Tonight (6:00PM on ESPN2) at McKale Center, the Arizona Wildcats kickoff their first NIT tournament game since decades before I was born. As a #1 seed, they will take on the #8 seeded Bucknell Bison (24-9), who were conference winners of the Patriot League. The Bison are 8 point underdogs in tonight’s game and rank 93rd in RPI.
What the Bison do well:
The Bison rank 48th in the nation in field goal percentage (46%) and shoot well from behind the line (77%) and behind the arc as well (39%). Much of this is thanks to 6’11” big man and NBA prospect Mike Muscala, who averages 17 points and 9 rebounds a game—oh, and he can shoot long range too (39%). With the trouble Arizona has had with big men all year, Expect Muscala to give the Cats headaches all night long.
Bucknell plays disciplined ball (gave up 53 less turnovers than Arizona this season) and tough man-to-man defense; in a lot of ways, Bucknell’s style of play is not that much different than Arizona, except for the fact that they have a very effective center. Expect Chol and Kryl to get some extra playing time tonight.
What the Bison lack:
They may be similar to Arizona, but being in the Patriot League, the Bison have not beat anybody worth mentioning and have lost soundly to those that are. Simply put, Arizona ‘s stats are lower because they have played tougher competition. Despite the fact that Bucknell has the big man, expect Arizona to outrebound Bucknell and bring the Bison’s shooting percentage down due to one of the tougher defenses that they’ve seen all year. Also anticipate that Bucknell’s man-to-man defense has trouble against a more talented group of athletes than what they are used to.
Absent a lapse—which Arizona has shown it is perfectly capable of—the Wildcats should not have a problem tonight, and will look much like they did this year against Washington State, allowing the big man to score frequently while suffocating everyone else.
The most dangerous team in Arizona’s Bracket:
If Arizona survives tonight, their next matchup against Oral Roberts or Nevada could be the end of it. Oral Roberts can shoot any team out of the gym (48%) and does so with 3 solid forwards, one of which averages over 20 points per contest—as we know, Arizona has had many problems against good forward play this year. Nevada plays solid basketball all around, with 2 good forwards, and beat Washington in the regular season.
Ole Miss is good, but I think we can take ‘em if we can survive the second round.
One other random tidbit:All three Pac-12 teams that played in the NIT last night (Washington, Stanford, Oregon) won their games handedly. It is time for Arizona to do the same.