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Arizona is back in the national championship conversation again. The Wildcats already have victories over UCLA, Tennessee, Indiana, Creighton, and San Diego State under their belt to build one of the strongest resumes in the country.
Five Wildcats are scoring in double figures for second-year head coach Tommy Lloyd to lead one of the best offensive attacks in America. A deep run in March will rely heavily on Arizona maintaining its scoring prowess.
Last National Championship: 1997
Last Final Four: 2001
2023 Title Odds: +1200 (as of March 4, 2023)
Why Arizona Will Make a Run
The Wildcats are No. 5 and 6 in adjusted offensive efficiency in T-Rank and KenPom, respectively, and possess some of the best scoring talent in the country. Azuolas Tubelis is the main man in that regard, leading the Pac-12 in scoring with 19.7 points per game. It doesn’t stop with him, though. Oumar Ballo, Courtney Ramey, Kerr Kriisa, and Pelle Larsson are also all averaging double-digit point totals each night. Arizona is second in the country in assists, a testament to their willingness to share the ball and get it done across the board.
Arizona is also one of the nation’s best on the defensive glass. The team ranks third in Division I in defensive rebounds per game (29.3), and Tubelis and Ballo are first and second in rebounds per outing in the Pac-12. It’s tough to generate second-chance opportunities against this team.
Why Arizona Will Exit Early
When Arizona does get a stop, it usually gets the rebound. But first, it has to get the stop.
The Wildcats are outside of the top 40 in adjusted defensive efficiency in T-Rank and KenPom. In four of the team’s five losses thus far this season, it’s allowed its opponent to score more than 80 points and overall allow 71.6 points per game. Arizona comes up in the middle in Division I in a lot of defensive statistics and could be in some trouble if it matches up with an offense that’s potent enough to keep up with its own scoring.
This isn’t to say Arizona is a bad defensive team, but you have to be nearly perfect to win a national championship. If there is to be something to get in the way of the Wildcats getting their second-ever national crown, it’ll be defense.
What It’ll Take to Win
In the Elite Eight loss to Houston in 2022, Tubelis and Kriisa combined for five points and 1-of-15 shooting from the field. Those terrible offensive performances spelled doom for the Wildcats, and they watched the Cougars celebrate a Final Four appearance at their expense.
This team is not the same as last year’s – there is a lot more on the shoulders of Tubelis and Kriisa, and both players have improved from a season ago. But as well as Arizona shares the ball and has plenty of offensive talent, if there’s a game where Tubelis and Kriisa repeat those stat lines, this team will be very vulnerable to elimination and failing to achieve its national championship dreams.