NCAA Tournament: Arizona vs. Belmont Preview

Sean Miller and his Wildcats will be focused on the task at hand. - Ethan Miller

The Wildcats head to SLC to face off against the Belmont Bruins who seem to be the chic pick to upset Arizona.

Who: 6 Arizona Wildcats (25-7) vs. 11 Belmont Bruins (26-6)

When: Thursday 4:20 p.m. PT, TNT

Where: West Region, Salt Lake City, UT

Why watch?

This is the nation's upset special. I've said it too many times in too many places that this is the shabby chic upset pick. It's the only 6v11 or 5v12 featuring a power conference vs a mid-major (except 5 UNLV vs. 12 Cal but that's with the power conference expected to lose, whatever, you get my point). It's fun to pick an upset and Arizona seems ripe for to hand Cinderella her slipper. Belmont has never won an NCAA tournament. Arizona has won 46.

Who are the stars?

Solomon Hill, SF, Arizona

Hill is a jack-of-all-trades type. He was first team All-Conference and can be the dynamic difference maker the Wildcats often need to distinguish themselves as the superior team. But that's not always his role. He has those abilities but is often best suited filling a box score and dominating behind the scenes. Against Belmont, his affinity for getting to the line will be relied upon as there will be few Bruins who can challenge the athletic Hill.

Nick Johnson, G, Arizona

Of late, the springy guard has rediscovered his confidence and has been the defensive tone-setter for the Wildcats. He held Larry Drew II to zero points and just four assists last Friday and will look to impart similar results as he'll likely draw the defensive assignment of...

Ian Clark, G, Belmont

Clark is deadly from distance, shooting 46% from three and 54% overall. He drops 18ppg and is likely reason #1 why Belmont is such a chic pick to beat the Wildcats. Arizona gives up a lot of threes and at a high FG% (36%). He's a big guard (6'3") and could really make things difficult on the Wildcats.

Trevor Noack, F, Belmont

This is Belmont's biggest contributor. He is 6'7" 240lbs. Not terribly large but it's significant considering Arizona is pretty large. Noack will draw matchups with Kaleb Tarczewski (7' 260lbs), Grant Jerrett (6'10" 235lbs), and Brandon Ashley (6'8, 235lbs). The Bruins' best rebounder is going to have his hands full.

Key matchups

Can Arizona defend the three-point line?

It's been well documented how poorly Arizona has defended the three this season. They've been allowing opponents to shoot 36% from out there while Belmont shoots 40%. This, my friends, is what they call a recipe for upset. But over the last three games in which Arizona has demonstrated marked improvement in their defense, they've yielded just 30% shooting from distance. As has been the question for much of the year, which perimeter defense will show up?

Can Belmont overcome the size/athleticism difference?

There are no two ways about it: Belmont is a mid-major. Because of such they manage shooters and hustlers. That, in my estimation, is the stereotypical mid-major and Belmont embodies that. And there's no denying that this can result in wins, certainly against superior opposition if you're hitting your extra pointers (that's to say threes). The Bruins will need some combination of good shooting (eliminate the need to rebound) with a tenacious effort on the boards to help themselves to victory. Addtionally, they'll behoove their effort should they manage to force Arizona into a jump shooting team; a tall task (pun!) considering the height discrepancy.

You're a Pac-12 fan, why do you want Arizona to win?

Arizona was anointed the conference's torch bearer in November and did such for that month and the following. But Pac-12 play showed a different side of the Wildcats that, no matter how many times we saw it, we didn't believe was their true identity. Well now's the time for Arizona to once again be the conference torch bearers, to show that there was a reason the Wildcats got beat up in conference play and that's because the conference was good. Not because the Wildcats were bad.

Prediction

The Wildcats are too big, strong, and fast for the Bruins to contend. They have their moments and streaks of shooting, but in the end the Wildcats' depth of talent prevails. Arizona is upset on the heel of their loss to UCLA and the technical HC, Sean Miller, cited as a major reason behind that reason. The Wildcats will be rallying behind their coach who so clearly and vocally has his team's back and I think we're about to see a very focused and hungry group of Wildcats this week.

Arizona 67, Belmont 58

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