The No. 6 ranked Arizona men’s basketball team will play host to Fairleigh Dickinson (Northeast), Metro State (RMAC) and Rhode Island (Atlantic 10) in the West Regional section of the 29th annual NIT Preseason Tip-Off, tonight and Tuesday night in McKale Center.
While this year’s appearance in the Tip-Off represents the seventh for the Wildcats in program history, it marks only the second for both Fairleigh Dickinson and Rhode Island.
Also, Metro State is only the second Division II team to play in the NIT Preseason Tip-Off. Stillman College, this season, is the third and Alabama-Huntsville was the first, in 2012.
The NIT Preseason Tip-Off is one of the most prestigious and well-known preseason tournaments in college basketball. It features first and second round double-headers that will be played today and Tuesday at the campuses of the four highest-seeded teams: Arizona (Pac-12 Conference), Duke (ACC), Alabama (SEC), and Rutgers (American Athletic).
If Arizona defeats Fairleigh Dickinson today at 9 p.m., it will face the winner of Metro State and Rhode Island on Tuesday, also at 9 p.m.If the Wildcats win both contests, they will travel to New York’s historic Madison Square Garden and participate in the semifinals on Nov. 27.
Arizona has won the NIT Tip-Off three times in 1990, 1995 and 1999 and was runner-up in 2004’s contest. The consolation and championship games will occur on Nov. 29 with third and fourth-round double-headers taking place Nov. 25 and 26 on the campuses of the three highest remaining seeds. While the Wildcats possess an 18-3 overall record in the Tip-Off, in their most recent tournament appearance in 2008, they were unable to reach the semifinals for the first time since 1986.
No. 1 seed Arizona could face No. 2 seed Duke in the championship game. The UA is 4-4 all time against the Blue Devils, including a win by Duke in the 2001 NCAA championship game and a win by Arizona in the 2011 Sweet Sixteen.
An Arizona/Duke match-up could also pit UA’s Aaron Gordon and Blue Devil Jabari Parker against one another — two of the most hyped freshmen in the country.
Junior transfer T.J. McConnell represents the Wildcats’ first pass-first point guard in years and can orchestrate a dangerous and effective offensive attack during this week’s games. McConnell has thus far played a completely unselfish style of basketball and accounted for 20 of the team’s 47 total assists this season. He has also added eight rebounds, two steals and 15 points over 92 minutes played.
Junior guard Nick Johnson represents Arizona’s vocal leader and is fresh off a 23-point performance against SDSU. Johnson leads the team with an average of 16.0 points per game and a free-throw shot percentage of 83.3 percent.
Sophomores Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski have shown great improvement since their freshman seasons and combined, account for more than 32 percent of the team’s total rebounds this year. Ashley leads all starters with a field goal percentage of 72.2 percent and has averaged 11.0 points and 7.3 rebounds to accompany three blocks and two assists overall. Tarczewski has averaged 8.7 points per game, but his 5.3 rebounds ranks last among the team’s starting big men.
Highly touted freshmen Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are expected to continue to shine after early success during their first collegiate appearances. Gordon amassed double-doubles in his first two home starts and has put up a 58.1 field goal percentage, averaging 14.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in his first 89 minutes of action.
Since arriving at Arizona, Hollis-Jefferson has shown relentless hustle and that he is not afraid to dive down on the floor to recover a loose ball. He has contributed with a team leading four steals over his first three games and is averaging 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds in addition to five assists and two blocks.
The tournament will be carried on the ESPN networks, and the events will be televised on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3. Arizona’s game against Fairleigh Dickinson and the west regional championship game will be on ESPNU.
— Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17