The University of Arizona (1 Seed West Bracket)
Record: 30-4 (15-3 in Pac 12)
Coach: Sean Miller
Tournament Berth: At Large Bid
Big Wins: Duke, Michigan, UCLA
Big Losses: UCLA, Arizona State
This is an elite team that plays defense about as well anyone in the country and with a little luck, Arizona could easily be the team that cuts down the nets and walks away with the championship. They have all the attributes a title contender usually needs. Aside from a stout defense they get great guard play and are a very athletic team with one of the elite freshman in the country in Aaron Gordon. They dominated the Pac 12 this season, winning the regular season easily and would have won the conference tournament if they could make a free throw. Arizona is also capable behind the three-point line and have the kind of veteran leadership a championship team possesses.
C – Kaleb Tarczewski
F – Aaron Gordon
F – Brandon Ashley
G – Nick Johnson
G – TJ McConnell
Who’s Hot: Arizona’s defense. The Wildcats can go far on defense alone as their recent tour of the Pac 12 tournament showed. Colorado Head Coach Tad Boyle said Arizona plays the best defense in the country and he saw it first hand as the Wildcats bounced the Buffaloes and Utah from the tournament on defense alone. They smothered both opponents in to submission before running in to a UCLA team that made 80 percent of their free throws and picked up 20 points from the charity stripe. Arizona in the meantime got just six points from the free throw line while shooting 38 percent. A scary thought to consider for opponents of Arizona is Gabe York getting more playing time. Wildcat head coach Sean Miller conceded that UCLA had exploited TJ McConnell on the defensive end and that York may start ahead of him going in to the tournament. A great defense may be getting better.
Who’s Not: The Wildcats from the free throw line. This could turn out to be their Achilles heel if they do not shoot better from the free throw line during the tournament. Their performance against UCLA was atrocious in the Pac 12 Championship game and it cost them as they scored 15 fewer points from the line than the Bruins did. That is a huge obstacle for any team and in end it cost the Wildcats the game. It will cost them again soon if they do not get it fixed.
Outlook: Miller’s team is also battle tested. They played and defeated Duke, Michigan and San Diego State this season in addition to the tough Pac 12 conference schedule they played. The Blue Devils and Wolverines are both top 10 teams and the Aztecs have flirted with the top 10 all year as well. Lack of competition will not be a factor for the Wildcats. They are one of several teams that have a legitimate shot to win the tournament.
Commentary by Mick Varner