5 X-Factors to Watch in the Arizona vs Weber State NCAA Tournament Matchup
NCAA tournament history hates No. 16 seeds.
Weber State—along with three other hopeful-if-delusional underdogs in the rest of the field—will attempt to become the first No. 16 seed to knock down a No. 1 when it faces off with Arizona in the West Region's second round on Friday morning.
Sixteens own a combined record of 0-116 (not counting play-in games) since 1985.
And according to Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen, only six No. 16 seeds have even made things interesting in the almost 30 years of the current format.
Don't expect that zero to change in San Diego on Friday morning, but there are several X-factors for Weber State that could make the game closer than expected. There are also several on the Arizona side that could make for a massive blowout.
Weber State's Shooting Precision
Weber State is among the country's purest shooting clubs.
From distance, in terms of team-wide percentage, Weber State is No. 21 in the country, nailing down 39.2 percent of its looks from three-point land in 2013-14 (h/t ESPN.com).
And it's not as if it is struggling from other areas of the floor, stroking 55.3 percent from the field overall. That's good enough for No. 13 in the NCAA's highest division.
Even with those impressive percentages, Weber State isn't one of the nation's highest-scoring teams—preferring discipline over volume—averaging 73.2 points per game. By comparison, defensive-minded Arizona averages just .1 points per game fewer at 73.1.
In order for Weber State to have any chance against one of America's best teams, it must continue to find those open looks and drain them like it did throughout the Big Sky Conference season—only it will now have to do it against the most athletic lineup it has faced all year.
That's going to be the test of the season for the low-major dog.
Arizona's Balanced Scoring Attack
There is no focal point of Arizona's offense, making the Wildcats one of the toughest teams to cover in the tournament.
Shooting guard Nick Johnson leads Arizona in scoring at 16.4 points per game, but every other member of Arizona's regular rotation who is getting at least 20 minutes of playing time—a rotation that is running slightly thin with the February loss of forward Brandon Ashley—is averaging 6.8 points per game or more.
According to ArizonaWildcats.com, all six of those players fire between 5.8 and 12 shots per game on average, with only Gabe York—the club's premier three-point shooter—hitting less than 40 percent from field-goal range. In 21 of Arizona's 34 games, at least four players were in double digits.
Weber State, not exactly a defensive powerhouse to begin with, will have serious trouble matching up with Arizona across the court.
The multitude of options make Sean Miller's crew nearly impossible to predict.
Arizona's Ownership of the Offensive Glass
Arizona is not a team blessed with a wealth of sharpshooters, hitting just 46.8 percent of its shots on the season—over eight percentage points lower than its Friday counterpart.
What allowed the Wildcats to score enough to cruise to the regular-season conference championship in the Pac-12 was its ability to clean up its own weak shooting with second chances and putbacks. They led the Pac-12 in that category, pulling down 12.59 per game on average, claiming 428 in 34 games (h/t Pac-12.com).
Against a smaller, substantially less-athletic Weber State lineup, this could be a major factor in determining whether this game gets out of reach early.
Because the favorite is unlikely to shoot the lights out, if the No. 16 seed can limit Arizona from getting multiple opportunities, this game could be more uncomfortable than expected for the team from Tucson.
Weber State's Ability to Find Kyle Tresnak for Paint Points
As previously noted, Weber State's team field-goal percentage is among the best of any team in the tournament.
And while they have the ability to score in bunches on jumpers and long-range treys, they really thrive when they can pound the ball into 6'10", 240-pound center Kyle Tresnak for easy points near the basket. His inside presence opens up the arc for the shooters.
If Tresnak can compile a game anything close to as dominant as he did in Weber State's most crucial game of the season—an 88-67 blowout of North Dakota in the Big Sky tourney title matchup—he'll be able to keep his team from getting run out of San Diego State's Viejas Arena.
Tresnak—who hails from Scottsdale, Ariz.—has shown the ability to score against superior competition already in 2013-14, posting 24 points against NCAA-tourney No. 10 seed BYU in November.
He'll need to at least match that output for Weber State to hang with No. 1.
Sean Miller Does Not Lose to Lower-Seeded NCAA Tourney Teams
Across the span of the two programs he's led to the NCAA tournament—a combined six appearances between Xavier and Arizona—Sean Miller's tourney exits were all the doing of higher seeds.
He's perfect against squads that come into March Madness ranked below his own, and 11-6 overall in NCAA tourney play, including two Sweet 16s and two Elite 8s.
That's a positive omen for the club from Tucson, as owning a No. 1 seed leaves just three possibilities for defeat if that track record holds firm.
Miller's ability to elevate his own performance when the stakes have risen is one of the keys to Arizona making a long run toward Arlington and the Final Four, starting with Friday morning's showdown with No. 16 Weber State.