When: Thursday, 4:20 (Arizona Time)
Line: Arizona -4.5
Sixth seed Arizona (25-7) will face off against the #11 seed Belmont Bruins (26-6) today in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for a chance to advance to round two and most likely play #3 New Mexico. To prevent what many east coast homers are calling a first round upset, here are some keys to Arizona’s success.
1. Jump Shot Defense
If you haven’t heard about Belmont’s sharpshooting yet, please pick up a newspaper. The Bruins are one of the best shooting teams in the country, averaging 49% from the floor and 39% from the three point line. They have four players who get substantial playing time and average over 45% from the floor. Their best player, Ian Clark, will have to be contained–he shoots 54% overall and 46% from long range. I suspect this will be Nick Johnson’s biggest task of the evening.
Arizona should not have too much trouble defending the paint with their size, so defending the jump shot will be a top priority. If they can avoid their perimeter defense woes, the Wildcats should pull away with a solid win. If not, this could come down to the end.
Simply put, Arizona should take advantage of theirs. Belmont’s tallest player with any substantial playing time is 6’7″. Where the Bruins average 32 rebounds per game (302 offensive rebounds for the season), Arizona averages 36 (369 offensive rebounds for the season) and should not have a problem dominating the glass–if they do, this will be a matter of not wanting it more. If Belmont is shooting lights out, Arizona will especially have to create extra opportunities by being aggressive on the offensive boards.
Tarczewski, Ashley and Jerrett: this is your time to shine.
Arizona needs to take better care of the ball than they have as of late. The Wildcats average about 7 steals per game but also give up about 6. Belmont, on the other hand, averages about 10 steals per game but only gives the other team 6.5. The last thing Arizona wants is to give Belmont extra opportunities to shoot the ball, especially on the fast break with quick guards.
If Arizona would like to take advantage of their experience based on the competition they have played, the opportunity is there. Where the Wildcats have beaten six top 50 RPI teams and six top 100 RPI teams, Belmont has only beaten one top 50 RPI team (Middle Tennessee, which was one of the first teams knocked out of the tournament) and five top 100 RPI teams. Arizona has only lost to one team who had an RPI worse than 100 (the rest of their losses came to teams with an RPI of 53 or lower), but the Bruins have lost to four. Belmont has only played three NCAA Tournament caliber teams (Kansas, VCU, Middle Tennessee) and the last time they did so was on December 13, 2012.