The NCAA tournament bracket Salt Lake City pod of Arizona, Belmont, Harvard and New Mexico from A to Z:
A is for assists: The leading assist man among these four teams — New Mexico’s 6-4 guard Kendall Williams — is also incredibly the Lobos’ leading scorer. Williams has 166 assists, topping Harvard’s Siyani Chambers (161), and he leads New Mexico with 13.5 points a game.
B is for Bruins: Arizona has another chance to beat a Bruins team this year after losing three games to UCLA. It is the first time the UA will play a Bruins team other than UCLA. Belmont and Arizona have never met and the Nashville, Tenn., school is the only other Division I program with the nickname Bruins.
C is for Clark: Belmont 6-3 guard Ian Clark is the leading scorer in the pod with 18.1 points per game. He not only leads these teams but the nation shooting 46.3 percent from three-point range.
D is for defense: New Mexico leads the group, limiting opponents to 38.8 percent shooting from the field. Harvard is tops in three-point percentage defense at 32.5 but is the worst in overall field-goal defense (44 percent). Arizona rates last among the four teams in three-point shooting defense (36 percent) and third overall field-goal shooting (41.4 percent).
E is for EnergySolutions Arena: The Wildcats lost 87-65 to BYU and Jimmer Fredette there in 2010. Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler celebrated an NBA championship there, however, in 1998 with the Chicago Bulls when the arena was called the Delta Center.
F is for fine: Sean Miller’s $25,000 fine and public reprimand from the Pac-12 for his conduct with a referee and conference staffer at the conference tournament in Las Vegas came at the same time of year that Alford had trouble with the Mountain West three years ago. Alford was reprimanded by the Mountain West for yelling an expletive at BYU’s Jonathan Tavernari after a game at Provo in early March 2010.
G is for Grant: Arizona’s 6-10 freshman forward Grant Jerrett can become the tallest UA player to lead the Wildcats in three-point shooting in a season. He is shooting 40.8 percent (31 of 76) from beyond the arc. The next-best mark is Kevin Parrom’s 39.8 percent (39 of 98). Parrom is a 6-7 forward. Sean Elliott is the tallest at 6-8 to lead the UA in three-point shooting (43.7 percent in 1988-89).
H is for Harvard: In 2006, Harvard determined that any student (not just an athlete) of a family making less than $60,000 would be provided a free education, provided they academically qualify. Students from a family making between $60,000 and $180,000 would be responsible for no more than 10 percent of their income. The change has allowed coach Tommy Amaker to recruit players Harvard could not in years past.
I is for Ivy League: Harvard nor any other team in the Ivy League has won an NCAA men’s basketball championship. Neither has a team from the Ohio Valley Conference where Belmont plays or Mountain West which features New Mexico. UNLV, of the Mountain West, won the 1990 NCAA title as a member of the Big West.
J is for jump shot: Fitting that Belmont’s J.J. Mann inbounded the ball to senior guard Kerron Johnson, who nailed the game-winning “J” against Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship. Johnson dribbled upcourt with the Belmont fan section on its feet. He got free to nail the game-winning jumper in the lane with 1.2 seconds left in overtime. He also made a jumper with less than 10 seconds left in regulation that sent the game to overtime.
K is for Kirk: New Mexico redshirt sophomore forward Alex Kirk, who leads the Lobos with 7.9 rebounds per game, was a recruiting target for Miller out of Los Alamos (N.M.) High School. Kirk narrowed his decision to Arizona and New Mexico after strongly considering Cal, Maryland, Oregon State and Minnesota. “Coach Miller has a good situation over there and great players, but I had to stick with UNM,” Kirk told Scout.com on the night he committed to the Lobos in 2009.
L is for Lyons: UA senior point guard Mark Lyons is playing in his fourth consecutive NCAA tournament, the previous three with Xavier. In the Musketeers’ first-round games against Minnesota (2010), Marquette (2011) and Notre Dame (2013), Lyons has not roared from the start like he wanted. He has nearly as many turnovers (six) as field goals made (seven) in those games. He shot 7 of 22 (31.8 percent) from the field and 2 of 7 (28.6 percent) from three-point range in a total of 71 minutes in those three first-round games.
|SEAN MILLER VS. LOWER SEEDS
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M is for Miller: The UA coach is 6-0 against lower-seeded teams in the NCAA tournament with Xavier and Arizona. The Wildcats are seeded sixth and Belmont is the 11th seed. Miller is 3-5 against higher-seeded teams.
N is for Noack: Belmont senior forward Trevor Noack (6-7, 240) is the Bruins’ leading rebounder, averaging only 5.5 rebounds a game. A dominant rebounder, one who averages double digits in rebounding, is missing from this pod. Kirk leads the group with 7.9 a game, followed by Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski (6.1). Harvard forward Steve Mondou-Missi leads the Crimson with only 5.1 a game.
O is for Ohio Valley Conference: The league has the 16th-most bids in NCAA tournament history. Murray State has a conference-leading 15 appearances. The good news for Belmont and OVC — a team has advanced past the opening round in the last two seasons, Murray State last year as a No. 6 seed beat No. 11 Colorado State and No. 13 seed Morehead State upset No. 4 seed Louisville in 2011. The bad news — no team has advanced past the Sweet 16 and the last program to get that far was Austin Peay in 1973.
