

Next up: vs. San Jose State (Friday)

Comment: The Mountain West race is an absolute marvel: Seven teams are within one game of first place (in the loss column). Let’s hope the final weeks will feature all sorts of mayhem.

3. Brigham Young (16-6, 4-5 Big 12)

Last week: 2

Results: won at West Virginia 86-73, lost at Oklahoma 82-66

NET ranking: No. 8

Next up: vs. Kansas State (Saturday)

Comment: What’s powering the Cougars’ lofty NET ranking? I have no idea.

4. San Diego State (18-5, 7-3 MW)

Last week: 5

Results: beat Utah State 81-67, won at Air Force 77-64

NET ranking: No. 20

Next up: at Nevada (Friday)

Comment: The next four games will determine SDSU’s position in the MW race. After Nevada, the Aztecs have home dates with Colorado State and New Mexico, followed by a trip to Utah State. The quartet’s combined record: 74-18.

5. New Mexico (19-4, 7-3 MW)

Last week: 4

Results: lost to Boise State 86-78, won at Wyoming 91-73

NET ranking: No. 19

Next up: vs. UNLV (Saturday)

Comment: The Lobos are 8-3 in road and neutral-court games — one of the most impressive records in the country in a criteria that carries significant value to the selection committee.

6. Saint Mary’s (19-6, 10-0 WCC)

Last week: 10

Results: beat Santa Clara 82-77, won at Gonzaga 64-62 and Pacific 84-43

NET ranking: No. 18

Next up: at Portland (Saturday)

Comment: We aren’t ready to declare a changing of the guard in the WCC just yet. But you can see the replacements being fitted for red tunics and Bearskin hats a few yards from the palace gates.

7. Oregon (15-7, 7-4 Pac-12)

Last week: 7

Results: won at USC 78-69, lost at UCLA 71-63

NET ranking: No. 57

Next up: vs. Washington (Thursday)

Comment: Feels like Oregon has been hovering in the No. 55-60 range in the NET for weeks. If that holds, the Ducks likely will be on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble.

8. Washington State (16-6, 7-4 Pac-12)

Last week: 12

Results: won at Washington 90-87 (OT)

NET ranking: No. 42

Next up: at Oregon State (Thursday)

Comment: There’s a case to be made that the swing through Oregon is the most significant road trip of the Kyle Smith era, given the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournament implications.

9. Gonzaga (16-6, 7-2 WCC)

Last week: 8

Results: lost to Saint Mary’s 64-62

NET ranking: No. 28

Next up: vs. Portland (Wednesday)

Comment: If we seem suspicious of Gonzaga’s resume, the explanation is quite simple: no Quad 1 wins. The Zags are 0-5 in that category, whereas most teams in solid position for at-large berths have two or three at this stage.

10. Utah State (19-4, 7-3 MW)

Last week: 6

Results: lost at San Diego State 81-67, lost to Nevada 77-63

NET ranking: No. 29

Next up: vs. Boise State (Saturday)

Comment: The first result listed is wholly understandable; the second, close to unforgivable. And it could haunt the Aggies into the middle of March.

11. Utah (15-7, 6-5 Pac-12)

Last week: Not ranked

Results: beat Colorado 73-68

NET ranking: No. 35

Next up: vs. Arizona (Thursday)

Comment: Whatever happens Thursday, the Utes cannot allow the outcome to impact their performance Saturday. A loss to ASU would count as a Quad 3 result and thus carry significant damage.

12. Boise State (16-7, 7-3 MW)

Last week: 11

Results: won at New Mexico 86-78, beat Air Force 94-56, lost at Colorado State 75-62

NET ranking: No. 40

Next up: at Utah State (Saturday)

Comment: Barring a collapse, the Broncos will win at least 20 games for the 11th time in Leon Rice’s 14-year tenure. Not too shabby.

Also considered: Colorado, Eastern Washington, Grand Canyon, Nevada, San Francisco and UC Irvine.