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NCAA tournament team previews: Arizona Wildcats

Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell, Arizona WildcatsNick Johnson (left) and T.J. McConnell form one of the best backcourts in the nation. (Chris Williams/Icon SMI)

As part of its preview of the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team's national rank. For more teams, click here.

Record: 30-4, 15-3 in Pac-12

RPI/SOS: 2/4

Adjusted offense / Adjusted defense:  112.9 (36th) /  Adjusted defense: 87.1 (1st)

Seed: No. 1 in West

Impact player: Nick Johnson, junior guard. 16.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 32 games in double-figure scoring.

The Case For:

The Wildcats merge top-shelf talent with an asphyxiating defense, ranking No. 1 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency per kenpom.com. They have a steadying presence at the point in T.J. McConnell, an All-America joining him in the backcourt in Nick Johnson and a do-everything dervish in freshman Aaron Gordon. And there is mettle to spare: Arizona lost starter Brandon Ashley on the same night that it fell from the ranks of the unbeaten. After a predictable adjustment period, the Wildcats looked just like they did beforehand: One of the best teams, and arguably the best team, all year.

There are four double-figure scorers, indicative of a team not vulnerable to upset due to one cold shooting night, and four players with at least 20 blocks on the season as well. Opponents simply will not be accustomed to the way the Wildcats attack the ball in every sense, an adjustment few teams will be able to simulate on short notice. Indeed, Arizona has a top 10 rebounding margin nationally, averaging 8.5 more boards per game than opponents. Not only is there very little space to score, there are also very few opportunities with the Wildcats cleaning the glass that way.

Arizona jumped to a 21-0 start this year and held the No. 1 ranking for two months. Along the way, they beat Duke on a neutral court and Michigan in Ann Arbor. They reached the Sweet 16 last year and have the personnel and experience for a deeper run this season.

The Case Against:

Teams have to be pretty close to perfect in order to win an NCAA championship, and the loss of Ashley made a gargantuan back line smaller and removed another versatile defender from the lineup. That may come into play against high-level frontcourts if Arizona makes it to the Elite Eight or beyond. Because if teams can break even with the Wildcats in the paint, the track record suggests that they will have a chance to win at the end. In the Pac-12 tournament final, UCLA actually out rebounded Arizona 38-37 and matched the Wildcats' 28 points in the paint. In a regular-season closing loss at Oregon, the Wildcats outscored the Ducks by 12 in the paint but it was a dead heat in rebounding, 35-35. In a loss at Arizona State, Arizona pummeled the Sun Devils on the boards 54-36 but lost the points in the paint battle 28-26.

In sum, if the Wildcats' frontcourt can't push teams around, they become more vulnerable. And free throw shooting will be a major concern. Arizona shoots just 65.5 percent from the line as a team, ranking 310th in the country.

SI prediction: Beat Weber State in second round, beat Oklahoma State in third round, beat San Diego State in Sweet 16, beat Creighton in Elite 8, lose to Wichita State in Final Four

View complete bracket predictions from SI.com's panel of experts
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