Arizona Basketball Aims For Final Four Breakthrough
Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller carries with him the somewhat dubious reputation of the best coach to never reach the Final Four. I suppose there’s worse things one could be called since this presumes Miller is an awfully good coach to begin with. But those four career losses in the regional finals, three since coming to Arizona in 2010, undoubtedly rankle. Miller’s young 2017 basketball team sent the country a loud and clear message that they might be the ones to break through.
The Wildcats went to UCLA on Saturday and not only won, but did do decisively, 96-85. The win ran their record to 18-2 overall and 7-0 in a Pac-12 race that includes another national contender in Oregon. Just how good is Arizona?
Here’s the positive—there’s really nothing Arizona doesn’t do well. If you look at the overall picture, they rank in the Top 25 nationally on both offensive and defensive efficiency. The win over UCLA removed the one nagging criticism, which is that they hadn’t really beaten anybody, losing other noteworthy games to Butler and Gonzaga.
When you break down the individual pieces there’s an awful lot to like. Lauri Markkanen, the seven-foot freshman from Finland, averages 17 points/7 rebounds per game and also happens to be U of A’s best three-point shooter. He’s joined by another 7-foot frosh from overseas, Dusan Ristic from Serbia. Ristic averages 12/6 a night.
Arizona has a well-balanced backcourt with junior point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright leading the way and senior Kadeem Allen another stabilizing force. Rawle Alkins, a 6’5” freshman adds to the perimeter strength with a 12/6 per-game average of his own. And if all this weren’t enough, the Wildcats got the immensely talented sophomore guard Allonzo Trier back for the first time against UCLA. Trier promptly went for 12 points/7 rebounds/4 assists.
So we have a team with no discernible weaknesses that’s well-coached. Is there a problem? Maybe a little one.
The first is that Arizona’s reputation as a national power, going all the way back to Lute Olson in the late 1980s, means they don’t exactly sneak under their radar. Their 14-1 odds to win the NCAA championship in April is the sixth-best in the country. I suppose that can be considered value if you consider UCLA is 7-1, but all things considered, there’s no gold mine in the Wildcats on the futures market. That’s translated itself into a game-by-game ATS performance that’s less than ideal. Arizona might be 18-2 overall ,but they’re only 11-7-2 against the number.
There is, however, one nugget in the ATS record that stands out. Arizona’s win over UCLA highlighted something special about this team and it’s how good they are on the road. The Wildcats are 6-0 ATS away from Tucson. That directly relates to offensive efficiency—even though their games overall are a relative wash on the Over/Under, the road games play 4-1-1 to the Over.
It’s a tribute to Miller and his kids that they execute so well offensively in hostile environments. And it’s something for college basketball bettors to take note of as this season wears on.
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