The Arizona Wildcats certainly have an interesting draw in their first game of the 2013 NCAA tournament.
The sixth-seeded Wildcats will take on the 11th-seeded Belmont Bruins, who some pundits around the country believe are poised to upset Arizona.
Former Grand Canyon University head coach Russ Pennell is not among the contingent of people who believe the Wildcats will be heading for an early exit.
“I think Belmont will play U of A tough,” Pennell told Arizona Sports 620’s Doug & Wolf Monday. “I don’t think they can beat them and the reason being has a lot to do with the Pac-12 Tournament. I’ve always felt like that if there’s a little bit of a satisfaction getting to the finals or winning the tournament and if you don’t and especially because we know what happens with Sean [Miller] with the referee and all that stuff there’s a little bit of some raw emotions there that I think they can build on this week.”
Pennell, who led Arizona to the Sweet Sixteen in 2009 as an interim coach, believes the bitter taste in the Wildcats’ mouth from their disappointing Pac-12 Tournament loss could benefit them in their tournament opener against the Bruins.
“I think that they can use that as a little bit of fire and I certainly know [Miller] well enough to know they’re not going to overlook Belmont,” Pennell said.
Pennell isn’t taking anything away from a very good Belmont team that has shown they can move from league to league in one year and keep winning. The Bruins went from the Atlantic Sun Conference to the Ohio Valley Conference in 2013.
But in the end, he doesn’t believe it’ll be enough to upset the Wildcats.
“I think it’ll be a good game, but I believe U of A moves on,” Pennell stated.
But despite predicting Arizona to advance to the second round, Pennell believes their presence in the tournament will be short-lived. The former coach thinks if the Wildcats meet up with New Mexico in the second round, they’ll struggle against a superior defensive Lobos team.
“New Mexico is one of the best defensive teams in the tournament. They are outstanding this year,” Pennell explained. “They are athletic and long and they match up with people so well and this might be one of the better New Mexico teams that Steve [Alford ]’s had in a while. I do believe the U of A/New Mexico game will be a very, very good game. But I just believe defensively New Mexico’s got a little edge on Arizona.”