ESPN analyst Simon on Arizona vs. Wisconsin: ‘I think it will be a different outcome than last season’
The Arizona Wildcats could be 40 minutes of basketball away from their first Final Four appearance since 2001.
Or, they could be 40 minutes of basketball away from yet another crushing loss in the Elite 8.
Whether or not they can get through Wisconsin will determine which one it is.
It’s Wildcats vs. Badgers, Part Deux, and Arizona is hoping for a different result than last year’s battle.
Former Arizona Wildcat and current ESPN NCAA basketball analyst Miles Simon thinks there will be.
“I think they’ll fare really well this year, and I think it will be a different outcome than last season when they lost in overtime to the Badgers,” Simon told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Friday morning. “And I think the biggest reason is going to be because Brandon Ashley is playing.”
Simon, who won the Most Outstanding Player award in the 1997 NCAA Tournament as the Wildcats won their first and only national championship, pointed out how Arizona struggled to defend Wisconsin seven-footer Frank Kaminsky in last year’s game. That night, he scored 28 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against an Arizona frontline that featured Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski, but no Ashley.
“If you remember, late in that game Kaleb Tarczewski really had trouble guarding Kaminsky on pick-and-pop opportunities. Even in the pick-and-roll, he couldn’t decide, he couldn’t recover, Kaminsky knocked down some shots,” Simon said. “And a couple times they turned the corner.
“And I think the matchup, I think Ashley can shift over at times and be able to guard Kaminsky in that role. And I think that could be the difference in the game this year.”
But while slowing Kaminsky (if that’s even possible) would go a long way toward Arizona coming out on top, Simon said there will be more to it for an Arizona team that has knocked off Texas Southern 93-72, Ohio State 73-58 and Xavier 68-60 to get here.
“I think another intriguing matchup is going to be Sam Dekker, who had a career high [Thursday] and he’s a 6-foot-9 wing who goes inside and out, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is going to have a tremendous challenge in containing him because Dekker is athletic and can put the ball on the floor and does a lot of things,” he said. “Dekker pretty much kept Wisconsin in the game in the first half [Thursday] night.”
Against North Carolina it was in fact Dekker, not Kaminsky, who led the Badgers in scoring with 23 on just 15 shots. Wisconsin shot .464 from the field, made 7 of its 21 three-point attempts and sank 20-of-23 free throws. They also outrebounded the Tar Heels 35 to 28 in the 79-72 win.
Much like Arizona, Wisconsin is very much a defensive-oriented team, having allowed just 57.2 points per game during the regular season. But in the tournament, they’ve surrendered 72 to Coastal Carolina, 65 to Oregon and the 72 to UNC.
“Can Arizona speed up Wisconsin,” Simon asked. “Can they get it into a little bit more of an up-tempo game? North Carolina did that at times [Thursday] night and that’s when they were most successful. Because Wisconsin wants to keep the possessions in like the low 60s, and the score somewhere around the mid-60s.
“So I think there’s going to be a lot of intriguing factors and matchups.”
Going into the tournament, many viewed Arizona and Wisconsin as two of the three or four best teams in the country. That they are meeting in the Elite 8, and not the Final four or national championship game, is something that you could argue neither team really deserved.
Because no matter what, one of these title contenders is going to see their run come to an end Saturday, arguably at least a round earlier than it should.
And if it’s Arizona’s, for the second year in a row to the same team as it was last year, Simon says that would not really be a stain on head coach Sean Miller’s reputation. Up to now, he is looked at as one of the best coaches in the game, but with the knock that he has yet to reach a Final Four.
“The guy has been super successful; it’s hard to get to the Elite 8, it’s hard to win Pac-12 titles, it’s hard to get elite recruits, and he does all those things,” Simon said. “Eventually, is he going to get over the hump and get to the Final Four? Yes, he will. Maybe it’s [Saturday] and hopefully it is, but I don’t think you judge him on that if he loses to Wisconsin in back-to-back seasons because that’s no shame in losing to a very, very good team.”