They’ve got the look: Arizona Wildcats are my pick to win the NCAA Tournament
For the Pac-12 — which bills itself as the “Conference of Champions” — a 25-year title drought is pretty sad. Well, it’s time to get un-sad.
How long has it been since the Pac-12 produced a national champion in college basketball? So long that not one player on the team that’s going to win it all April 4 in New Orleans was born yet.
That team is Arizona. The same Arizona that won the Pac-12’s last title, in 1997. Except it was the Pac-10 then and would be until 2011, but let’s not get distracted by minor details.
For a league that seems not to realize how silly it sounds by billing itself as the “Conference of Champions,” a 25-year drought is pretty sad. Well, it’s time to get un-sad.
The Big 12 and SEC fought all season for best-conference bragging rights. The Big Ten had terrific depth — nine teams in the field of 68 — if not much top-10 pizzazz. The ACC and Pac-12 mostly lagged behind, though 31-3 Arizona, the No. 1 seed in the South Region, was a beast from start to finish.
But it’s time for a breakthrough. The pick here: Arizona over Purdue on a magical Monday. A Big Ten team hasn’t cut down the nets since Michigan State in 2000, you know.
Wildcats vs. Boilermakers is a matchup worth pining for. So. Much. Size. Purdue has 7-4 Zach Edey and 6-10 Trevion Williams, each of whom is special, but the Wildcats counter with 7-1 shot-blocker Christian Koloko, crafty 6-11 lefty Azuolas Tubelis and 7-0 Oumar Ballo off the bench. And each team has a superstar guard bound for the NBA Draft lottery: Anything Purdue’s Jaden Ivey or Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin can do, the other guy figures he can do better.
Mathurin, of Haitian descent, was born and raised in Montreal and finished his prep years in Mexico City. Koloko hails from Cameroon, Ballo from Mali, Tubelis from Lithuania and three-point sharpshooter Kerr Kriisa — named for former Wildcat Steve Kerr, no joke — from Estonia. What a fascinating group — with a rookie coach, no less, in Tommy Lloyd, who was an assistant for two decades at Gonzaga.
Mathurin scored 30 points in an 83-79 victory at Illinois in December. Illini guards Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer each buried a whopping six threes, but Mathurin outperformed them both.
“You want to see a pro?” Illini coach Brad Underwood said afterward. “That’s what they look like.”
You want to see a national champion? That’s what Arizona looks like.
MY BRACKET PICKS
Play-in: Notre Dame.
First round: Gonzaga, Boise State, Connecticut, Arkansas, Notre Dame, Texas Tech, Davidson, Duke.
Second round: Gonzaga, Arkansas, Texas Tech, Duke.
Sweet 16: Gonzaga, Texas Tech.
Elite Eight: Texas Tech.
First round: Baylor, Marquette, Indiana, UCLA, Texas, Purdue, Murray State, Kentucky.
Second round: Baylor, UCLA, Purdue, Kentucky.
Sweet 16: Baylor, Purdue.
Elite Eight: Purdue.
First round: Arizona, TCU, UAB, Illinois, Colorado State, Tennessee, Loyola, Villanova.
Second round: Arizona, Illinois, Tennessee, Villanova.
Sweet 16: Arizona, Villanova.
Elite Eight: Arizona.
Play-in: Texas Southern.
First round: Kansas, Creighton, Iowa, South Dakota State, Iowa State, Wisconsin, USC, Auburn.
Second round: Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, USC.
Sweet 16: Kansas, Wisconsin.
Elite Eight: Kansas.
Purdue over Texas Tech, Arizona over Kansas.
Arizona over Purdue.