For much of recent basketball history the story about the Pac-12 has been the same in the NCAA tournament. Pac-12 teams) can have success in the tournament, but generally when the gloves come off, and they face elite programs firing on all cylinders they bow out just before national championship time.
But this Arizona team looks to be different.
The 2013-14 Wildcats are coming off one of the toughest, most grind-it-out wins I have seen a Pac-12 team have in the tournament in a long time and are fully capable of winning a game where it comes down to who is tougher. That's a great thing because an old school, Big Ten power in Wisconsin is the only thing standing in their way between their first trip to the Final Four since 2001, but the surprise here is that the Wildcats have an even better defense than the Badgers and the key to the game could actually be if the Wildcats can force the Badgers to run and knock down shots throughout the game.
The Badgers have put opponents' offenses in sleeper holds in two of their three tournament games, knocking them out in the first round, but they nearly lost their grip against Pac-12 foe Oregon in the second run, when the Ducks came out running and hot. The ultra-fast high-flying Ducks gave the Badgers all they could handle, but couldn't control the boards down the stretch and had to deal with a home court advantage in Milwaukee.
The good news for the Wildcats is that they can run and score like the Ducks, but also have the size and strength to not only fight with the Badgers on the boards, but dominate them. The Wildcats are one of the best rebounding teams in the entire nation and the Badgers are amongst the worst in the tournament and it could make a huge difference, especially since the second-chance points could make up for cold shooting from the outside.
Once again Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon could be gigantic for the Wildcats, especially Gordon since he can run just about as well as any big man in the country and can also knock down outside shots, stretching out Wisconsin's big men. Gordon also has the kind of out-of-this-world athleticism that could really give a team like Wisconsin trouble. If Tarczewski can handle the dirty work down low and stay out of foul trouble (something he didn't do against San Diego State), he could really open up things for Gordon, who along with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, could wreck havoc on the offensive end.
However, the game will not be won simply in the trenches for the Wildcats, the Badgers are far too good of an overall team to be undone with running and rebounding, and as seen with their win over the Ducks, a team going cold against their stingy defense and efficient offense can quickly open the door. The Wildcats may not be able to afford Nick Johnson and Gabe York going cold for much of the game and come out with a win.
If they can't, the Wildcats might suffer the same fate as the last Pac-12 team to face off with the Badgers in the tournament.