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Arizona’s overall goodness and size advantage will challenge NC State

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Off the deep end we go.

NCAA Basketball: Cal. State - Bakersfield at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

After researching the Arizona Wildcats for roughly 2.5 seconds, I have concluded that they are a good basketball team. Good teams are so boring, man. Ugh. Also annoying.

It took Sean Miller a bit of time, but he’s stabilized this program into a consistently good one—the Cats have been to five straight NCAA tournaments, and they finished each of those seasons in the KenPom top 20, with a pair of finishes in the top five. No Final Four appearances to show for the effort, though.

At least not yet; this year’s edition is plenty capable of getting over that imaginary hump and I don’t think anybody will be surprised if it does. The Wildcats will probably be well-positioned come March to earn a No. 1 seed for the second time in Miller’s tenure.

UofA Offense

Zona Offense OFF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
Zona Offense OFF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
2017 118.4 (15) 53.7 (48) 16.6 (54) 33.3 (53) 40.5 (47) 30.5 (303) 51.5 (85) 38.0 (19)
2016 116.8 (20) 53.6 (35) 18.2 (191) 35.0 (30) 43.8 (20) 29.4 (306) 52.2 (48) 38.1 (38)

Arizona is off to a 3-0 start and has not been even remotely tested, which is understandable given that its schedule strength currently ranks 320th. Still, the way in which they’ve beaten opponents is impressive: every win has been by at least 25 points. And the Wildcats are doing this without sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, who broke a foot in late September and may not be back in the lineup until the tail end of December.

But Arizona is one of the few programs that can thrive even in the absence of a highly-talented rotation piece, thanks to all these years of excellent recruiting, and it doesn’t look like the loss of Alkins will have much impact on the bottom line between now and Pac-12 play.

The Wildcats’ have had an impressively well-rounded offense for a few years now, and it is going to present a whole host of new problems for NC State, which, safe to say, has not seen anything remotely like it this year. The Wildcats haven’t been turnover-prone, and they also have one of biggest lineups in the country.

The Pack’s half-court defense is going to have to be much, much better than what we’ve seen so far, but that’s going to be a considerable mismatch regardless. Can State rebound well enough at the defensive end and force enough turnovers to keep it close? I’m not optimistic.

Starters

Parker Jackson-Cartwright (5-11, 170) — Jackson-Cartwright is not typically a huge part of the scoring for Arizona, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad shooter—just that he’s been tasked with distributing the ball to all the talent around him. He’s done a fine job of that, and he’s also a career 41% three-point shooter. He tends to be there with the Cats need him.

Allonzo Trier (6-5, 205) — Trier is shooting so well in the early going I’m half convinced they roll out a special rim that’s two-feet wider every time he attempts a field goal. He is averaging a meager 30 points per game this season on highly modest shooting percentages from two (78.3%) and three (58.8%). Those figures will come down, of course, but the kid’s not about to fall off the map: in 2+ seasons, he’s made about 55% of his twos and 39% of his threes ... oh, and 80% of his free throws. Great player.

Emmanuel Akot (6-7, 200) — The freshman is easing his way into his first college season, as he’s been pretty deferential to his teammates. That’s not a bad thing since’s been a bit turnover-prone, but like seemingly everyone else on this team, he’s shooting well from three (4-8 on the year).

DeAndre Ayton (7-1, 260) — Among the freshman star’s early comps by similarity score: Jahlil Okafor, T.J. Leaf, and Cody Zeller. I suspect this kid may have a future. Ayton is averaging about 19 points and 12 boards per game on 69% shooting inside the arc. He is a fantastic rebounder at both ends, but a truly dominant one on the defensive boards. Unsurprisingly, he’s also good at bothering shots. Dude’s frightening.

Dusan Ristic (7-0, 245) — Did I mention this team is tall? Ristic is also a good rebounder, an efficient scorer in the paint, a good shot blocker, etc. Piece of cake matchup, Omer!

Bench

Alex Barcello (6-2, 185), Ira Lee (6-7, 235), Keanu Pinder (6-9, 220), Dylan Smith (6-5, 170), Brandon Randolph (6-6, 175). Well, on the bride side I guess, there’s three freshmen and a sophomore in this group. Barcello and Lee (both frosh) have gotten the most run off the bench so far, and both are shooting lights out. I swear this entire team came out on opening night with NBA Jam flaming shoe power-ups activated.

In that sense it is a little difficult to know exactly what to expect on Wednesday—I don’t have any doubt that Arizona has a good shooting team, but I also can’t imagine it will keep making half its three-point tries and 63% of its twos. If the Wildcats DO manage to do that all year, we’re doomed first off, and then everyone else afterward is doomed.

UofA Defense

Zona Defense DEF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
Zona Defense DEF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
2017 95.1 (29) 47.7 (55) 17.4 (250) 26.0 (45) 28.6 (38) 36.4 (178) 48.4 (137) 31.0 (14)
2016 95.8 (29) 46.2 (29) 16.0 (294) 24.9 (12) 29.3 (37) 31.3 (44) 45.7 (59) 31.6 (34)

A poor shooting night by NC State would be extremely bad timing given how well Arizona rebounds at this end. I would not expect the Wolfpack to make much of a living off of second-chance points.

The good news here is that Arizona hasn’t been good at forcing turnovers in recent years, and Kevin Keatts inherited a team that’s been pretty good at taking care of the ball, which has continued into this season. That’s actually been State’s biggest strength offensively. If this trend plays in State’s favor, it will at least end up with a lot of shots at the basket, even if they will all have to come around trees.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes Arizona by 15.