Analysis: Arizona Wildcats' road to Final Four is favorable
LAS VEGAS — The 2014 NCAA bracket is set and the road to Dallas is paved.
Arizona’s west coast path to the Final Four is the easiest of the No. 1 seeds. The Wildcats, however, will have challenges along the way that could trip them up. Starting with an unfamiliar Weber State in the second round on March 20.
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There’s no way Arizona won’t make it to at least the Elite 8. Its first game and all potential games before the Final Four are in Southern California and the highest seeded team that could potentially play the Wildcats before the Elite 8 is San Diego State, who they already beat on the road.
Pac-12 player of the year Nick Johnson is introduced prior to Arizona's game against Utah last week in Las Vegas. The Wildcats' road to the Final Four stays in the West, San Diego and then Anaheim, Calif.
So the real tournament doesn’t start for Arizona until late March when the Elite 8 begins. Where they could matchup against an inconsistent No. 2 seed Wisconsin or possibly a offensively efficient but much smaller No. 3 seeded Creighton.
(1) Arizona vs. (16) Weber State
When: Friday, 11:10 a.m. MST/PDT
Arizona should make the Final Four. They are the most talented school on defense. Plus they’re so physical most opponents can’t handle their size and constant pounding.
The only dangerous characteristic of this Wildcats team that is holding them back from being a lock to reach the Final Four is their offensive woes.
There aren’t too many schools that Arizona will score 75 or more points on. If defense honestly wins championships then the Wildcats should be fine. But what Saturday’s loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament championship game exposed is Arizona’s defense can only do so much against elite scorers such as the Bruins Anderson.
And when the Wildcats are giving up points on offense via turnovers and poor shot selections as they did on Saturday having that versatile scorer will give the opposition the advantage needed to beat the more talented Arizona team.
Thus if the Wildcats play Creighton, who has that elite versatile scorer in Doug McDermott, in the Elite 8 an upset is not out of the question. Especially, if Arizona’s offense is forcing shots, missing free throws and turning the ball over.
If the West Region’s No. 6 seed Baylor Bears get hot they’re a bracket buster team.
Though they struggled during the middle of the season, the once No. 7 ranked Baylor has size that most other teams can’t hang with. The Bears’ 6-foot-9 Cory Jefferson and 7-foot-1 Isaiah Austin is one of the most intimidating front lines in all of college basketball. Both Austin and Jefferson can also stretch the court with occasionally shooting 3-pointers.
Jefferson made 42 percent of his 3-point attempts. Austin made 28 percent, both attempted less than 75 3-pointers. And when one of them needs a rest, there is 6-foot-8 Rico Gathers waiting on the bench. Gathers is strictly a post player but averaged 11.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Player to watch
Creighton’s Doug McDermott is a first team All-American and heading into the tournament is a favorite to win the Naismith College Player of the Year.
McDermott can score from anywhere on the court and any way. McDermott averages 26.9 points and seven rebounds per game.
Going into the tournament the senior McDermott has scored 3,105 career points, which places him fifth on the all-time career-scoring list. Former LSU guard “Pistol” Pete Maravich scored 3,667 career points.
If Arizona does end up playing Creighton it would be in the Elite 8.
— Follow Luke Della @LukeDella