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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

UA should be dancing in March

The Wildcats might want to head over Cactus Moon and start working on their two-step, because it looks like Arizona will be dancing in March.

With a sweep of the L.A. schools in McKale Center this past weekend, the men’s basketball team rounded out its NCAA Tournament resume, all but locking up a bid to the Big Dance.

In a season that once looked like a transition year for a young Arizona team, the Wildcats — barring a loss to ASU or a poor showing in the Pac-12 Tournament — now have all of the makings of a tournament squad.

Their RPI doesn’t jump off the page and their non-conference wins aren’t anything to write home about, but the Wildcats are playing tournament-worthy basketball and peaking at the ideal time.

UA head coach Sean Miller said at the beginning of the season that this is a team that should be judged as a finished product, not the team thrown into the fire early in the year.

Miller knew his long season full of change would take time, with the development of three freshmen, learning how to play without Derrick Williams and adjusting to a 6-foot-7 center.

“We’ve been on this climb,” he said after UA defeated UCLA on Saturday.

Arizona has finally reached the summit.

Aside from Washington, Arizona is now the hottest team in the Pac-12. The Wildcats have won eight of their last 10 games, defeating every opponent but Washington in that span.

The final product Miller threw out into McKale Center on Saturday is an NCAA Tournament caliber team.

It’s easy to look at Arizona’s list of accomplishments and think NIT. The UA is 0-2 against the RPI top 25, 1-3 against the RPI top 50 and 4-8 against the RPI top 100.

But while those numbers don’t favor the Wildcats, it’s important to look deeper in those games and consider the circumstances.

When Arizona lost to San Diego State by four points at home on Nov. 23, Kyryl Natyazhko was the starting center and Jordin Mayes started at point guard.

When the UA nearly knocked off Florida in overtime in Gainesville, Fla., Josiah Turner sat in Tucson serving a one-game suspension and Nick Johnson played his first college game at point guard.

Arizona couldn’t hang with Gonzaga or Mississippi State, but both teams are legitimate NCAA Tournament squads. Plus, Natyazhko started against Mississippi State, played 20 minutes against Gonzaga and Turner was still coming off the bench in both games.

Arizona is a different team now, and the fact that the Wildcats played such respectable teams so close on the road with those lineups says a lot about how deserving the Wildcats are of a tournament berth.

The fact that three of Arizona’s five conference losses came by a combined five points makes Arizona’s resume look that much better.

The Wildcats are also the only team of the top four squads in the Pac-12 with a win against an RPI top 50 school. Arizona’s racked up wins against Cal, New Mexico State, Valparaiso, Colorado, Duquesne, St. John’s, and Clemson – four of which are RPI top 100 teams.

Midway through the season it looked like Arizona would miss the tournament for the second time in three years. Wildcat fans would have to chalk the season up as a transition year, hold off from circling Arizona in their brackets and look forward to the arrival of Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett, Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York next year.

But Miller has Arizona on the rise just in time to impress the selection committee. After dodging their only potential bullet in UCLA on Saturday and most likely locking up a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament, the Wildcats are primed to slide into the NCAA Tournament.

Thanks to its guard play, suffocating defense and 3-point shooting, Arizona might just end up being that 12-5 upset worth picking.

— Mike Schmitz is a marketing senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatHoops .

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