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NCAA Tournament: What to know about Arizona men’s basketball’s potential first-round opponents

Bryant guard Peter Kiss
Kris Craig/The Providence Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Arizona Wildcats will have to wait a few more days to find out their opening opponent of the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona earned the No. 1 seed in the South Region and will play the winner of Wright State versus Bryant, who square off Wednesday at 3:40 p.m. The victorious No. 16 seed will face the UA on Friday in San Diego.

Bryant punched its ticket by winning the Northeast Conference tournament, while Wright State won the Horizon League tourney. Bryant hails from Smithfield, R.I., while Wright State is located outside of Dayton, Ohio, which happens to be the host site for the First Four.

Here are three things to know about each team.


Senior guard Peter Kiss is the nation’s leading scorer, and he has a ton of swagger

Kiss, a fifth-year senior, leads the nation in points per game (25.1) and is coming off a 34-point outing in Bryant’s NEC tournament championship win over Wagner. He has scored 30 or more points in a game 10 (!) times this season and isn’t afraid to take eight or more 3-pointers on a given night.

At 6-foot-5 and 200 lbs., Kiss has the build of a high-major combo-guard. He averages 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game but also turns the ball over more than four times per game. Bryant’s offense runs almost entirely through his hands. According to KenPom, he accounts for 36.3 percent of the Bulldogs’ shots, the fifth-most of any player in the country.

And if there’s any player in the NCAA Tournament than can match Kerr Kriisa’s swagger pound-for-pound, it’s Kiss. Just watch:

Please, basketball gods, give us Kiss versus Kriisa.

The Bulldogs like to play real fast

Only two teams in the NCAA Tournament play at a faster tempo than Arizona: Gonzaga and Bryant. The tempo is reflected in the Bulldogs’ point totals: only once this season have they been held to under 60 points. They rank 26th nationally in shot attempts per game (61.9).

Bryant’s backcourt of Kiss, point guard Luis Hurtando and shooting guard Charles Pride will gladly play into Arizona’s preferred style of up-and-down basketball, but it might come at a price. Bryant averages nearly as many turnovers as assists. Bryant doesn’t play spectacular defense, either. The Bulldogs rank 218th in defensive efficiency. In their only game against a top-25 team this season, Houston, they lost 111-44 by way of committing 19 turnovers and shooting 27.4 percent while giving up 62 percent of shots to the Cougars. Pride and Kiss went a combined 5 of 26 in that game.

Size is an issue

Bryant employs a small lineup even by mid-major standards. Their small forward, Adam Eleeda, is only 6-5. Hall Elisias and Greg Calixte, both 6-8, split time at the five. Elisias is a top shot blocker, averaging three per game, more than Christian Koloko. As a team, however, Bryant has a block percentage of 12.7 percent, second-worst among all NCAA Tournament teams.

Pride at 6-4 is Bryant’s top rebounder with 8.6 boards per game, followed by Elisias (5.9). Bryant doesn’t have any front-court depth after Elisias and Calixte, so Arizona would like to get those two in foul trouble as early as possible. If Bryant is going to make it a game Friday, it’ll be because of its perimeter play and 3-point shooting, not because of any edge on the interior.

Wright State

The Raiders were tough to put away for much of the season

Wright State overcame a 16-point deficit to beat Northern Kentucky in the Horizon League title game, capped off by a game-winning 3-pointer from guard Trey Calvin. The comeback exemplified the Raiders’ resiliency all season. Wright State tends to play teams down to the wire in defeat, with eight of their 13 losses coming by single digits. Its last four losses were all by four or fewer points.

Only two teams thoroughly defeated Wright State this season and they’re both in the NCAA Tournament: Purdue beat the Bulldogs 96-52 and Akron topped them 66-48. In the loss to Purdue, Wright State allowed five Boilermakers to reach double figures in scoring. Purdue forced Wright State into 15 turnovers compared to eight assists and held the Raiders to 30.5 percent shooting.

They can score effectively

Wright State’s offense is balanced and efficient as far as mid-majors go. The Raiders are led by 6-6 junior wing Tanner Holden, who averages 19.8 points, 20th nationally. Grant Basile, a 6-9 junior forward, contributes 18.5 points and 8.6 rebounds, while 6-0 junior guard Calvin averages 14.3 points. The trio all shoot above 45% from the field. Calvin is a decent 3-point shooter, averaging 38.1 percent from deep on 147 attempts this season.

Wright State’s offensive efficiency is the highest among all 16 seeds. The Raiders are 53rd in the nation in 2-point shooting percentage and 27th in free throw percentage. They also do a good job of not committing many turnovers or conceding blocked shots. Because of the size of their top three scorers, the Raiders don't shoot a ton of 3-pointers. Their 3-point attempt rate ranks 296th in the country.

This isn’t a deep team

If there’s a glaring statistic from Wright State’s KenPom portfolio, it’s this one: the Raiders’ bench percentage minutes (17.3) ranks last among all NCAA Tournament teams and was third-to-last in the nation this season. Four of Wright State’s starting five players play in at least 80 percent of possessions. 6-6 Junior forward Tim Finke is 20th in the nation in percentage of minutes played (90.5).

If Arizona can force Wright State’s starting five of Finke, Holden, Calvin, Basile and 6-0 freshman shooting guard Keaton Norton into foul trouble, it could quickly turn into a long day for the Raiders.