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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

No. 6 Arizona prepares to take on No. 11 Wichita State in opening round of NCAA Tournament

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Tyler Baker

Kaleb Tarczewski attempts a dunk while engulfed in the Oregon defense in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinal in MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday, March 11. Arizona’s bid at back-to-back titles ended with an overtime loss.

It’s win or go home time for the No. 6 Arizona men’s basketball team as it prepares to face the No. 11 Wichita State Shockers in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island.

Led by head coach Gregg Marshall, the Shockers’ postseason began on Tuesday, when they defeated the Vanderbilt Commodores 70-50 in Dayton, Ohio.

Seniors Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet lead a squad that possesses a wealth of tournament experience. Both were freshmen (Baker a redshirt freshman) back in 2013, when Wichita State shocked the college basketball world and cruised to the Final Four.

That season included an upset win in the Round of 32 over then-No. 1 Gonzaga. The Shockers magical run was stopped short by the eventual national champion Louisville Cardinals.

“I’ve used Wichita State as an example of our team throughout the year because VanVleet and Baker remind me of Kaleb (Tarczewski) and (Gabe) York’s winning tradition, and the number of games those guys have been in,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said on Selection Sunday.

Baker is averaging 14.2 points a game. VanVleet averages around 12.1 points and 5.7 assists for the Shockers.

This season, defense has led Wichita State to success once again. The Shockers rank No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 59 points a game.

Against Vanderbilt, Baker and VanVleet each scored 14 for the Shockers, who as a team shot 37 percent from the field. While their shooting wasn’t great, the Shockers held Vanderbilt to 30.2 percent shooting from the field including a dismal 15.8 percent from three.

Wichita State’s success in the NCAA Tournament has gone farther than just one lucky season. It followed up the incredible season with an undefeated run in the 2013-2014 regular season, earning a No. 1 seed in that year’s tournament.

The Shockers were defeated 78-76 by a Kentucky team in the Round of 32 that eventually went on to play in the national championship game.

Last year, the Shockers made the Sweet 16, earning an upset victory over in-state big brother Kansas on the way.

The experience is there. But so is Arizona’s.

Over the past three seasons, the Wildcats have found themselves playing in the second weekend of the tournament. The past two years, Arizona’s road to the Final Four stopped in the Elite Eight at the hands of the Frank Kaminsky led Wisconsin Badgers.

“We don’t take it for granted and I congratulate our group and team,” Miller said. “We’ve had our obstacles and had some adversity strike us and the resiliency of this group, to me, really stands out.”

Seniors York and Tarczewski, both pivotal members of those deep running tournament teams, will have one last shot to bring head coach Sean Miller to his first Final Four.

York is averaging a career high in points per game with 15.2. Ryan Anderson, another senior playing in his first NCAA Tournament, averaged 15.5 points and Tarczewski averaged a career-high in rebounding with 9.3 a game.

The Shockers stout defense will clash with Arizona’s high powered offense. The Wildcats are 19th in total offensive scoring in the country, averaging about 81 points per game. The Wildcats also rank No. 7 in the country in rebound margin.

They average around 40 rebounds a game while allowing opponents to grab 31, giving Arizona an advantage on the boards.

Arizona was most recently ousted from the Pac-12 Conference Tournament after losing to Oregon in the semifinals last Friday. Arizona trailed by 15 at halftime against the Ducks before mounting a furious comeback to force overtime.

“If you look at our team, I think two things jump out,” Miller said. “If we’re playing excellent basketball, we have a future here in this tournament. And we’re certainly capable of not playing well and when we don’t we are very vulnerable.”

Arizona and Wichita State will tipoff around 9:20 eastern time and will be broadcasted on TNT.

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