How did Arizona get in?

ESPN’s Mark Schlabach discusses the bubble teams that got in, along with several that didn’t. Clearly, the biggest surprise is the Arizona Wildcats, who lost to Arizona State in the the Pac-10 tournament and finished 19-13 on the season.

Certainly, the Wildcats are the most surprising team in the 65-team field. I thought Arizona’s 24-year streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances would end after USC won the Pac-10 tournament title and claimed the league’s NCAA auto bid.

Arizona lost to Arizona State for the third time this season, 68-56, in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament. The Wildcats lost five of their last six games and went 2-9 in road games. But they played 16 games against RPI top-50 foes, winning six of them, and were 8-12 against the top 100.

Obviously, the NCAA selection committee rewarded Arizona for playing a very difficult schedule. And because Arizona beat teams such as Kansas, Washington, UCLA and USC, it’s really hard to say there’s no reason it shouldn’t be in the field.

Arizona certainly had an argument, but so did several other teams. Schlabach lists Auburn, Creighton, Penn State, Saint Mary’s and San Diego State as the five biggest snubs. Dick Vitale insists that the mid-majors can’t get the type of non-conference competition that the major conference teams can get. They might be able to schedule a big conference team, but they have to play them twice (in consecutive seasons) on the road. Jay Bilas disagrees and says the mid-majors can get the games they want.

Who’s right? Who knows. I’d like to hear what some current mid-major coaches have to say about the subject. Certainly, Gonzaga was able to schedule a ton of challenging games, but Gonzaga is a different animal. So are Memphis and Xavier. These mid-majors have a long tradition of great basketball, so it’s probably easier to get the games that they want.

The thing that gets me is that the Wildcats lost five of their last six games in the Pac-10, which is down this season. They finished 9-9 in conference. Sure, they have the players to compete with anyone, but they’ve underachieved all season. Why reward them?

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