Arizona Basketball

Surprise! Arizona’s Road to the Final Four is Through … Idaho

So, you were thinking Arizona was going to be a No. 4 seed in San Diego?

Well, you were half right when it comes to Sean Miller & Company. Arizona was given a No. 4 seed but will be shipped to Boise, Idaho to face Buffalo.

And before you say Arizona wasn’t given any favors, remember that nothing has ever been easy in the NCAA tournament when it comes to Arizona. Heck, 1997 wasn’t easy and nothing before or after has stayed true to form.

My one shock, however, was Arizona not going to San Diego with a chance at Los Angeles.

Instead, Arizona will have to conquer the South to get to San Antonio, the site of the Final Four.

Plenty of plans have been changed as UA will head north where it is projected to be rainy, cloudy and cold. Fortunately for Arizona that’s outside the arena, although UA won’t have an easy road with Buffalo, possibly Kentucky or Virginia in later rounds … if Arizona is fortunate to get through the bracket.

The move to Idaho clearly wasn’t a good one for many UA fans that travel well to southern California and have plenty of alumni.

NCAA Tournament Selection Committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen said Arizona was the last No. 4 seed “so they had to go where the slot was left and that’s why they ended up where they ended up.”

Translation: Arizona was closer to a No. 5 seed than a No. 3 seed. Ouch! And for a team some – many? – think has the best starting five in the country (more later on that).

Sean Miller was not made available to speak to media to speak about his initial thoughts about the bracket, but will talk on Monday.

Still, plenty of people outside chimed in.

And, as usual, Charles Barkley, an Arizona resident, picked UA to get to the Final Four for the eighth consecutive year but also reminded everyone he’s biased and he’s been wrong the last seven times. He did add, however, Deandre Ayton is the best player in college basketball.

So, there’s that.

And this: ESPN’s Jay Williams said he’s picking Arizona to win it all because Arizona is playing with a chip on its shoulder and will get it done.

And this from CBSSportsline.com:

“What team will bring more curiosity than this one? It’s been a controversial season for the Wildcats. At one point, Sean Miller wasn’t expected to coach this team ever again, and Deandre Ayton (illegal payment allegations) and Allonzo Trier (failed drug test) were up in the air about their eligibility. Yet all are in action. And they’re angry. This is where I remind you Sean Miller’s never made a Final Four.”

And now back to Arizona’s starting lineup. I’ll say this: Arizona is clearly capable of getting to the Final Four with the talent it has. Ayton should win the national player of the year. Dusan Ristic is playing his best basketball ever. And, if you didn’t come away being impressed with Parker Jackson-Cartwright after the last three games, you weren’t watching closely. He was fantastic.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright: “Nobody is giving us anything, or giving us the credit we think we deserve. We just have to keep grinding.” (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

But, Arizona needs better performances from Allonzo Trier, who continues to slump (or not play as well) from the perimeter. He went 5 for 19 in the last two games and was a non-factor in the two big wins. And then there’s the curious play of Rawle Alkins, who outside of a tremendous dunk that sparked his team on Saturday, hasn’t played consistently or well at all for most of the season. Maybe he’s still trying to get acclimated from his early-season foot injury.

Arizona’s thin bench has had to fill in – bravo to Keanu Pinder and Dylan Smith – but if Arizona is to go deep into the tournament everyone will have to play well together. Arizona hasn’t done that for a complete game yet, although it played as well as it could play in the second half of its 75-61 win over Southern California.

So, there’s hope.

Arizona lauded its defense in making things work. That area is improving, but still needs to get better given the quality of teams that loom in the next week or two. After all, it’s March when it all matters and the time of year when teams are measured no matter what has happened from November to February.

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