ARIZONA BASKETBALL

Wildcats 2nd in odds to win NCAA title behind top-ranked Gonzaga

Mar 9, 2022, 7:04 AM
Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd, right, talks with guard Bennedict Mathurin in the closing minutes o...

Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd, right, talks with guard Bennedict Mathurin in the closing minutes of an NCAA college basketball game against UCLA Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

After a three-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, the Arizona Wildcats will return as one of the top teams in the nation.

Entering the 2021-22 season unranked in The Associated Press’ Top 25 and picked as the fourth-best team in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, the Wildcats began this season with +6000 odds to win the 2022 NCAA Championship, according to FanDuel’s sportsbook.

As of Tuesday before conference tournaments begin, the No. 2 Wildcats are the second-highest favorites to win the NCAA men’s title at +600, only behind the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs with +370 odds.

The program has come a long way since the Wildcats fired 12-year head coach Sean Miller amid a recruiting investigation. To revive the team and to become relevant once again, Arizona hired Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd to bring Arizona back to the top.

That is exactly what he did in year one. The Wildcats finished the regular season with a 28-3 record, breaching the top five of the AP’s Top 25 for the first time since 2018. On Tuesday, Lloyd was named the John R. Wooden Pac-12 Coach of the Year for his effort.

Arizona’s resurgence is in large thanks to a dominant offense. The Wildcats hold the third-highest scoring offense in the nation with 84.7 points per game on the fifth-best field-goal percentage at 50%.

Leading the way for Arizona is sophomore guard Bennedict Mathurin. Recently named to the Sporting News All-American Second Team and Pac-12 Player of the Year, Mathurin’s season was highlighted with a team-high 17.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, making 46.8% of his shots and starting all 31 games on the season.

Fellow sophomore Azuolas Tubelis also made a jump in his second year. He improved in all statistical categories except for rebounds, three-point percentage and free throw percentage per game.

Among the young core of players, upper-classman Christian Koloko has found consistency in his third year with Arizona, starting every game and playing the best he has at the collegiate level. The 7-foot-1 center averages 11.8 points and 7 rebounds per game, on top of 2.77 blocks, which is 13th best in the nation. He also earned Pac-12 honors, winning most improved and defensive player of the year.

Now as the top seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, the Wildcats will begin postseason play on Thursday, vying for a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They face the winner of the Arizona State-Stanford game on Wednesday.

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