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WSU Men's Basketball

How did WSU improve its NCAA Tournament outlook after its win over Arizona?

Washington State’s Myles Rice attempts to keep the ball from Arizona’s KJ Lewis, left, and Pelle Larsson near midcourt on Thursday at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.  (Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Kyle Smith took a moment to point out something meaningful about his team’s path forward. No. 21 Washington State had just wrapped up a road win over No. 4 Arizona Thursday night, one’s of the program’s biggest wins, when Smith made a point about the Cougars’ postseason outlook.

His team had just left McKale Memorial Center, packed with an attendance of 14,688, and handed Arizona its first home loss all year. Smith loved his team’s fortitude, his players’ mettle, their ability to withstand body blows and respond with several of their own.

But when March comes and WSU embarks on the Pac-12 Tournament – then the NCAA Tournament, as looks all but certain now – the Cougars won’t face nearly the same kind of hostile environments.

“It’s not anything like a tournament, to be honest, because you’re going against 15,000 screaming fans,” Smith said. “It gives you confidence. The tournament games are funky, because they’re neutral, usually, and you got a lot of momentum.”

But now in first place in the Pac-12, with two wins over the Wildcats on their ledger, the Cougars are looking bigger. With four regular-season games left, they aren’t just on pace to shatter a 16-year NCAA Tournament drought – they’ve given themselves a chance to play at the Spokane host site, giving them an advantage in fan support.

Here is where Washington State’s tournament resume stands on Friday, a day removed from its win over Arizona and a day before its road game with Arizona State, set for 6 p.m. Saturday.

NET ranking: 28

KenPom ranking: 30

Quad 1: 5-3

Quad 2: 4-2

Quad 3: 5-1

Quad 4: 7-0

In ESPN’s latest Bracketology update, posted Friday morning, WSU is a No. 7 seed, playing 10th-seeded Marquette in Indianapolis. ESPN Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi took an even more confident stance , predicting WSU to earn a No. 5 seed.

According to CBS Sports, the Cougs are a No. 6 seed, playing 11th-seeded Grand Canyon in Omaha, Nebraska. The Field of 68 predicts Washington State to earn a No. 5 seed, squaring off with 12-seed Appalachian State in a Midwest region.

The first- and second-round host sites include the following:

Brooklyn, New York (Barclays Center)

Charlotte, North Carolina (Spectrum Center)

Indianapolis (Gainbridge Fieldhouse)

Omaha, Nebraska (CHI Health Center)

Pittsburgh (PPG Paints Arena)

Salt Lake City (Vivint Smart Home Arena)

Spokane (Arena)

Memphis, Tennessee (FedEx Forum)

Generally speaking, the better the team’s resume, the better chance it has at playing closer to home – which is why the Cougs are doing themselves favors by continuing to win games. Plus, the Pac-12 is on pace to have only two NCAA Tournament bids, which is even better news for WSU.

Washington State is past the point of jockeying for position on the bubble – barring a late collapse – but it is improving its resume. The Cougs have more Quad 1 wins (six) than lots of teams ahead of them in the NET rankings, including No. 5 Alabama, No. 6 Tennessee, No. 7 Auburn, No. 11 BYU, No. 15 Saint Mary’s and No. 16 Illinois .

WSU hurt its resume by scheduling an easy nonconference slate, which ranks No. 308 nationally, according to KenPom. That’s why it ranks lower in the NET than those foes. But that’s also why the Cougs’ wins over the Wildcats are so important: They’re huge wins, but particularly because they’re helping WSU overcome a weak nonconference schedule.

Outside of the national tournament, the Cougars are well on track to earn a first-round bye at the Pac-12 Tournament, which goes to the top four seeds, meaning they would first play on March 14.