There are a lot of questions surrounding the Arizona Wildcats after a winless Rocky Mountain trip. That's why we're wondering what's going to happen when the NCAA Tournament field is set in less than two weeks.
We're here to figure that out, and wonder about Sean Miller's old school in this week's edition of the basketball roundtable:
Jason Bartel: Will Arizona's guard play be the reason this team loses in the NCAA Tournament?
Alec Sills-Trausch: 100%. Their on the ball defense is suspect, creating open shots for wing and post players as the drive. Also, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Gabe York, and Kadeem Allen are all wildly inconsistent. If they get hot, U of A can ride them, but if not, it could spell disaster in the first round. It's all about the matchups this year.
Gabe Encinas: Probably. Between Kaleb Tarczewski, Dusan Ristic and Ryan Anderson down low, there's really no reason why Arizona shouldn't dominate that area in the tournament, especially when teams don't have much time to prepare. Arizona's guards just aren't at the same level they used to be. Gabe York has always been the clear third guard in the rotation, now when Allonzo Trier isn't on the floor he's asked to be the best guard. PJC and Kadeem just aren't consistent like Alec said. I think it's more disappointing on Kadeem's part coming out of junior college as the nation's best scorer and having T.J. McConnell say he's the hardest guy he's ever covered.
Matt Sheeley: Yes. They've been consistently inconsistent. Turnovers. Bad shots. Lazy perimeter defense. These things only happen sometimes but they've made a giant difference in Arizona's seven losses. I don't want to blame EVERYTHING on the guards but here's an example: Arizona is an elite rebounding team. Yet a weakness has been giving up offensive boards to opposing teams. If you go back and watch, a ton of those offensive rebounds are long rebounds that end up in the opposing team's hands because the guards didn't box out.
This Arizona team isn't an elite basketball team. We know that. But with such a wide open college basketball landscape, anything is possible. However, if the guards can't play up to their usual talent level consistently, Arizona is doomed.
Brandon Hill: I think so as well. The front court is far more reliable than the backcourt. That's been the litmus test all year: when the perimeter guys play well, the Cats usually win and when they don't, wins are hard to come by. I'm a York fan but he can be maddeningly inconsistent and even a liability at times. As a senior, he should be more of a steady influence rather than a wild card game in and game out. The old adage is you win or lose with your guard play in March... and that rightfully should make Arizona fans nervous.
Ryan Kelapire: It has to be. The front court is the least of Arizona's problems right now (though it would be nice if Anderson played more consistent defense), and the guard-play has been good, at times, but is way too inconsistent. And the guards have been especially poor away from McKale Center, which, of course, is where the NCAA Tournament games will take place.
JB: What will Wildcat fans think if Xavier makes a Final Four before Arizona?
AST: I think it will cause people to shake their heads more than anything. They are two completely different teams and situations, but sure would be ironic. Most fans would get over it within a week.
GE: Well, Arizona hasn't been to a Final Four since 2001 and Sean Miller's best teams as of now are less than two years removed. Xavier also plays in the Big East and I'm trying to think of the last team out of that conference to make it to the Elite Eight. Probably Butler like four years ago?
MS: The people that dislike Sean Miller will make a big deal out of it, like, "oh he leaves and they make the Final Four but we can't get past Wisconsin!?" Disregarding the fact that he left seven years ago and those are the two best teams in Wisconsin program history. The people that love him will say, "What does that have to do with Arizona?" Fact of the matter is this is the third time during Miller's tenure that Xavier has a "better chance" at a Final Four than Arizona. The other two times were when Miller's Wildcats failed to make it to the NCAA Tournament. Those were admittedly "lesser" Arizona teams. The real issue here is -- Why isn't Arizona a Final Four level team this season? I, personally, don't believe the answer is Sean Miller, making Xavier's success purely coincidental.
BH: I don't know that there would be huge consternation. Yeah, there is a connection with Miller but after all these years I personally wouldn't find a significant direct link to the Arizona program in terms of, "Look, his old program is better off without him." Now, if Oregon or Utah made the FInal Four this season, I think then you would need to be more critical of the state of Wildcat basketball perhaps. He's made three Elite Eights and honestly any or all of those three could have easily resulted in a Final Four (or better) if not for a few plays here and there (especially the two aforementioned Wisconsin losses). He's a really good coach and he will get there.
RK: It shouldn't cause any sort of stir. Making a Final Four isn't always about having the most talented teams, but rather playing your best at the right time and squeaking away with close wins. And luck. Two years ago, the Wildcats were the best team in the country and lost Brandon Ashley for the season. Last season, they ran into Wisconsin and Sam Dekker went nuclear.
We know Miller is a good coach and the program is arguably as strong as it's ever been, so just be patient. Eventually things will fall into place and a Sean Miller-led Arizona team will make the Final Four.
JB: How far do you realistically see this team going in the Tournament?
AST: Probably win their opening game and then fall before the Sweet 16. A finish like that would be disappointing, but this team does not find it easy to put together a quality game each time they lace up their shoes -- making every game a question mark.
GE: It'll be interesting to see where they project and who they play, but I can't imagine this team reaching a Sweet 16. It wouldn't surprise me if Arizona gets bounced in the first round either. But, there is something to be said about Sean Miller getting his guys focused in March and we're continuing to doubt him right now just like we did in his recruiting class of 2016.
MS: This is very difficult to answer. This season is insanity. Everyone has suffered from inconsistencies. Arizona's draw will have a lot to do with it. This team losing in the first round wouldn't surprise me. But, as long as Arizona has made the tournament, they haven't fallen short of the Sweet Sixteen under Sean Miller. I'll say a Sweet Sixteen loss in the final seconds. It ain't March unless Arizona fans feel heartbreak.
BH: I would think most likely being bounced in the Round of 32. I think there's a natural tendency to perhaps think of the 1996-97 team which was pretty mediocre in the regular season (finishing 5th in the Pac-10), drew a four-seed, then won the national championship, getting hot at the perfect time. Is that possible with this team? I guess. When they're right they can be really good. But just as likely is a first round exit to cap a frustrating season that had much more promise, especially given the plethora of senior leaders.
RK: I think this team has the talent and potential to make the Elite Eight or Final Four, but I think it'll be eliminated in the Sweet Sixteen. In reality, the Wildcats are unpredictable. I honestly think that if they're clicking, they can beat anyone. But, at the same time, if they're having an off game, they can be beaten by anyone since their defense isn't spectacular.