PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Arizona didn’t quite match its defense of the past two seasons, but the Wildcats will face somebody tonight who has.
Wichita State has the nation’s No. 1 defense in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom, and the numbers are pretty convincing. The Shockers give up an average of just 88.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, holding their opponents to 35.9-percent shooting, 30.2 percent three-point shooting and an average of only 56.9 points per game.
While Wichita State has built up those numbers largely in the mid-major Missouri Valley Conference, it's worth noting that the Shockers also played the 32nd-strongest nonconference schedule in the country (UA's was the 302nd-strongest, or 48th weakest, according to Kenpom).
The Wildcats have tried to make up for their slightly less effective defense with offense. They’re 41 in defensive efficiency but 15th in offensive efficiency, and were No. 1 in offensive efficiency in a more uptempo minded Pac-12 this season, too.
“I don't know how good of a team we are, but offensively we scored easier this year than we ever have,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “I think we scored, what, about 82 or 83 points a game (81.2 overall), and that's a lot. … I think (it’s) the teams in our conference, the way the game is officiated, and again, I think it's just more overall free-flowing is how I would describe it.”
The points Arizona scored are a little deceiving. UA still has only the No. 150-ranked tempo in the country, according to Kenpom, suggesting the Wildcats' opponents have a little do to with why they're scoring all those points.
But UA is flexible. While the Wildcats have proven they can play well at a fast pace they also have plenty of size to be comfortable in a half-court game, especially against the Shockers' smaller bigs.
Anyway, for what it's worth, Kenpom’s predictive engine says Arizona has only a 44-percent chance of winning tonight’s game. Las Vegas bettors still like the Wildcats, though: The game opened as a pick-em, but has shifted to UA being a 1.0- to 1.5-point favorite (though UA didn’t cover either of its games last week in the Pac-12 Tournament).
Our main game advance is among the gobs of coverage we have on the game and NCAA Tournament today, both in our special section (that was printed in today's edition) and in the sports section. The content can also be accessed on our UA basketball page if you are out of town or can't get a copy in print.
The rest of the UA podium interview comments can be accessed here. Wichita State's are here. (Most of the comments in our stories come from the open locker room settings, where all the players are made available under NCAA rules.)
Other Pac-12 teams playing in the NCAA Tournament today:
Colorado vs UConn at Des Moines, Iowa, 10:30 a.m. (TNT)
Utah vs Fresno State at Denver, 4:30 p.m. (TruTV)
USC vs Providence at Raleigh, N.C., 6:50 p.m. (TBS)
Tyrone Wallace broke his hand and won't play for Cal in the NCAA Tournament. That's obviously a major blow to the Bears, who will face Hawaii on Friday in the first round.