P is for point guards: Three coaches in the pod — Miller, Alford and Amaker — played point guard in college while the oldest of the group — Belmont’s Rick Byrd — served as a student assistant coach under former Tennessee coach Ray Mears. Alford played at Indiana from 1983-87, the same time Amaker played at Duke. Amaker’s final college game was an 88-82 loss to Alford and Hoosiers in the 1987 Midwest Regional semifinal (Indiana went on to win the national title a week and a half later). Miller, the youngest of the group, played at Pitt from 1987-92. Byrd, 59, graduated from Tennessee in 1976, when Miller was 7 years old.
Q is for quench: New Mexico hopes to quench its thirst for NCAA tournament success under Alford. The Lobos, despite a decent history with five conference titles in the last 20 years in the WAC and Mountain West, have yet to reach a Final Four. They have not advanced to the Sweet 16 since 1974, when Norm Ellenberger was the coach and they were a WAC rival of Arizona and ASU.
R is for runs: One of the staples of Lute Olson-coached Arizona teams was a devastating run that knocked out an opponent. Miller is looking for that element from his club. Arizona has featured only 13 notable runs this season — two in one game against Long Beach State — of which it outscored the opponent by 10 points or more in less than a 13-minute stretch of a game. The UA had only five sustained runs in Pac-12 play.
S is for scoring: Belmont is the most prolific scoring team of the group, averaging 77.2 points a game, which ranks 15th in the NCAA. Arizona is next at 73.3 points a game, followed by Harvard (68.9) and New Mexico (68.4). The Lobos limit opponents to only 60.4 points a game, 37th in the NCAA. The Wildcats are next holding opponents to 63.7 points a game, followed by Harvard (63.9) and Belmont (64).
T is for transfer: The only notable transfers are Lyons from Xavier and New Mexico featuring ASU transfer Demetrius Walker (ASU), a junior with the Lobos who will not travel to Salt Lake City because of an indefinite suspension levied by Alford. New Mexico also has former Kansas guard Merv Lindsay but he is sitting out this year after playing with the Jayhawks last season. Walker, a former Phoenix St. Mary’s standout, played in 23 games with one start as a freshman for the Sun Devils in 2009-10. He was suspended indefinitely toward the end of the regular season by Alford, who will not disclose the reason. Walker did not play in the Mountain West tournament last week.
U is for underdog: The odds of Harvard winning the NCAA title are at 500/1. Belmont is next at 300/1. Arizona’s odds are 66/1. New Mexico stands at 25/1. Belmont’s odds match Cincinnati and Oklahoma, schools from major conferences but have major obstacles in their way. Oklahoma has a potential matchup with Georgetown after its difficult opening-round game with San Diego State while Cincy may face Duke in the next round after opening with tough Creighton.
V is for victories: Byrd is one of 74 collegiate coaches from all levels (NAIA, Division II, Division I, etc.) to have more than 600 coaching victories. His 637 wins compiled at Maryville (Tenn.), Lincoln Memorial and Belmont ranks 57th. The 637 wins matches former Washington coach Marv Harshman and is two more than what Mike Montgomery has earned at Montana, Stanford and Cal. Byrd has coached at Belmont in the last 26 years.
W is for Wesley Saunders: Harvard’s leading scorer (16.5 points per game) is a 6-6 sophomore forward who hails from Los Angeles. Saunders, from Winward High School in L.A., took a recruiting visit to Colorado before accepting Amaker’s scholarship offer in 2010. San Diego State and USC also offered scholarships. Saunders was one of the top players for the traditionally strong AAU program, the Compton Magic. The Magic won 30 consecutive games in 2010 and featured the likes of Arizona’s Gabe York, ASU’s Jahii Carson and Baylor’s Isaiah Austin.
X is for X-Factor: For Arizona, the X-Factor is junior guard Jordin Mayes. If he’s involved, even if it means eight points in 11 minutes, that will mean the Wildcats are in good shape. His experience and potential shooting ability can alleviate the strain on Lyons and Nick Johnson offensively. Miller has also stated that Mayes is one of Arizona’s best perimeter defenders, so Mayes will be important in helping Johnson defend Clark. If Johnson can stay loose and confident with the help of Mayes and effective play of Lyons, Arizona will be hard to beat in the NCAA tournament.
Y is for youth: New Mexico does not have a senior among its top six scorers. If Williams, a junior, does not go to the NBA, the Lobos are a lock to become a No. 1-ranked team next season. Williams is not on the mock draft boards at NBADraft.net and DraftExpress.com. Tony Snell, another junior guard, had a hot hand in the Mountain West conference tournament and is a dangerous shooting talent.
Z is for Zeus: Tarczewski told me that he does not consider himself a freshman any longer after Arizona defeated Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals last week. It will be interesting to see how he applies his experience from the regular-season in the NCAA tournament. At 7-foot, “Zeus” will have a decided height advantage against Belmont. Look for the UA to make a concerted effort to get the ball inside to Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley. The key for him will be grabbing the passes in fluid motion and attacking the basket. If Tarczewski can finish plays strong, Arizona will finish off Belmont.
ARIZONA’S 20-10 CLUB
PLAYERS WHO RANK IN TOP 20 CAREER SCORING/TOP 10 CAREER REBOUNDING
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Solomon Hill is 17 points from No. 20 career scoring leader Joe Noels, who had 1,409 points from 1976-80. He is seven rebounds shy of No. 10 career rebounding leader Jordan Hill (no relation), who produced 763 from 2006-09.
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner