The play-in games are in the books. Starting today, the real fun begins. Coaches have prepped their teams to the best of their ability in hopes that a national title within arm’s reach.
The four number one seeds are Florida, Arizona, Virginia and Wichita State. Upsets are inevitable, higher-ranked teams will fall to underdogs trying to make a name for themselves.
In the West Region, the Arizona Wildcats are the number one seed and have a date with the Weber State University. Arizona’s first game should not give them too many problems. But a possible second round matchup with the Oklahoma State Cowboys raises some eyebrows around the college basketball community.
Do not worry Arizona fans; the Wildcats are primed and ready to make a run to the final four.
Sean Miller’s record in the NCAA Tournament currently stands at 11-6. He best finishes came in 2008 with Xavier, and in 2011 with Arizona.
When Brandon Ashley went down with injury, many were concerned about his rotations going forward. Sean Miller found a way to make the best use of his depth, and keep the Wildcats in contention all season.
Here is his lineup heading into the tournament:
PG: T.J. McConnell
SG: Nick Johnson
SF: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
PF: Aaron Gordon
C: Kaleb Tarczewski
Key reserves: Gabe York and Elliott Pitts
These seven players plan to honor Brandon Ashley with their play and return to Arizona’s first Final Four since 2001. Some might ask how they can stay afloat in a sea of upsets with Brandon Ashley missing the tournament.
Here is why: Arizona’s defense and athletic ability makes them a nightmare for any team on any given night. Scoring against Sean Miller’s club is no easy task. McConnell, Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson and Gordon are all defensive gold. Aside from McConnell and Tarczewski, Arizona has athletic prowess on the defensive side. They use this to their advantage – giving up 58.1 points per game – the fourth best rating in the country. On offense, they are just as lethal. Every player in their 7-man rotation is capable of posting big numbers at a moment’s notice.
With every scenario, it is important to examine every possible outcome. Granted, it is possible that Arizona is upset and their road to the National Championship is cut short. The main issue with this team is that they are missing their best all-around player in Brandon Ashley. After it was announced that he would miss the remainder of the season; experts predicted the Wildcats to fall to a third or fourth seed, but they regrouped and stayed the course. Arizona is 9-4 since Ashley’s injury, and this further proves how good Arizona is if a 9-4 record in their last 13 games is alarming. If a clear-cut reason as to why Arizona would lose a game in March is need, it would be their below average free throw shooting. Arizona’s 65.5 percent free throw clip is one of the worst among teams in the tournament.
Keep a close eye on Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson. Gordon struggled to fill Ashley’s void in the beginning, but he has found his confidence. Gordon played great in the Pac-12 tournament, and it is expected for him to continue his play. Nick Johnson has been Arizona’s constant all season. He posts the big numbers and gathers the team when the offense is stagnant.
The most vital piece of Arizona’s success is T.J. McConnell. He is Sean Miller’s first pure point guard, and he is the reason the offense has an exceptional amount of fluidity. His production Is key.
There are currently four working parts in the machine that is Arizona basketball, but their center is struggling as of late. Kaleb Tarczewski’s production has plummeted. Earlier in the season, Sean Miller said that if his team wanted to become great, they would need to rebound like men. Tarczewski has not had a double-digit rebounding game in the past five contests. His defensive effort is also down; in that same span of five games, he has not blocked a single shot. Combine that with 13 turnovers, and we have a slight cause for concern.
Overall, Miller’s time is now. He deserves to make a Final Four and play in a national title game. It is fair to assume that he will – one day – reach his goal, but it is best to strike while the iron is hot.