March Madness: Arizona’s Keys to Victory


No. 2 seeded Arizona will take on No. 15 seeded Texas Southern in the Round of 64 to open up the 2015 March Madness Tournament. The Arizona Wildcats must take care of business against the Texas Southern Tigers in order to not allow the tournament to get too “mad” too quick.

There have been seven such instances in which the No. 15 seed has upset the No. 2 seed in tournament history and the Arizona Wildcats have history with this upset. In 1993, the No. 15 Santa Clara Broncos shocked the world and broke numerous brackets when they defeated the No.2 Arizona Wildcats in the first round 64-61.

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Three of the seven upsets in the history of No. 2 v. No. 15 seeds have occurred since 2012. Norfolk State defeated Missouri and Lehigh defeated Duke in the same tournament in 2012 which caused people to use their red markers very early in the tournament. Florida Gulf Coast continued the trend the following year by beating Georgetown by 10 points.

Arizona (31-3) cannot take Texas Southern (22-12) lightly with the recent past of the No. 2 v. No. 15 matchup. The Wildcats enter the tournament riding a nice 11-game winning streak, but Texas Southern (22-12) also has had success lately as they have won 11 in a row as well.

Here are three keys to success for the Arizona Wildcats in their opening round matchup against the Texas Southern Tigers:

1. Free throws, free throws, free throws…

They are called free throws for a reason. They are free points! The Wildcats struggled from the charity stripe early in the season, but have begun to find the touch from the free throw line.

Arizona enters the tournament tied for 139th in the nation in free throw percentage at 69.9 percent. It is a sheer numbers game however as they have attempted the second most free throws in the nation with 874, trailing just Auburn who had 910 attempts. Arizona was also second in free throws made with 610 trailing just BYU and their 660 knockdowns from the line.

If Arizona, who averages 25.7 free throw attempts per game, can get to the line 20 times and make between 13 and 15 of those attempts then the Cats should have no trouble advancing to the next round.

In the grand scheme of things, there is still room for improvement for the team and hitting clutch free throws down the stretch of a game could make-it-or-break-it for the Wildcats in the long run of the tournament.

2. Spark off the bench

The starting lineup of Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell, and Kaleb Tarczewski average a combined 56.2 points per game. That’s all dandy and sweet, but the bench unit only averages 13.8 points per contest.

9.1 of the bench tally comes from sixth man Gabe York. York hit a team high 56 three-point field goals in the regular season. Also, the 6-3 junior shot a team high 80.3 percent from the free throw line. It was a much improved season from the free throw line as he shot just 67.3 percent in his sophomore season.

If York can get some sort of assistance from Dusan Ristic, Elliott Pitts, or Parker Jackson-Cartwright offensively then the Wildcats will have no problems putting Texas Southern’s season to an end.

3. Take care of the basketball

Limiting mistakes goes a long way toward winning basketball games in mid-to-late-March. Arizona finished the regular season averaging just 11.2 turnovers per game, good enough for 47th in the country.

18 of the 46 teams ahead of the Wildcats in this category are tournament teams. Teams such as Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Wichita State, and Virginia are all in the top-10 in the nation in terms of taking care of the basketball.

Arizona ranked 24th in turnover margin with a +2.9 on the season. Only nine tournament teams had a better margin than the Wildcats, but the caliber of teams is not lackluster in the least bit. Ohio State, Arkansas, VCU, and Georgia State all rank ahead of the Wildcats.

If Arizona defeats Texas Southern, they will have to face either Ohio State or VCU in the second round and must take care of the ball again in that contest. Georgia State and Arkansas are also in Arizona’s region and if they want to make it to the Final Four their path may cross with one or both of these teams as well.