NCAA Tournament: What is Arizona facing in Wichita State? A grind

Mar 15, 2016, 10:41 PM | Updated: Mar 17, 2016, 4:06 pm

Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski, left, drives around Colorado forward Josh Scott during the second ...

Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski, left, drives around Colorado forward Josh Scott during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 men's tournament Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Las Vegas. Arizona won 82-78. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(AP Photo/John Locher)

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As Sean Miller spends the final hours worried about whether his Arizona team can string together a solid 40 minutes — and within the same game — the outside forces appear to have made his alarmist approach more justified.

The No. 6 seed Wildcats will face No. 11 seed Wichita State in their first-round matchup Thursday after the Shockers upended Vanderbilt 70-50 in the Tuesday night play-in game.

No, this isn’t a Final Four worthy Wichita State team (it went 24-8 after all), but the grit of those from years past remains with senior point guard Fred VanVleet and senior shooting guard Ron Baker.

The 6-11 NCAA Tournament matchups often elicit favorite choices for bracket-busting picks, and this is the case here, even for an Arizona team that arguably could have been seeded higher.

Here’s how the Wildcats could survive and advance.

Scoring on a shocking defense

The Shockers lean on a deep and disciplined defensive scheme under coach Gregg Marshall.

Wichita State not only held opponents to the lowest point totals in the nation (59.2 points per game) but had the best defensive rating, taking pace into account, according to

That can make up for the Shockers’ lack of size against a team like Arizona.

After all, Wichita State easily held projected NBA players and 7-footers Damian Jones and Luke Kornet to a 5-of-16 shooting night for Vanderbilt. It also held the Commodores to just nine offensive boards.

At the rim, opponents shoot just 54 percent against Wichita State this season. Compare that to 60 percent opponent shooting at the cup for an Arizona team that generally plays with 7-footers Kaleb Tarczewski and Dusan Ristic, and it’s impressive.

Maybe more importantly, Wichita State allowed just 29 percent shooting on two-point jumpers and 32 percent on threes. For reference, the Wildcats allow 36 percent on two-point jumpers and also 32 percent from three.

This sets up to be a strength-versus-strength matchup between a rock-solid defense and one of Miller’s most efficient offensive teams.

For the season, Arizona owns a true shooting percentage of 57.6 (this accounts for threes and free throws), which ranks 29th in the country thanks to very solid three-point shooting (38 percent) and a high rate of getting to the free throw line. Miller’s squad also finishes well at the rim.

Don’t necessarily expect Arizona to solve offensive issues by crashing the offensive glass. Wichita State also has the third-lowest opponent offensive rebounding rate, which could render the Wildcats’ size less impactful.

Still, Arizona would be wise to get to the foul line and attack inside-out.

Stopping the seniors

Wichita State's Ron Baker drives to the basket against Southern Illinois' Abby Djimde during an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Wichita, Kan. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

Wichita State’s Ron Baker (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

All season long, the Wildcats have found frustration stopping perimeter players, and the Shockers’ two most important players could cause them more trouble.

VanVleet and Baker haven’t been exactly efficient with the offense put squarely on their shoulders. Neither shoots above 43 percent and as the few three-point threats in the rotation, they haven’t been been inundated with easy shots from the perimeter, either. VanVleet is hitting 41 percent from deep to Baker’s 36 percent this season.

Baker leads the Shockers with 14.2 points per game along with 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists. VanVleet averages 12 points and 5.7 assists.

It makes sense that point guard Kadeem Allen and freshman Allonzo Trier, after a strong defensive performance against Dillon Brooks in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinal, could be tasked with facing the two best offensive threats.

But here’s the big key: The Wildcats can’t turn the ball over to hand a mediocre and limited offensive team easy opportunities.

Answering the depth question

Against Vanderbilt on Tuesday, the Shockers rolled 11 deep with two starters not reaching double-digits due to foul trouble, among other things.

The Wildcats’ depth could be tested.

Miller’s short leash — he was quick to pull players in the Pac-12 Tournament after they made mistakes — is likely to appear again against a savvy defensive Wichita State squad. But inconsistent bench play has been an issue for Arizona.

To open the conference tournament in a win over Colorado, the bench scored 11 points. The productivity wasn’t there from anyone, at least consistently.

It was the same story in the Wildcats falling to Oregon, aside from Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s five points and five assists, plus a flurry of late points from Mark Tollefsen, who had eight points in five minutes after he helped force overtime. That said, freshman forward Chance Comanche’s six points and three boards in 13 minutes may lead to a breakout in the tournament should Arizona survive its first game.

Arizona needs more from its role players, especially if the offense hits a snag for a long period of time.


6:20 p.m. MST, Thursday



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