Bilas: Wildcats have ‘great shot to do something special’ in NCAA Tournament

Mar 15, 2023, 6:07 PM
The Arizona Wildcats, including (front, L-R) Pelle Larsson #3, Azuolas Tubelis #10, Courtney Ramey ...
The Arizona Wildcats, including (front, L-R) Pelle Larsson #3, Azuolas Tubelis #10, Courtney Ramey #0 and Kerr Kriisa #25, pose with a ceremonial NCAA tournament ticket as they celebrate their 61-59 victory over the UCLA Bruins to win the championship game of the Pac-12 basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena on March 11, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Count ESPN’s Jay Bilas as a firm believer in the Arizona Wildcats’ chances to bring back an NCAA Tournament championship to Tucson.

In the college basketball analyst’s game-by-game breakdown published Tuesday of how he sees the tournament unfolding, Bilas has the No. 2-seeded Wildcats getting past Princeton, Utah State, Creighton and top-seeded Alabama on their way to a Final Four matchup against Duke before taking down UConn in the title game.

“I just like Arizona’s makeup of their team,” Bilas told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Wednesday. “I actually thought they would do a little bit better last year than they did in the tournament. … They’re legit. They got great big guys that can really run and they’re really solid at every position.

“They may not be spectacular at every position but they’re solid at every spot. They can play fast. They’ve proven they can play slow. … I think Tommy’s a really good coach and they’ve got a great shot to do something special.”

And while college basketball analyst and writer Andy Katz didn’t go as far as Bilas in saying the Wildcats will go all the way, he did peg Arizona as the South Region winner this year.

The Wildcats had the team to make a Final Four run last season before they were shocked by Houston in the Sweet 16. Arizona has the bigs and the wings to beat Alabama. I say the Wildcats get it done.

Alabama enters the NCAA Tournament following a 29-5 regular season that ended with a SEC Tournament title. Leading the charge for the Crimson Tide is freshman forward Brandon Miller, who paces the team in points (19.6) and rebounds (8.3) per game. The 6-foot-9, 200-pound forward is shooting 45.1% from the field and 40.1% from three-point land. He was named to the AP All-America First Team on Tuesday.

As a team, Alabama has won seven of its past eight matchups ahead of its first-round matchup against either Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (23-10) or Southeast Missouri State (19-16).

The Wildcats enter their tilt against the Princeton Tigers (21-8) on a similar streak as Alabama, winning six of their past eight games, highlighted by a Pac-12 Championship win over the UCLA Bruins.

Arizona is anchored by forward Azuolas Tubelis and center Oumar Ballo down low. Tubelis, who was named to the AP All-America Second Team on Tuesday, is averaging 19.8 points, 9.3 rebounds two assists and 1.1 steals in 30 minutes per game. He’s shooting 57.5% from the field.

Arizona is well constructed with its mobile bigs and a matchup problem comparable to Miller in Azuolas Tubelis. Both of these guys are legit first-team all-American candidates. Arizona should get to the Elite Eight by dispatching Missouri and then Creighton in a rematch from the Maui Invitational.

Ballo is right behind Tubelis in points (14.2 per game), rebounds (8.5) and assists (1.6). He’s also averaging 1.3 blocks in 27.6 minutes per contest.

Alabama’s tilt with either Texas A&M-Corpus Christi or Southeast Missouri State is set for 11:45 a.m. on Thursday, while Arizona is slated to take on Princeton later that afternoon at 1:10 p.m.

Arizona Basketball

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Bilas: Wildcats have ‘great shot to do something special’ in NCAA Tournament