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The Top 5 Reasons Arizona Could Win The 2015 NCAA Tournament

Arizona players celebrate winning the Pac-12.

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The Arizona Wildcats were one of the top teams in the country during the 2014-15 season, winning the PAC-12 regular season and conference tournament titles and finishing with an overall record of 31-3. The 'Cats had a strong case to be a No. 1 seed in this year's NCAA Tournament, but instead were slotted as a No.2 seed in the West region behind top seed Wisconsin.

Arizona captured its only national championship in 1997, but has had perhaps more near-misses than any major program since then. They fell to Duke in the 2001 title game and have been eliminated in the Elite Eight five times, including last season. The passionate U of A fan base is dying to see their team take the last step and raise the championship trophy.

This year, Arizona has arguably as good a chance as any team not named Kentucky to be crowned national champs. Let's take a look at the five reasons Arizona could run the table and win the 2015 NCAA Tournament. 

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5. Balance Is Key

The Wildcats aren't a one-trick pony. They don't have to solely rely on a prolific offense or a lockdown defense to win games, because they're strong on both ends of the court. 

Arizona is 20th in the country in scoring offense, 15th in scoring defense. They're sixth-nationally in field goal percentage (48.9 percent) but also hold opponents to 39.2 percent shooting from the floor, 26th-best in the country. In Ken Pomeroy's ratings, the Wildcats are third in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) and 11th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (points surrendered per 100 possessions). 

Arizona can win games in multiple ways because of how balanced a team it is. This will help in the upcoming tournament. 

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4. Offensive Efficiency

As mentioned above, the Wildcats shoot well from the floor (48.9 percent). The team is incredibly efficient. Center Kaleb Tarczewski leads the way, converting at a 58 percent clip, while forwards Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson both hit on more than 50 percent of their attempts and McConnell is a 49 percent shooter. 

Arizona doesn't rely on jacking three pointers, though McConnell, standout freshman Stanley Johnson and top bench players Gabe York and Elliott Pitts are all threats from beyond the arc. They don't waste many possessions and are capable of scoring from both inside and out.

On paper, U of A has the offensive makeup that can enable a long tourney run. 

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3. Size Matters

Arizona head coach Sean Miller employs a nine-man rotation. Of those nine players, six are 6-foot-5 or taller, including a pair of seven-footers in Tarczewski and Dusan Ristic.

The team's starting lineup features only one true guard in McConnell. He is joined by a trio of forwards (Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley) with Tarczewski at center. Johnson, RHJ and Ashley are tremendous athletes, and Tarczewski is one of the top true centers in the tournament. 

The Wildcats' size and length enables them to be strong on the defensive glass and adequate in defending the paint. It also ensures that they won't have glaring match-up problems against the likes of Wisconsin and Kentucky, two programs they may have to beat in order to win a championship. 

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2. On The Line

This season, Arizona spent more time on the free throw line than every team in American except for Auburn. The Wildcats attempted 874 free throws, making 611 for a percentage of 69.9, which ranks just 142nd in the country. 

Still, that's not an awful team percentage, and the fact the 'Cats get to the charity stripe as much as they do is overwhelmingly positive. Their wings and bigs can attack the rim --Johnson, Hollis-Jefferson, Tarczewski and Ashley have each attempted 130 or more foul shots. This could help them test their opponent's depth by getting key players in foul trouble.

Also, McConnell and sixth man Gabe York shoot 79 and 80 percent from the line respectively, which will help when they have the ball in their hands in crunch time.

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1. They're Due

This sounds overly simplistic, but hear us out. As stated at the beginning of this post, since they won in 1997, Arizona might have the most close calls of any team in the country.

Last year, the Wildcats made the Elite Eight, but could have gotten even further if Brandon Ashley didn't suffer a season-ending injury. In 2011, they ran into the UConn buzz saw. In 2005, they lost to the eventual national runner-up Illinois in a regional final, and no Arizona fan needs to be reminded just how that loss went down. 

This year, they have a veteran floor general in McConnell, a future NBA lottery pick in Johnson, a top notch "glue guy" in Hollis-Jefferson, a healthy Ashley and a legitimate post presence in Tarczewski. They have a solid bench, led by York, and a proven head coach in Sean Miller. They have the motivation to get over the hump, especially if they end up in a rematch of last year's Elite Eight with Wisconsin.

All in all, the Wildcats can unquestionably cut down the nets in Indianapolis. Their quest starts Thursday afternoon in Portland against 15th-seeded Texas Southern.

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