March Madness 2014: Analysis, game predictions for Sun Devils and Wildcats

For the first time since 2009, both the ASU and UA men’s basketball teams are well-positioned to make some noise during March Madness.

According to bracketmatrix.com, which takes an average of 80 projections for the 68-team men’s NCAA Tournament field, the Wildcats are currently projected as a No. 1 tournament seed, while the Sun Devils are a No. 8 seed. Of course, a lot can change between now and Selection Sunday on March 16.

What do the Devils need to do in order to stay in the tournament field, and what must the Wildcats do in order to remain a top tourney seed? Here’s a breakdown of the regular season’s final four weeks:

ASU

Record: 19-6 overall, 8-4 Pac-12

RPI ranking: 29

Remaining schedule (with each team’s RPI ranking):

Wednesday: at Colorado (28)

Sunday: at Utah (94)

Feb. 26: vs. Stanford (48)

March 1: vs. Cal (46)

March 4: at Oregon (44)

March 8: at Oregon State (82)

The rundown: Last Friday’s double-overtime home win over No. 2 UA has finally given ASU some margin for error in the program’s quest for its first NCAA Tournament bid in five years. As of now, the Sun Devils are squarely in the field of 68, thanks to RPI top-50 wins over UA, Colorado, Oregon and Cal.

But with six scheduled conference games and the Pac-12 Tournament remaining, ASU still has work to do. Fortunately, with four games remaining against top-50 teams, the Devils have several more opportunities to impress the selection committee – and with each of their final six opponents currently in the RPI top 100, no loss would be a terrible one in the committee’s eyes.

Projection: The Devils have won six of their last seven games, but they’ve had some close calls, as three of those games were won in overtime. They defeated both Utah and Colorado in Tempe last month, but the Utes and Buffaloes have only lost one game apiece at home this season.

The most likely scenario for ASU is either a split or a pair of close road losses this week, followed by back-to-back home wins over tough Cal and Stanford teams, and a split at the Oregon schools. A 4-2 or 3-3 record in their remaining schedule, plus at least one win in the Pac-12 Tournament, should keep the Devils firmly in the NCAA Tournament field – probably somewhere in the 8-10-seed range.

Arizona Wildcats

Record: 23-2 overall, 10-2 Pac-12

RPI ranking: 2

Remaining schedule (with each team’s RPI ranking):

Wednesday: at Utah (94)

Saturday: at Colorado (28)

Feb. 26: vs. Cal (46)

March 2: vs. Stanford (48)

March 5: at Oregon State (82)

March 8: at Oregon (44)

The rundown: Three weeks ago, UA was entering its eighth straight week as the nation’s No. 1 team. Since then, the Wildcats have lost their first two games of the season (at Cal and at ASU) – and more importantly, they lost starting sophomore forward Brandon Ashley to a season-ending foot injury.

Thanks to eight wins over RPI top-50 teams, including perhaps the nation’s most impressive trio of non-conference victories (at Michigan, at San Diego State and vs. Duke on a neutral court), UA is still a firm No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed. But due to Ashley’s injury and the team’s subsequent struggles on offense, many analysts believe the Cats will drop to a 2 or 3 seed by season’s end. Considering that four of UA’s last six games are away from McKale Center, and four of its remaining games are against top-50 teams, it’s not an unreasonable assumption.

Projection: For the Wildcats, a split on their last two road trips (at Utah and Colorado this week; at Oregon State and Oregon in two weeks) seems likely. In between those trips, they should be able to overcome both Cal and Stanford at home, where they’re undefeated this season.

Of course, much depends on what the nation’s other top teams do in the season’s final month – but a 4-2 finish to the conference schedule, combined with at least one victory in the Pac-12 Tournament, would likely put the Cats on the right side of the fence between a No. 1 and 2 NCAA Tournament seed. Remember: three of the four No. 1 seeds from last season’s tournament field had at least five regular-season losses.

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