Team to beat
Arizona's 12-year conference tournament title drought continued with a 75-71 loss to UCLA in Saturday's Pac-12 final, but don't expect the Wildcats to stay parched for long. A stout defensive team all season, Arizona let UCLA shoot 58.1 percent from the floor in Saturday's opening half before surrendering only seven field goals after halftime.
"We can't warm up for the first eight or 10 minutes, spot them some baskets that we don't normally get, and then expect to win in March," coach Sean Miller said after the game.
As lessons go, it could be one the Wildcats carry into April. Before Saturday, the last time Arizona (30-4) let an opponent score 70 was Jan. 9, to the same Bruins team.
Upsets typically go to roost on the 5-versus-12 bracket line, where Summit League champ North Dakota State resides.
The Bison (25-6), who start three seniors and a junior, own wins against Notre Dame and NCAA Tournament teams Western Michigan and Delaware.
They enter Thursday's opener against Oklahoma on a nine-game win streak.
Welcome to the cloud-of-dust segment of the bracket, which only a defensive aficionado could love.
Three teams — San Diego State (second), Arizona (fourth) and American (seventh) — ranked among the nation's top seven in scoring defense through Thursday.
F Doug McDermott, Creighton. The 3,000-point scorer could be the first in 29 years to be a three-time first-team All-American. It's not hyperbole to suggest McDermott is dangerous from about 30 feet in (45.4 percent from 3-point range).
G Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State. Had he not been suspended three games (all losses) for his run-in with a Texas Tech fan, OSU might be a higher seed. The likely NBA lottery pick leads the team in scoring (17.8 ppg), assists (4.7) and steals (2.8).
F Terran Petteway, Nebraska. The 6-foot-6 catalyst (18.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg), Petteway could carry his team into a third-round game against in-state foe Creighton.
Joey Knight, Times staff writer