It was one-and-done for the sixth-seeded Arizona Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament, as they lost 65-55 to the 11th-seeded Wichita State Shockers in the First Round. The final score isn't indicative of how of the game went, as the game was already out of reach midway through the second half.
It wasn't an ideal ending, and here were three things we learned from what was Arizona's last game of the 2015-16 season:
Guard play did Arizona in
As it's been said all season, Arizona goes as its guards go, and they were completely outplayed against Wichita State. The Shockers' put an incredible amount of pressure on the ball, and Arizona's guards had major issues getting anything going against it.
The Wildcats scored 19 -- yes, 19 -- points in the first half.
The guards couldn't separate from Wichita State's relentless pressure, and they weren't able to get into the paint and breakdown the defense to create looks for themselves or others. To compound on that, they weren't able to feed the ball to Kaleb Tarczewski or Ryan Anderson down low where they had a noticeable size advantage on the Wichita State front court. Meanwhile, the turnovers piled up. Kadeem Allen had seven turnovers alone, Allonzo Trier had four, and the team as a whole had 19 turnovers to just seven assists.
"They deny and they pressure and they're very well-coached and gritty and tough," Sean Miller said of Wichita State's defense. "You feel it when you're out there. Their pressure is everywhere."
Miller was extremely impressed by the play of Wichita State point guard Fred VanVleet, who badly outplayed whoever he was matched up with.
"I told him after the game, please don't let anybody tell you you're not going to play in the NBA," Miller said of VanVleet. "We lived that last year with TJ McConnell. That guy will play in the NBA, and he'll be there for a long, long time. He's in total control of the game, and he's better on defense than he is on offense, and they have a 2 guard who's kind of the same in [Ron] Baker. And when you put those two guys out there together, considering the experience they have, it's not a good feeling playing against Wichita State. They're an excellent basketball team."
We knew coming into the game that the Shockers' back court was better and more experienced, but I'm not sure anyone thought their performances would be that one-sided.
But the fact of the matter is, Arizona didn't have a high-quality point guard on its roster this season. Kadeem Allen is more of a two-guard, and even though Parker Jackson-Cartwright is a true point guard, he's a fairly limited player on both ends of the floor. And when they were matched up against one of the nation's best backcourts, they faltered, and it ultimately resulted in Arizona's downfall.
The better team won
This wasn't your normal 6-11 game -- Wichita State is far better than a typical 11-seed. In fact, after the win, the Shockers are now ranked 8th in KenPom.com's team rankings, 12 spots ahead of Arizona. Wichita State was severely under-seeded and there's a reason why it was actually the favorite heading into the game.
"We lost to an excellent team," Miller said after the game. "The seeding in this tournament, you can almost throw [it] out. I think it's almost unfair to try to worry, is it a good seed or bad seed, because there are so many good teams. And Wichita State, I think, is good enough to win several more games in this tournament."
And given that Wichita State features the best defense in the country, according to several defensive metrics, and has a backcourt that is not only as talented as any, but also has a tremendous amount of NCAA Tournament experience, it's hard to argue against that.
So, sure, Arizona, a 6-seed, lost to an 11-seed, and that may seem like a bad loss on the surface, but in reality it wasn't. This wasn't a case where Arizona embarrassingly lost to a lesser team. Nope. The Shockers are the better team, were ranked as such, and simply outplayed Arizona when it mattered most.
It's fine if you're upset at how the Wildcats played, but the loss itself is nothing to be ashamed of. The better team won.
Was this season a disappointment?
An Arizona basketball season just ended in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, so it'd be easy to say that this season was indeed a disappointment.
"[But] you have to understand the culmination of so many different things that hit us this year," Sean Miller pointed out.
He's right. When you take into account all of the things that went wrong for Arizona, it's fair to argue that the team actually met -- or even exceeded -- expectations. After all, Arizona lost Ray Smith -- a forward that may have filled a huge hole on the wing for this team -- for the season due to a torn ACL, and Elliott Pitts, who would've provided much-needed perimeter defense and shooting, played just seven games. Meanwhile, Kaleb Tarczewski and Allonzo Trier, two of the team's best players, each missed a handful of games due to injury.
Yet, the Wildcats didn't come unglued even though they easily could've.
"I mean, we won 25 games," Miller said. "We had a lot of different things hit us, but I think the resiliency and the character of our senior group carried us to this point. And as much as I would like to say, hey, I wish we could have won 30, we might have ended up right where we should have been, and now it's up to us to grow from it, learn, and come back with a vengeance a year from now or whatever and be better."
When you look at the big picture, the Wildcats won 25 games and were able to get a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament despite having two key players out for the season, two starters miss time due to injury, only one decent perimeter defender, and weak point guard play.
With all those things considered, it's easy to argue that it wasn't a disappointing season even with the early ending. In actuality, you could even make a case that this team actually overachieved.
Regardless, the end goal for this program isn't a first round exit, and we can expect next season to yield better results.
"I think we leave here with our head held high," Miller said. "But it's up to us now to build on this and take the next step and come back and be even better a year from now."