The Wildcats were able to find themselves as a top seed in the NCAA tournament after failing to clinch the Pac-12 tournament crown, losing it to the now one seeded Oregon Ducks in an overtime battle that showed the world potentially just how difficult it is for this team to finish games. They made it to the dance however, and that is all you need to do in order to have a chance at the title. The crown this year has not been laid out as easily as years prior for Sean Miller and his team, as this South bracket may be the toughest one in recent memories. Certainly it has the chance to be the strongest in regards to team power among the four this year. Assuming there are no big surprises in the bracket, for the Wildcats to make it past the Elite Eight mark, this is going to be some of the potential hurdles they must face.
Wildcats Forced to Cram
While most of the academic world is preparing to go on spring break and enjoy the time in the sun away from classes, the players on the Wildcats will be forced into serious study sessions early on in the tournament. As of right now, it is unclear as to who Arizona will be playing against in the first round with the result of the play in game still yet to be determined. The 11 seed that remains open in the South bracket is between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Wichita State Shockers. Both teams have a serious case for their right to be in the tourney and only one will get the spot. Because it is a play-in game though it puts the Wildcats in a distinct disadvantage compared to other top seeds as they will only have one day to prepare a gameplan for their opponent while other teams will get the full three days to focus their practice around already known game film. Between the two the Wildcats will have a pick your poison kind of mentality as Vanderbilt is potentially one of the best offenses in the tournament right now. Wade Baldwin IV has lit up the stat sheet with his 14 points per game and 5 assists a game as well. Behind him however is center Damian Jones who scores 14 points as well and uses his seven-foot frame to earn his near 60% shooting percentage. Not to mention the man can rebound with the best of them as he gets nearly 6 a game and his partner in the paint Luke Kornet gathering 7 himself. With the Shockers though, you have a team that has that confidence in the knowledge that they know they can go far in the tournament. Just last year the team was a number 1 seed and are looking for revenge after losing to Kentucky in the round of 32. While the individuals on the team average the same numbers as Vanderbilt for the most part, it is the team defense that has dominated the games this team has played. They are number one in the country in points allowed with just over 59 points a game to the decimal. And that swagger of being a top seed just a year ago makes them a squad that has the confidence to step on the court with anyone and make them feel the pressure of the moment.
Top Seeds Need To Drop
Arizona has the unenviable task of going through the bracket at a spot that requires them to take out the 3, the 2 and the one seed in three straight weeks if they want to make it to the Final Four. Albeit most teams have to accomplish that feat as it is but this bracket has no flukes at those pole positions, making it a tough out for the team from Tucson. First in the three headed monster would be Miami, who more than likely earned their ticket at the three spot from their strong showing in the ACC tournament. They kept the game closer than some expected, but against the ACC player of the year in Malcolm Brogdon it was only a matter of time before Virginia finally put the nail in that coffin. Now they have to play Buffalo in a game many expect to win so long as Sheldon McClellan does his usual thing and drop at least 16 points as he has averaged all season. After Miami there is the stellar Villanova team that faces a lot of demons from years past as they once again showed up in the regular season and now they must find a way to get through to the later rounds of the tournament. It won’t be easy for them as they have an interesting matchup with UNC Asheville in the first round and then they get a buzz saw in either Iowa or Temple. Both of those teams could knock out Villanova early, Iowa specifically who was ranked in the top five just a month ago. Nova finds themselves in a no win situation nationally because if they win, there is no congratulations. They should win being ranked that high just as they were the last two years. If they lose, once again it is a case of they can’t get it done. With this team also still reeling after the Seton hall upset in the Big East tournament, the chink in the armor is there. And finally for Arizona to get into the Final Four they must beat Kansas. Normally considered the “Elite Eight Sweethearts” by myself, this might the year Kansas puts together a squad and a run that can get past that barrier and make it into the title conversation. Year in and year out the Jayhawks find a way to dominate the Big 12 and take home the conference title. Come March however, they just seem to run into a team that is a little bit bigger, badder and stronger than they are. With Perry Ellis still monitoring the middle in his storied career at Kansas and Devonte Parker shouldering the load throughout the Big 12 Tournament this Kansas team may just have what it takes to break that slump. While none of those top seeds did anything monstrous this year to turn heads, they all played steady and focused and avoided any serious bumps in the road. If they did, they recovered quickly in games that either weren’t or didn’t go their ways. Arizona will need one of those three to fall prey to the upset, and the other Wildcats are the most likely candidate with their journey. Iowa will be a tough out if they can get past Temple, and Nova just has too much history of failing to step up in the big moment. A journey that sees a 3, 7 and 1 seed is a lot better than getting all three top seeds in consecutive weeks if you are Sean Miller.
Wildcat fans have seemingly been saying this for years and at this point it may never happen. This March will be the last time members of Bear Down Nation will be able to ask “When will Tarczewski play like the seven-footer he can be?”. If you haven’t ever asked yourself that question during the senior’s career either you are lying to yourself or you just accept that he plays the way he plays. At seven feet Tarczewski should be able to muscle his way in to dominating numbers in rebounding and points, but plays a much more finesse game than power. This season he just barely missed the cut of averaging a double-double with only 9 points and 9 rebounds a game, meanwhile Ryan Anderson collected 15 points a game and 10 rebounds each contest. Anderson’s 99 offensive rebounds also trounces Tarczewski by 36 and there is just over 100 rebounds separating the two of them. Teams know that Anderson is a problem down low and it showed in the Pac-12 tournament that squads will use two players to box out Anderson and force Tarczewski to muscle his way in for a board. At points in the year many fans would rather see Dusan Ristic get more that his 16 minutes in a game and start rather than let Tarczewski either avoid being hit by over the back fouls or lay the ball up rather than dunking it hard home. Allonzo Trier, Gabe York and Kadeem Allen have all been impressive shooting the ball percentage wise and their three shots normally hit the mark, but the problem is that they seem to be forced into shooting the three point shot more often than they should because the play down low slows down to a crawl when Tarczewski is in the game. His inability to size up other centers and forwards with a dominate post game is a critical flaw in Arizona’s offense and his sometimes suspect footwork sets him up to have his shot blocked from behind from better athletes on help defense, which you could see from the highlight at the end of regulation against Oregon in the Pac-12 Semi-Final game. Tarczewski looked like he tripped on the way to the lay up and was blocked by the Oregon player only to have the ball land in the hands of Gabe York which led to a three ball. Tarczewski cannot be clumsy down low nor can he be lackadaisical in the rebounding game. This must be the time for him to show up as the true seven-footer that the fans in Tucson hoped he would be. Even though he is the winningest Wildcat in the program’s history, it won’t mean anything unless he brings the university and the fans that second title they’ve been looking for since the 1998 tournament.
The Wildcats’ first game will take place March 17th against either Vanderbilt or Wichita State at 6:20 PM Arizona time on TNT. It is time to go dancing folks, and we’ll just have to wait and see if Arizona gets to keep their dancing shoes on long enough to cut down some nets.