The NCAA Tournament bracket was released Sunday afternoon, and not long after that came the predictions. Many of which include Arizona not just making its first Final Four in 21 years but possibly claiming its first national title since 1997.
The team that was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12, with a first-time head coach and a talented, but unproven roster, is now one of the teams to beat. But if you think all this attention is in any way going to impact how Tommy Lloyd and his staff prepare for March Madness, you haven’t been paying much attention to the Wildcats.
“We’re in attack mode, that’s it,” Lloyd said Sunday afternoon, roughly 18 hours after cutting down a second net in as many weeks. “There’s nothing, what are we protecting? The Pac-12 regular season is done, the Pac-12 Tournament is done. We don’t start out on the scoreboard 8-0, or 12-0 because we won those. It’s 0-0, us against Wright State or Bryant.”
Arizona has the second-best odds to win the national title, per DraftKings Sportsbook, at +650, as well as to make the Final Four (+150). It figures to be favored in every game leading up to the Final Four, if not further, and might only be an underdog if it were to face Gonzaga in the national title game April 4 in New Orleans.
Lloyd, a self-described hater of hypotheticals, said if the Wildcats were to play his old school, the fact that would mean the top two overall seeds were playing for a championship would supersede any awkwardness about battling his mentor.
I’m sure we’d all take that right now,” he said.
For that to happen, though, requires Arizona and Gonzaga to both to win five games. The UA doesn’t even know who its first game will be against, since Bryant (22-9) and Wright State (21-13) play each other Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio in the First Four.
Not knowing the foe is nothing new for the Wildcats, who headed to Las Vegas last Tuesday uncertain if they’d be playing ASU or Stanford in the Pac-12 quarterfinals on Thursday. And just like then, that means there’s more time for working on themselves than the opponent.
“The nice thing sometimes is, rather than start game-planning for a specific opponent, maybe it gives us a day or two to focus on us, focus on Arizona basketball,” Lloyd said. “You handle it the same way you would have handled the Stanford/ASU situation. You kind of prepare for both teams. You even get a day in between so it won’t be anything crazy. We’ll divide up the scouts, get to work on them.”
Lloyd referred to Arizona’s pod in San Diego as a “5-team tournament” thanks to the First Four game. The other side of that bracket is No. 8 Seton Hall and No. 9 TCU, who play after the UA on Friday night, with the second round game (and a berth in the Sweet 16) set for Sunday.
“Once we’re in San Diego with four teams, we want to try to be the last team standing,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd said each member of his staff will be assigned a team to scout, though all coaches will be involved in putting together the game plans. Lloyd gets final say, as well as unofficial veto power.
“When you get (to) this time of year, it’s all hands on deck,” he said. “We will have lead scouts for each team, and have a support person, and then they’ll work with me throughout the week. And then I’ll do that myself too. I like watching stuff, I like figuring it out, I trust my eyes. I know the decisions I’m gonna ultimately be comfortable with, and then I bounce them off those guys, they bounce them off me and we make final decisions. It’ll definitely be a group effort.
“I have a certain way that I’m comfortable doing things, I’ve been doing it ... it was my first year as the head coach, but I’ve been in it for 22 years, this is my 23rd year. I have a way my mind works with it, and so I try to make sure that we’re kind of doing things that are going to work in my mind, but we work independently, too. We don’t ever sit and watch film together as a staff. That’s, to me, that’s a big waste of time because you just end up in all these pointless arguments and conversations, so we work individually, then we get together and collect our ideas and then hammer them out. And that’s just how I prefer to do it.”
Because it doesn’t play until Friday, Arizona gets an extra day of rest while teams such as Iowa, Memphis, Richmond and Tennessee—the No. 3 seed in the South Region—open the tourney Thursday after all playing in conference tournament finals Sunday.
“I think it’s huge,” Lloyd said. “It allows us to kind of push everything back this week. (Monday), to be honest, we probably won’t do much, and then we’ll ramp up a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday prep, kind of like you would do in a normal week.”
The extra day also gives Kerr Kriisa’s sprained right ankle an extra day to heal and get treatment.
“I think there’s a real chance he’ll play,” Lloyd said.