No. 1 Arizona Wildcats
Record: 30-4, 15-3 Pac-12
How they got here: The first 21 games of the Wildcats’ wild run was almost flawless. But ever since Brandon Ashley was lost for the year in an eventual 60-58 loss at Cal on Feb. 1, the Wildcats have shown cracks in the diamond. Four losses in the last two months, including a 75-71 defeat to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament championship game, have created some doubt.
Player to watch: Nick Johnson. The Pac-12 Player of the Year, Johnson has been everything to Arizona. Leading scorer, a shutdown defender, and the team’s moral compass.
Strengths: The Wildcats’ versatility, athleticism, size — plus a rugged schedule — has put them in prime position for a deep tournament run. Despite a shaky end to the season, Arizona is a top seed for a reason.
Weaknesses: Free-throw shooting. Free-throw shooting. Did we mention free-throw shooting? The Wildcats are shakier on the line than a driver who’s had one too many road sodas. If they were at peak physical health, AKA full strength, maybe those charity stripe woes wouldn’t seem so glaring.
Did you know: Arizona’s loss in the Pac-12 tournament championship game means the team hasn’t won the title since 2002, when the Wildcats won their four straight championship. What a surprising drought.
No. 8 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Record: 28-6, 15-3 WCC
How they got here: Gonzaga may be nearing 30 wins, but it still has some inexplicable losses. Dayton? San Diego? Portland? At least the Bulldogs won the WCC tournament over BYU.
Player to watch: Sam Dower Jr.
Dower has put up a solid 15.0 points per game to lead the team and averages 7.1 boards and
0.7 blocks. More impressive, his efficiency, as he shot 59 percent from the field.
Strengths: A well-divvied scoring load kept Gonzaga opponents off-balance, and the Bulldogs once again have a technically sound and experienced lineup.
Weaknesses: Who is their go-to guy? Come tourney time, the most dangerous teams are the ones who have individuals who can go off. Gonzaga has players who are a bit too off-and-on.
Did you know: The longtime WCC
wonders may be having a relatively
down year, but Mark Few has his Bull-
dogs in March Madness for the 16th straight year.
No. 9 Oklahoma State Cowboys
Record: 21-12, 8-10 Big 12
How they got here: The Cowboys were one of the hottest teams in the country through mid-January, starting off 15-2. A seven-loss streak in late-January/early February sent them on a tailspin, but the team faired relatively well late in the season, particularly in a fruitful early March two-game streak with wins over Kansas and Kansas State. The Jayhawks got their revenge in the conference tournament, however.
Player to watch: Marcus Smart. Smart may no longer be a projected top-three pick, but he still turned in a fine season. His stat line of 17.8 points and 5.7 rebounds is not a massive leap, but he is clearly Oklahoma State’s best player.
Strengths: With four guys each in double-figures, the Cowboys have a nice scoring balance, and the talent is there for an upset.
Weaknesses: But is the poise? The Cowboys have lost their heads at times —most notably Smart and his much-publicized spat with a Texas Tech fan, which cost him a three-game suspension.
Did you know: Oklahoma State fans expected big things out of Travis Ford when he was hired away from Massachusetts in 2008, but the Cowboys have gone just
52-49 in Big 12 play since his hire and haven’t made it to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend.
No. 16 Weber State Wildcats
Record: 19-11, 14-6 Big Sky
How they got here: The Wildcats had an up-and-down season but turned it on for conference play, winning the regular season and the conference tournament. Losses to nearby schools such as Utah State, Utah Valley State and BYU were stains on an otherwise very successful season.
Player to watch: Davion Berry. Berry, the Big Sky Player of the Year, has been a rock for the Wildcats. His all-district selection was not just warranted, it was expected, despite a somewhat low national profile.
Strengths: Weber State has the pre-
requisite high-scoring, low- to mid-major star in Berry, but the Wildcats also have two solid complementary pieces in Kyle Tresnak and Jeremy Senglin, who average 11.8 and 11.2 points per game, respectively.
Weaknesses: So much for consistency. As good as Weber State has been this year at times, on occasion the Wildcats have been equally bad. Exhibit A: A 12-2 midseason run. Exhibit B: A three-game losing streak to start the season, which prompted a 3-5 start.
Did you know: The Wildcats, the former home of young NBA star Damian Lillard, share two common opponents with Arizona — UCLA, which defeated WSU 83-60 on Dec. 22, and Northern Arizona, against whom Weber State went 1-1.
Jon Gold, Arizona Daily Star