February 21, 2011
The Bracket Big Board takes into consideration past returns, current performance and expected future gains in determining who should be included among the field of 68 (31 automatic and 37 at-large bids). Essentially, the Bracket Big Board is a cheat sheet designed for amateur bracketologists if they were filling out a Tourney Pick ‘Em '11 entry today (Sign up now!). The Bracket Big Board is updated every Monday until the dance card is officially unveiled March 13.
A top-ranked school with a National Player of the Year candidate and a commanding lead in a historically revered conference shouldn't be disrespected. Sadly, for the Arizona Wildcats, that seems to be the case.
While America has fallen head over heels for Mountain West darlings BYU and San Diego St., few headlines, especially east of the Mississippi, have been written about Sean Miller’s overlooked club. The underappreciated head coach, who came over from Xavier in 2009, is dumbfounded and frustrated by the lack of coverage his team has received from a Right Coast-biased media.
Only three years ago the storied program was headed in the opposite direction.
After Lute Olson abruptly retired in 2008, the Pac-10 powerhouse, which had claimed 11 conference titles, a national championship and appeared in every NCAA tournament since 1985 under the Silver Fox, entered a period of turmoil. Over the next three seasons, guided by three different coaches – Kevin O’Neil, Russ Pennell and Miller – the once unstoppable juggernaut dropped a combined 44 games, snapping its 25-year tourney streak a season ago.
Just a few months later, the ‘Cats are undergoing a spectacular revival.
Standing at 22-4 and coming off an enormous home win against rival Washington on Saturday, the surging program has reestablished its dominance. Miller has brought a defensive toughness and tenacity to Tucson that’s been absent for years. Two seasons ago, ‘Zona relied exclusively on its high-octane offense, allowing opponents to score freely. Under Pennell, it ranked a ghastly 142nd in defensive efficiency This year, it checks in at a respectable 43rd nationally, a night and day change. From the Arizona Wildcat:
"He gets his point across," said forward Solomon Hill of Miller. "He really emphasizes on the defensive end helping, not letting people go one-on-one. He really emphasizes your team. It's really just staying together."
Maintaining team-wide consistency is critical to the ‘Cats’ tournament success, but how well Derrick Williams performs will ultimately determine their postseason fate. The sophomore, who’s played with a chip on his shoulder, is a dynamite talent. Despite possessing average athleticism, the 6-foot-8 saguaro cactus is a well-rounded producer capable of overtaking games. Those who’ve tried to challenge him have routinely been pricked. On the year, he’s recorded nine double-doubles, averaged an insane 9.2 free-throw attempts per game and, get this, netted 69.4 percent from three, a mark if sustained would set a new NCAA record. As seen in his game-preserving denial of the Huskies’ Darnell Gant over the weekend, he’s also a player who excels under pressure. Without question he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Jimmer Fredette and Jared Sullinger for the Naismith Award.
Undoubtedly, Williams will be the focus of future enemy game-plans. If MoMo Jones, Kyle Fogg, Kevin Parrom and Hill can take pressure off the versatile big man, this is a club capable of rocketing to Houston. The ‘Cats rank in the top-20 nationally in offensive efficiency, effective field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. Foes are also shooting just 28.1 percent against them from distance, the third-lowest rate in the nation. Tighten the screws in the paint defensively (49.1 2PT% D), and they will be an extremely difficult team to eliminate.
With only a 2-3 record against the RPI top-50, it’s understandable why many hardwood prognosticators have expressed apprehension about the desert rep’s tourney prospects. But make no mistake, Arizona has the ingredients necessary for a stirring run. If achieved, maybe then it will finally earn an apprecation long overdue.
Here are the movers and shakers on this week's Triple-B:
*For games played through Sunday, February 20
*RPI data provided by Rivals
*Orange teams on the rise, blue falling
On the bubble: Colorado St. (18-8), VCU (21-8), UTEP (20-6), Harvard (20-4), Southern Mississippi (20-6), Richmond (21-7), Gonzaga (19-9), Valparaiso (20-8), Clemson (18-9), UAB (19-7), Michigan (17-11)
Dropped out:Colorado St., Richmond, Missouri St., Murray St., McNeese St.
Conference breakdown:American East (1), ACC (5), Atlantic Sun (1), Atlantic 10 (2), Big 12 (7), Big East (11), Big Sky (1), Big South (1), Big Ten (6), Big West (1), Colonial (2), Conference USA (1), Horizon (2), Ivy (1), Mid-American (1), Mid-Eastern (1), Missouri Valley (1), Mountain West (3), Northeast (1), Ohio Valley (1), Pac-10 (3), Patriot (1), SEC (6), Southern (1), Southland (1), Summit (1), Sun Belt (1), SWAC (1), West Coast (1), WAC (1)
Image courtesy of US Presswire