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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, March 23, 2014 at 7:00 AM

One minute, the Arizona Wildcats look like the best team in the country, a clear frontrunner to go the distance in this year’s NCAA Tournament. But, with little warning, they seem to shrink into just another team that has to hope they catch some breaks if they’re going to cut down the nets in Dallas.

You saw that last weekend when Arizona stormed into the Pac 12 finals, only to lose to UCLA when a short rotation ran out of gas against a hot team peaking at the right time. Then, with several days to get ready, Arizona was largely unimpressive in their Dance opener against #16 seed Weber State. They weren’t threatened. But, they weren’t particularly scary either.

Arizona did catch a break when erratic but dangerous Oklahoma State was dispatched from their bracket by Gonzaga. And, their Sweet 16 opponent won’t be particularly intimidating based on most indicators. But, does this team really have what it takes to go the distance? Let’s see what we can learn in this preview of Arizona/Gonzaga, the most appealing of the late matchups Sunday Night.


Computer Rankings

Gonzaga: #19 in Pomeroy, #22 in Sagarin

Arizona: #3 in Pomeroy, #1 in Sagarin

The computers love Arizona…because Arizona at its best is awesome indeed. The problem is, they may not be reliable enough to string together 5 straight great games. Foul trouble will always be a concern with their short rotation…and fatigue might come into play in tough battles next week if the Wildcats survive this one. Gonzaga is respected by both college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy and USA Today computer whiz Jeff Sagarin. Those rankings reflect a #5 or #6 seed, not a #9 seed.


Offensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)

Gonzaga: #44

Arizona: #36

Similar rankings there, virtually identical with the margin for error inherent in such a stat. Pomeroy adjusts for pace and schedule strength. Once you do that, these are the same teams with the ball! We should point out that those aren’t particularly great rankings for a Dance contender. Entering the weekend, both were in the bottom quarter of the final 32 on this side of the floor.


Defensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)

Gonzaga: #16

Arizona: #1

Both teams win with defense. Arizona grades out as best in the nation because of their size and physicality. Gonzaga is top 16. But, we should note that West Coast Conference teams have been overrated in past seasons by Pomeroy’s methodology. Arizona has the better defense, and the difference may be bigger than what’s shown above.


Pace Ranking

Gonzaga: #168

Arizona: #274

Gonzaga is fairly average at pace, only running when it’s there. Arizona has been slow this year because they can’t afford to run with such a short rotation. Their familiarity with the halfcourt should serve them well in terms of winning close games straight up. But, they may find it harder to cover tall spreads with a slow approach that keeps players out of foul trouble. They won’t be facing blowout fodder any more…and the games may be grinders.


Against the Spread

Gonzaga: 18-14-1

Arizona: 20-14

Both teams made money for their backers this season. And, both deserve credit for that because oddsmakers usually stack the lines against these well-known Western powers. Note that Arizona was 20-12 before running into UCLA and Weber State! Gonzaga’s in very good form right now. And, it’s a team that’s much better as a Cinderella darkhorse in the Dance than it is as a highly regarded seed with big expectations. You want to fade Gonzaga as an overrated favorite. Are they an underrated dog this time around?


Vegas Line: Arizona by 6, total of 127

Oddsmakers are generally in line with what the computers are saying here. Top seeds usually get that much market respect against somebody in the 20’s. You have to decide if Arizona’s really championship material given what’s happened on the floor in their last two games.

JIM HURLEY absolutely loves this Sunday card. He’s not going to play the board for clients, so this Arizona/Gonzaga game may or may not make the final cut. You can purchase NETWORK’S must-have BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call our handicapping office Sunday morning at 1-888-777-4155. Call before the first tip in Kansas/Stanford to guarantee you get full value for the day.

Back with you Monday to preview LSU-SMU in the NIT. That’s part of ESPN’s Tripleheader of second round action. Can Larry Brown ride his Mustangs to New York? More on that in Monday’s NOTEBOOK.

For now…another fantastic Dance card awaits. WALTZ WITH WINNERS thanks to the exclusive team handicapping approach that’s only available here at JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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