The loss at West Virginia was understandable, but unfortunate. Our potential #1 seeding is now in some jeopardy. I think we all agree that it would be ideal if we could get the #1, and be assured of staying in the West for the first four rounds of the tourney. Now, it's possible that if we are the highest seeded team in the western part of the country, we will still get to stay out West as a #2, but I would not want to risk that. So what are our chances of still getting that top seed in the West?
I think we're going to have to either win or tie for the regular season Pac-10 title. If we finish one game out and win the conference tournament, that might do it, but it might not. Remember that our biggest threats to the #1 seed are Ohio State and Texas A&M. I'm assuming that Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin are pretty much guaranteed a #1 seed, unless they somehow collapse, which is very unlikely. I would also watch out for a very hot Georgetown team which could conceivably win the Big East title. But their home loss to Oregon helps us there. The problem we have with Ohio State is that the Big 10 is so woeful after the first three teams, that it's unlikely that either Wisconsin or Ohio State will lose another conference game, except against each other, once more in the regular season, and then likely in the Big 10 tourney. So each of these teams may have a better record than we do. We could have the higher RPI, but that doesn't always matter. Texas A&M is playing great ball, and is likely to win the Big 12 regular season and tourney. We beat them by three at a home-neutral site, and that may not be enough, if we lose two or three more games.
So we probably need to win the Pac-10. And that will be no easy feat. If they put up lines on such things, and if I were mercenary, I would be inclined to bet that Washington State at least ties for the league title. I would expect them to beat us in Pullman. That makes us even (we have an extra game to play), and I'm not sure if they will lose another. We are better than they are, but they are obviously very good; and additionally, they have one big advantage over us, which is that they are not the kind of target we are. Do you imagine that Arizona and its fans will be more pumped up to play us in Tucson than they were to play the Cougars? I even think that Romar and Washington would rather beat us in Seattle than their in-state rival. So we take everbody's best shot, while they still sort of fly under the radar and pick up wins. If WSU doesn't lose another, then we either have to beat them, or at least sweep the remaining games, which includes winning at Seattle and Tucson. That is a difficult task. Last year, we had to win out, and we did; coming back to beat Cal in the conference decider. Sports history rarely quite repeats, and so this year we may find ourselves on the other end in the conference decider at Pullman.
This isn't meant to be negative, just realistic. Even if we end up with a #2 seed, we will be situated to win a few games in the tournament. But since my hope will always be to win it all, I think that the #1 seed out West is almost imperative. Obviously, the goal is to stay as far away from Florida as possible; because they are clearly the best team in the country, and we don't match up well with them, either; since their biggest threat is a team which can pound the ball inside and get Noah in foul trouble.
Kentucky did some of that last night, but couldn't hit an outside shot until too late. It's too bad that we would theoretically play Florida in the NCAA Semifinals, rather than let North Carolina or Wisconsin have a shot at them. I actually think we can beat anyone else with our best game, but probably not Florida.
For us to win these big conference road games, we are going to have to play smarter than we have been. It sounds funny to say that, because under Howland we are known for playing smart team ball. But--even granted that all teams make some dumb mistakes and we just tend to focus on ours because we are fans--we are making too many fundamental mistakes on defense, and too many bad passes on offense. We need to play more like a smooth-functioning machine, and less with the apparent attitude that "we always come back; we can afford to come out sluggish and tentative at the outset; we'll pick it up when we need to." Now, it may just be that we are going absolutely as far as we can with the somewhat limited talent on hand. But we've seen flashes of how we can play at our peak; and we need to reach and maintain that peak from here on out. The game yesterday did us no good, and I'm sure that Howland wishes it weren't scheduled. Probably we would have won with Collison; but we lost, and we had to play Afflalo too much, when he could use some rest. We need momentum, and we are going to have to regain it. To make a big run, you need confidence and poise. This is still a young and somewhat erratic team which is going to have to find it, to play better on the road than we have thus far.
Ed. As always, thoughtful and realistic analysis by BB. I agree with BB's premise that UF is the team to beat, and that we just don't match up well with them. That is why it is imperative to grab that No. 1 seed and avoid UF for as long as possible. BB also points out something that has been frustrating to watch--the bad passing. Despite BB's well-placed pessimism, I think the Bruins find a way to get that No. 1 seed.