Arizona fan or not, you're overlooking Drexel. Basketball fiends and Duke Blue Devils fans are likewise wishing Coach K's squad advances past Alabama to cement the 2013 NIT Season Tip-Off Final matchup the tournament was set up to feature.
Standing in the Wildcats' way in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday are the Dragons, maybe the most likely team to bring down the obvious plan -- after all, Fairleigh Dickinson and Division II representative Metro State were two NIT teams -- of Arizona meeting Duke in the final game in Madison Square Garden.
And Arizona should be worried about Drexel. Their short resume this season already speaks for itself.
Scouting the Dragons
The 3-1 Dragons lost by five points to current No. 19 UCLA in Pauley Pavilion to open the season. Their competitiveness against a Bruins frontline of Kyle Anderson, David Wear and center Tony Parker was another example of a small and speedy college team beating lumbering NBA-sized frontlines to the ball. The Dragons out-rebounded the Bruins by just one but won the offensive glass.
The Wildcats have seen that plenty of times, and it's perhaps their greatest weakness.
Another worry for Sean Miller: three-point defense. The Dragons dropped Rutgers in their last NIT game 70-59 and hit 8-of-17 three-point attempts. Drexel can shoot it well enough to make Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and especially freshman Aaron Gordon extend their defenses to the perimeter, but that might only be a big issue if the UA bigs are forced to switch. That's because Drexel does generally play two big men as part of a very short six- or seven-man rotation, so the emphasis at defending the three at the small forward position -- AKA Gordon -- is the biggest worry with the Dragons running out three guards capable of bombing away.
Kazembe Abif, a 6-foot-7, 210 pound forward, and Dartaye Ruffin, who is 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, both average nearly nine rebounds a game and could make it even in the paint. The good news for the Wildcats is that neither are major offensive threats -- Abif and Ruffin have combined for 34 shot attempts in four games despite both playing the most minutes other than guard Frantz Massenat.
Senior guard Chris Fouch, a New York native who knows former Wildcat Kevin Parrom and current coach Book Richardson, is leading Drexel at 17.3 points per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range. Meanwhile, Massenat is dolling out 5.5 assists per game and is shooting 38 percent from deep.
Guards Damion Lee and Tavon Allen could be the biggest mismatches for the Wildcats. The shooting guards stand 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-7, respectively, and are both double-digit scorers. Wednesday could call for quite a bit of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who has been arguably the most consistent player for Arizona in the last few games outside of T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson.
Again, the Wildcats' depth isn't what it has been, but as usual, the ball-pressure defense and height in the paint will wear on Drexel. By the end of the game, if it's close, Arizona would hope that's enough to force enough misses to advance to the finals of the tournament.
The other bracket
Duke cut in to its NIT tournament run to play Vermont on Sunday, and it nearly came crashing down on the Blue Devils. Coach K's team needed Rodney Hood to hit a late free throw for the Blue Devils to escape at home against a 1-5 Vermont team.
But you also wonder if that is way to keep the gears well-oiled as Arizona, for example, took more than a week off in between games.
Previously, Duke defeated Eastern Carolina 83-74 to advance to the NIT event in Madison Square Garden. After the Drexel-Arizona game, the Blue Devils face an Alabama team that previously cruised past Georgia State. At this point, the results of that side of the bracket could be in question as much or more than Arizona's.
5 p.m. MST
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