(6) Arizona vs. (11) Belmont
(6) Arizona Wildcats
Back in the tournament after a one-year hiatus are the Wildcats (25-7, 12-6), who have an intriguing blend of experienced seniors and talented freshmen. Seniors Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill are the leaders, with Lyons scoring just under 15 a game to go along with three assists while the versatile Hill contributes 13 points, five rebounds and nearly three assists. Kevin Parrom, who is also in his final year of eligibility, is a very solid role player as well. When underclassmen Nick Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerret are on top of their games, though, that’s when this Wildcats team is the scariest. This year, they’re scoring 73 a night while ranking as one of the better three-point shooting teams in the country. However, they don’t defend particularly well. The Wildcats were an impressive 2-0 against the RPI top 25 in the regular season, knocking off Miami and Florida in mid-December. Against teams with an RPI in the 26-50 range, though, they were just 3-4. The Wildcats’ future is really bright if their younger guys stick around, but they are definitely capable of making some serious noise in this year’s tournament if they can shoot the ball well enough to keep teams from packing it in against them inside.
(11) Belmont Bruins
Representing the Ohio Valley Conference and making their sixth NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006 is the Bruins (26-6, 14-2) after they won the regular season and conference tournament championship. This is a very experienced team with just one underclassman averaging more than 10 minutes. Their top three players – Ian Clark, Kerron Johnson and Trevor Noack – are seniors with the goal of getting the program their first tournament victory. The Bruins are a high-scoring team, putting up 77 a game on 49 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent from deep, where they average 8.5 a game. They’re aggressive on the defensive end as well, tallying 9.8 steals a game and allowing just 64 points a night. The Bruins have a top 20 RPI, but their strength of schedule was ranked 86th and they have four losses to teams outside of the top 100. Their best wins came against Middle Tennessee and South Dakota State. To make program history, they’re going to have to do a better job of rebounding the basketball than they did in the regular season and really be clicking on all cylinders on the defensive end.
HOOPSWORLD’s pick: Arizona. We’re gonna give the Wildcats the nod to slow down the Bruins and their high powered offense.