March 17, 2008
The Arizona Wildcats are my selection for this years Cinderella team. This team has three major weapons offensively: Jerryd Bayless (20.0 ppg), Chase Budinger (17.0 ppg), and big man Jordan Hill (13.2 ppg).
The team averages a high 72 points per game. This teams guard play, led by Bayless, is unstoppable if they play up to potential, which they have done many times this year against formidable opponents. In one of two wins against ranked opponent Washington State, Jerryd Bayless scored 23 points and other guard Jawann McClellan scored 14 points, along with a combined 11 assists.
These guards also always seem to find Chase Budinger, who always puts up big numbers in big games. The Wildcats went to Kansas and in a 4 point loss, Budinger put up 27 points. In only a 13 point loss at Memphis 20 points and in a game against Oregon he scored 30.
He scored 29 against USC at USC in a win and 24 against UCLA in a 2 point loss. I just pointed out all of Budingers great games, but most of those were Arizona's greatest games:
Losing in OT at Kansas by four
Defeating Texas A&M and Illinois at Illinois in consecutive games are solid victories
Losing by an inflated 13 point margin to Memphis at Memphis
Losing to Stanford twice in the regular season, but by four on the road and by one at home
Defeating Washington State twice, once by ten and once by twelve
and beating USC at USC 80-69.
Arizona was hit by the injury bug this year a bit, but they are now healthy and ready to play. Also, when Lute Olson left, Kevin O'Neil came in and changed a lot around including going from zone to man and making them run more set plays.
This does not help a team that is already used to a system, but they have become used to O'Neil's style now. And I think Lute Olson won't be afraid to help this Arizona team win by making some appearances at times, I mean, he is coaching this team next year.
Arizona should be able to take care of business against West Virginia because of Arizona's great guard play and I'll take Chase Budinger over Joe Alexander any day. And when Arizona reaches the second round against Duke, watch out Cameron Crazies, Arizona will be fired up and ready to play.
The Paulus/Nelson against Bayless matchup should be priceless, but I believe Bayless (20.0 ppg/4.1 apg) can be more of a playmaker than Paulus (11.3 ppg/3.3 apg) or Nelson (15.2 ppg/3.1 apg), and one of them has to guard him.
And I don't think you can trust a freshman like Kyle Singler, with not even a block per game and one steal per game, or Gerald Henderson, who also doesn't even have a block per game and only averages one steal per game, to guard a scoring machine like Budinger. Look for Arizona to attack the rim and force fouls and then when Duke collapses, look for the kick out for the three.
I am making a bold prediction but I see another Arizona victory after that, against either Xavier or Purdue, to make it to the elite eight and meet UCLA, where their Cinderella story will end.