Arizona Wildcats have all the ingredients of a national title winner

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Photo by Ethan Miller/ Getty Images

With everything going right, with Arizona winning everything, with one of most complete teams in the land, boasting the No. 5 offense and No. 20 defense in the country, the Wildcats have the tools to continue their winning ways. It would be hard to imagine,  that with their size, athleticism, shooters and defenders, the Wildcats falling short in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament bid.

So what we have here is a well-balanced program: Arizona has one of the best teams in the country, if not the best. This team has a little bit of everything. It is loaded with winners and scorers. It also touts out one of the most terrifying frontcourts in modern college basketball. There’s no reason to expect the Wildcats won’t make a deep run, as the odds have them favored to reach their first Final Four since 2001.

They should be favorites in this tournament now. Their trio of 7-footers, Christian Koloko, Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo provide size in the frontcourt to protect the rim and pound the glass. They now have a surefire NBA first-rounder Bennedict Mathurin. The fast and furious style has been the Wildcats’ staple, primarily because of fearless point guard Kerr Kriisa.

This year’s Wildcats, a champion? These Cats from the desert might be destined for glory. The balance and the versatility that the Wildcats have displayed this season has been admirable. All season, they were scrappy, they played physical, they ran the floor and finished strong at the rim. Yet the team is almost overshadowed when everybody is talking about the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the extension of Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s farewell tour.

Indeed, Arizona has the recipe to survive three weekends of games to be crowned champions, and in their shiny moments of the tournament, the Wildcats should eventually light up the gym with authority. Arizona’s core for much of the season has unexpectedly dominated every time its top-tier players stepped onto the floor, beating everybody it faced.

How that might translate on the court in March is still to be determined, but Arizona’s regular season suggests the electrifying Wildcats could show that they’re a serious threat to make it to New Orleans. And, finally, despite facing allegations of multiple NCAA rules violations, the Wildcats finally seem capable of anything. They’re the hottest team in basketball with a 31-3 regular-season record, and most experts are picking them to win the national title.

Suddenly, the Wildcats have turned their focus to No. 16-seeded Wright State and are vying for the ultimate prize in college hoops and, like Gonzaga as a whole, they are the center of the basketball universe right now. It’s no secret: Tommy Lloyd’s team check every box of a complete basketball team. Arizona has found itself with a favorable draw to make the Final Four.

Arizona, which takes pride in its depth, should be taken seriously as a co-favorite with Gonzaga. It clearly has the players to be the best squad in the country. For anyone able to see the Wildcats, it was a dominant season of what could end in triumph. They’re big, fast, strong and gritty enough to go through a meat-grinder to get there, and the way the Cats have been playing is the same way they’ve been playing all season.

But the turnover rate is a continuation of an alarming trend for Arizona. The same story could play out in March if the Wildcats don’t clean up their act. It is, however, on them to take care of the basketball and avoid turning the ball over. Now, there’s talent, depth, and a bridge to the Final Four, but Arizona needs to do a better job limiting the careless turnovers.

It’d be hard to leave them the Wildcats out of the Final Four after an exciting and action-packed season. One cannot watch this Arizona team and not expect them to be in New Orleans, on the first Saturday of April, when they have played at a high level all season long. The thing is about this Wildcats team is that it has no NCAA experience. All of its core players outside of Ballo have not played in an NCAA tournament game.

The Wildcats’ Twin Towers are met with skepticism until proving themselves on the big stage, and they often have shown themselves in big moments but will have to carry it over into March. The 7-foot duo of Koloko and Ballo present a natural advantage in terms of drawing double teams, denying the lane, swatting shots and collecting rebounds.

The Wildcats are also banking on the contributions from a deep second unit as well. It’s been a collaborative and collective effort from a group of reserves led by two-way stud Pelle Larsson and Justin Kier, the super senior combo guard. The super athletic Kier is very effective all over the floor, on both ends, for Arizona. So far this season, he has lit up the statistical boards as a scorer.

Put plainly, Koloko, maybe the best two-way big man in college basketball this season, has worked brilliantly around the rim. Mathurin, maybe the best shot-maker in the Pac-12 Conference, is the main driver behind the team’s evolution. His shooting ability is extremely impressive, his team is winning partly because of it, and he makes nearly every shot he takes.

You can see it everywhere now. It’s not the end of the road for the Wildcats. It’s only the beginning for Arizona. Let’s just say it clearly and bluntly: The Wildcats, now a powerhouse school from the Pac-12, are that team heading into the NCAA tournament. And there’s no escaping it. Just look at them. This is nothing out of the ordinary, of course. The Wildcats are known for peaking in March as a Final Four selection.

There are a lot of very good players, very good guards who have spoken loudly enough, for all of us to hear. This is the team I picked to win the national title, one that has shown great chemistry and that has the ability to put the ball in the basket at all three levels. This is exactly what Lloyd wants and expects from his team.

The varying of skill sets Arizona can use now will have an impact at both ends of the court. The basketball gods can’t overlook a very good Wildcats team. Now they are, in some respects, the team to beat — at least to me they are. They’re the Wildcats who pile up points in a hurry, control the rim, outscore opposing teams in the paint and scare off everybody standing in their way.

Before dismissing this as hyperbole, realize that Arizona won its first Pac-12 Tournament title since 2017-18, when the Wildcats also won the regular-season title. It would be unfair, and sound a bit harsh to not pencil them in as a Final Four team, as they have loudly asserted themselves in that conversation.

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