2015 NCAA tournament team preview for the Arizona Wildcats

By Chris Johnson
March 16, 2015

As part of its preview of the 2015 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. All stats are through Monday, March 16..

Record: 31-3 (16-2 Pac-12)
RPI/SOS: 5/27
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 116.0 (11th)/86.4 (3rd)
Seed: No. 2 in West

Impact player: Stanley Johnson, freshman guard/forward: 14. 1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 45.0 FG%, 36.6 3-pt%, 72.9 FT%

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The Case For: Arizona is so good defensively that it can beat most opponents even if its offense stagnates. The Wildcats rank third nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency and are adept at keeping opponents off the offensive glass. Even though they lost two of their top individual defenders from last season in Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, both of whom went to the NBA, they short circuit opposing offenses by executing in their pack line system. Arizona excels at walling off drives to the rim, forcing low-percentage shots and preventing second-chance scoring opportunities. Small forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can guard multiple positions, point guard T.J. McConnell creates turnovers on the perimeter and Johnson is a strong on-ball defender. Arizona’s combination of defensive scheme, length and athleticism will trouble any opponent it faces. The Wildcats haven’t fared quite as well on the other end of the floor, but consider that they rank nine spots higher in kenpom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency than the team that won 33 games and reached the Elite Eight last season.

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The Case Against: It may seem crazy to question whether the team that ranked first in the Pac-12 in adjusted offensive efficiency during conference play will be able to score enough to make a deep tourney run. Yet because Arizona has so thoroughly clamped down on opponents, its offense sometimes looks mediocre by comparison. Only one of the Wildcats’ top four possession users (Stanley Johnson) made more than 35 percent of his three-point attempts during the regular season. As a team, Arizona ranked 108th in the nation in three-point shooting percentage. Accordingly, a very small percentage of the Wildcats’ offense is generated from beyond the arc, but their inability to connect from long range could hurt when they fall behind. Moreover, If Arizona runs into a hot shooting team, as it did when Arizona State went 7-of-15 from deep in a Feb. 7 upset of the Wildcats, will it be able to keep up? 

SI prediction: Beat Texas Southern in Round of 64, beat VCU in Round of 32, Beat Baylor in Sweet 16, Beat Wisconsin in Elite Eight, Lose to Kentucky in Final Four. 

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