4:20 p.m. MST
The Arizona Wildcats are a six seed facing a No. 11 seed Belmont Bruins squad led by Rick Byrd, who routinely gets to the NCAA tournament and is waiting for his first big win there. The teams meet in Salt Lake City at EnergySolutions Arena, home of the Utah Jazz. The winner faces the victor of New Mexico and Harvard on Saturday.
This Arizona team is different than many of the past. Nobody knows their identity, but it's safe to say they'll need to be a defensive-minded team to go deep in the tournament. They have the talent, but if they'll find themselves Thursday and beyond remains to be seen.
The Wildcat to watch
Though Arizona lost in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament, there's no doubt it has been playing better basketball of late. While this version of Arizona clearly needs all its rotation players to contribute -- down to Jordin Mayes -- it is Nick Johnson who sets the defensive tone for the Wildcats.
Johnson will have one of his toughest defensive assignments of the year, but it's also important that he get involved early on in the offense. It happened in the Pac-12 tournament, and it needs to continue for Arizona to be successful.
The Bruin to watch
Ian Clark. The shooting guard is a drop-dead shooter who scores 18 per game hits 46 percent of his three-pointers. The matchup between Clark and Johnson will be interesting, as Clark is also a lockdown defender and the Defensive Player of the Year in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Why Belmont will win
Obviously, this goes back to three-point defense and spreading the floor. Arizona's tendency to go big could hurt them against a quick and Belmont team that is filled with gunners. And considering their center, Trevor Noack, is more like a stretch power forward (he shoots 41.5 percent from three), even Kaleb Tarczewski will need to run shooters off the three-point line. The Wildcats have proven in their losses that three-point defense is an issue, and that's why this is seemingly everyone's upset choice.
Why Arizona will win
While everyone talks of the three-point issues, Ken Pomeroy wrote this very important piece (at least, to make Wildcat fans feel a little better) regarding three-point attempt percentage. As in, how much of the offense consists of three-point attempts? You must consider that before considering three-point shooting percentages, and Pomeroy writes the following:
But yeah, the evidence is pretty strong the Arizona can have much more control over how many three's Belmont takes than what percentage the Bruins will make and that message isn't getting out to enough people. Arizona didn't guard the three-point line well early in the season and tended to get burned (though their record didn't reflect it). It's hard to tell if they've improved in this area because the Pac-12 is one of the least three-happy conferences in the country, ranking 30th among 32 conferences in 3PA%. And that's propped up by Arizona's own desire to take more three's than most teams.
Even if people still want to buy that Arizona's poor defensive 3P% is because of some inadequacy of their players, at least acknowledge 3PA% as a statistic that adds tremendous insight into the match-up. Belmont takes 40 percent (41st highest nationally) of their shots from 3 and makes a lot them. Arizona allows 30 percent of opponents shot from 3 (81st lowest).
Oh, and the Wildcats also have a major size advantage. None of Belmont's major rotation players are above 6-foot-7, and you already know about the Wildcats' size up front. That said, the three-point defense has been helped by Miller tossing Kevin Parrom in the starting lineup to play more smallball.
The phrase to know
"All-Airport Team" -- used to distinguish a college basketball team that looks like an NBA basketball team when it walks through the airport but will flop against mediocre competition. Doug Gottlieb will in all likelihood drop this at least once.
What's Sean Miller saying?
We'll touch on it one more time...
For a while toward the end of the season, the talk went away from Mark Lyons' play because people began to accept what he is ... but let's hit it one more time. No, hardly anyone expects him to become a true floor general. And it's too late for that anyway. That said, Belmont should be very worried about Lyons. Going back to Pomeroy's breakdown, the point guard should be able to get some open looks from three, and while he's shot very poorly in the second half of the season, he could get hot.
More importantly, he has shown flashes of focus in getting to the rim in recent weeks, and unlike most games -- when he is swatted out of the lane -- the Bruins will need to prove their lack of size doesn't inhibit their interior defense should the speedy guard get to the cup.
Spero Dedes and Doug Gottlieb. Yes, the same Doug Gottlieb who picked Arizona to win it all in the preseason but was calling for an upset after the brackets came out.