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Is Arizona’s path to the Final Four as easy as we think?

How far can the Wildcats advance in this year’s tournament?

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Championship Arizona vs Oregon Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona will begin its quest to the Final Four Thursday, in hopes of continuing what’s been an unpredictable and inspiring season. After the conclusion of Sunday’s Selection Show, many pundits easily pegged Arizona into the Final Four, claiming ‘Zona had the “easiest path” to make it to Phoenix.

I used KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, which is the difference between points scored per 100 possessions and points allowed per 100 possessions (the basis of KenPom’s rankings) to display the possible route to the Final Four for all #2 seeds. Each #2 seed will be bulleted with its adjusted efficiency margin in parentheses with potential matchups (and efficiency margin differences) also listed.

First off, the #15 seeds:

  • East: Duke (24.99) vs. Troy (2.65) = +22.34
  • Midwest: Louisville (26.62) vs. Jacksonville State (0.59) = +26.03
  • South: Kentucky (27.15) vs. Northern Kentucky (1.39) = +25.76
  • West: Arizona (22.48) vs. North Dakota (-0.27) = +22.75

The Wildcats were fortunate enough to match up against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks, who are, statistically, the worst #15 seed in this year’s tournament. North Dakota has not beaten a top 100 KenPom this season, falling to Iowa by 11 back on December 20. Arizona should be the third safest choice to move to the round of 32 among #2 seeds.

Now, let’s take a look at the #7 and #10 seeds:

  • East: Duke (24.99) vs. South Carolina (16.92)/Marquette (17.51) = +8.07,+7.48
  • Midwest: Louisville (26.62) vs. Michigan (22.62)/Oklahoma State (22.14) = +4.00,+4.48
  • South: Kentucky (27.15) vs. Dayton (15.77)/Wichita State (26.42) = +11.38,+0.73
  • West: Arizona (22.48) vs. St. Mary’s (24.62)/VCU (14.52) = -2.14,+7.96

This is where things get a bit more hairy. Arizona would hypothetically be the underdog against two #7 seeds (Michigan and St. Mary’s) as well as a #10 seed (Wichita State). The Gaels of St. Mary’s have the second-highest adjusted efficiency margin of #7 and #10 seeds, which means ‘Zona will hope that VCU is able to pull off the minor upset. Yes, KenPom would favor St. Mary’s against the Wildcats. Arizona has the toughest potential round of 32 matchup of the #2 seeds.

Assuming Arizona reaches the second weekend, here are the potential #3 and #6 seeds:

  • East: Duke (24.99) vs. Baylor (25.08)/SMU (25.31) = -0.09,-0.32
  • Midwest: Louisville (26.62) vs. Oregon (23.46)/Creighton (19.55) = +3.16,+7.07
  • South: Kentucky (27.15) vs. UCLA (22.68)/Cincinnati (22.32) = +4.47,+4.83
  • West: Arizona (22.48) vs. Florida State (22.65)/Maryland (14.9) = -0.17,+7.58

Arizona is one of two teams (Duke) that aren’t favored in both games against #3 and #6 seeds, but the Blue Devils are ranked lower in KenPom against Baylor as well as SMU. Louisville and Kentucky should cruise to an Elite Eight berth, but Arizona isn’t all that far behind. Sean Miller and co. will need to watch out for Florida State, however. I would give Arizona the third-best probability of reaching the Elite Elite among #2 seeds.

With one more win needed to reach the elusive Final Four, here’s how Arizona matches up compared to the other #2 seeds when playing the #1, #4 and #5 seeds:

  • East: Duke (24.99) vs. Villanova (30.72)/Florida (26.32)/Virginia (26.57) = -5.73,-1.33,-1.58
  • Midwest: Louisville (26.62) vs. Kansas (26.01)/Purdue (24.18)/Iowa State (23.17) = +0.61,+2.44,+3.45
  • South: Kentucky (27.15) vs. North Carolina (27.91)/Butler (20.80)/Minnesota (16.60) = -0.76,+6.35,+10.55
  • West: Arizona (22.48) vs. Gonzaga (33.03)/West Virginia (26.90)/Notre Dame (21.04) = -10.55, -4.42, +1.44

Once again, Arizona has the second-toughest route to advance. Duke wouldn’t be favored against Villanova, Florida or Virginia, according to KenPom’s rankings, but the Wildcats would be projected to edge Notre Dame. Gonzaga, which has broken efficiency metrics this season en route to a one-loss regular season, has been one of the highly debated teams this year. West Virginia, known for a ferocious turnover-inducing defense, has also been favored by the computers this year. This round won’t be easy, either.

So what does this all mean? First off, don’t pick your bracket solely based off KenPom adjusted efficiency margin, that won’t end well. However, this stat is very telling. The team that records a higher efficiency will win every time, so there is significant substance behind this statistic. Typically, the national champion finishes with the highest adjusted efficiency margin in the country.

Many analysts have pegged Arizona into the Final Four, and though it could definitely happen, it won’t come easily. Gonzaga, Florida State and West Virginia, most notably, provide a potential of derailing Sean Miller’s first-ever Final Four appearance, which would be in UofA’s home state. Of all #2 seeds, it appears that, according to adjusted efficiency margin, Arizona has the third-toughest route to make it to the final weekend of the season of the #2 seeds.

How far do you think Arizona will advance in the NCAA Tournament? Leave a comment below or send a tweet to @boettger_eli or @PacificTakes on Twitter.