In the past two seasons under Sean Miller, Arizona's journey has ended in heartbreaking defeat. There was Ohio State's LaQuinton Ross hitting a three-pointer in the Sweet Sixteen two years ago and the Nick Johnson shot that didn't fall as time expired against Wisconsin in overtime last year. Arizona has reason to believe this year will be different as they're playing their best basketball of the season at the right time and completely obliterating their opponents.
The Wildcats enter the dance on an 11-game winning streak and the key has been their offense, which has always been the main concern for this team. Sean Miller's squad has scored less than 70 points only twice over the last 11 games and have won eight of those by 20 points or more. And they are averaging 1.18 points per 100 possessions over that span. On defense this season, they have the third best rating in the country, giving up 86.3 points per 100 possessions. Opponents only attempt 24.5 percent of their shots at the rim against Arizona because their defense forces them to settle for jumpers so often.
This is the second most efficient team on offense and the best defensive team in terms of efficiency Sean Miller has ever had in his coaching career. There is no reason why they can't reel off six straight wins.
First, however, they have to get through the West region. The Wildcats should breeze past Texas Southern, but might have some trouble against Ohio State or VCU. It would favor Arizona if they drew VCU instead of Ohio State to avoid Sean Miller squaring off against his mentor Thad Matta. The Buckeyes revolve around D'Angelo Russell, but it's hard to see him going off since Arizona has Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell and Stanley Johnson to throw at him and can pulverize the Buckeyes on the glass.
A potential matchup with Baylor looms in the Sweet Sixteen. Baylor's main advantage against most teams is on the boards. They have the second best offensive rebounding rate in the country, but Arizona has the best defensive rebounding rate in the country. Since Arizona can contain Baylor's frontline, it will be up to the Bears to hit shots from beyond the arc. They are more than capable of making a lot of threes as they hit on 38 percent of their attempts, but it just seems like Arizona's defense will rush them off the three-point line and force them into jump shots and Baylor only makes 27 percent of those.
Everything points to a rematch with Wisconsin in the regional final. Arizona's team this year is a little better than last year's squad. Stanley Johnson has more of an impact than Aaron Gordon and having Brandon Ashley back is arguably just as important as having Nick Johnson. And McConnell, Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski all have another year of experience under their belt.
In order to beat Wisconsin, Arizona has to use their imposing frontline featuring Ashley, Tarczewski and Dusan Ristic off of the bench to tire Frank Kaminsky inside. Hollis-Jefferson and Johnson need to hound the Badgers on the perimeter and force them into taking threes, the only part of their offense they're average at. They only make 35 percent of their attempts. Arizona has all the tools to halt the most efficient offense in the country and T.J. McConnell will have to hit a couple of pick-and-roll jumpers late for the Wildcats to exact their revenge and go to the Final Four.
The hope for Arizona is that they can keep up their current offensive pace, but it's hard to imagine them not having one long, ugly offensive stretch in a game. If it's early in the tournament, their defense will make up for it. And they'll be motivated enough to not let it happen against Wisconsin.
Arizona will get to the Final Four. And they have the best chance, given their athleticism, size and defense, to take down Kentucky and whoever is waiting for them in the national championship.
And in March, all you need is a chance.