Arizona is built better for the tourney

Arizona's tumultuous campaign concludes with an opportunity to right the ship in its 20th consecutive NCAA tournament. While the road won't be easy by any stretch of the imagination, this might actually be a team better built for the Big Dance than it was for Pac-10 play.

Aside from the oft-discussed issues of inconsistency and mental toughness, two on-court issues plagued Arizona: lack of depth and foul trouble. However, the very nature of the tournament, the way games are played, and called, could work to the UA's favor.

There's nothing Arizona can do about its depth. This is a team that goes eight deep at best, and even then the hope is that Ivan Radenovic and Jason Ranne aren't liabilities. In truth, the UA has a one-person bench, but if Chris Rodgers is inconsistent it just puts extra pressure on the starters to play well.

Moreover, it places the UA behind the eight ball from a conditioning standpoint. Not everybody can be Jason Gardner and go and go and go for 40 minutes a game. Players need rest, even young, healthy collegiate athletes. Sometimes the breaks aren't enough in regular games. However, the NCAA Tournament has the added benefit of longer timeouts, and that might be just what Arizona's depleted roster needs to catch a critical second wind, especially if it wants to get into games where it dictates a faster tempo.

Arizona's foul situation has been especially precarious at times. The UA walks a dangerous tightrope at any point Channing Frye is saddled on the bench. But Arizona Coach Lute Olson has made reference to Frye's availability specifically this week in a thinly veiled reference to the tight reputation of Pac-10 officiating. This is an important distinction that needs to be made. It's not that Pac-10 officiating hurts Arizona, nor does it excuse Arizona's defensive lapses this season. It's not that Pac-10 officiating singles out Arizona. Simply put, Arizona has been hurt more by conference whistle-blowers this season simply because it lacks depth, especially on the inside. So if Frye gets called for cheap fouls, the UA is in trouble.

There's a chance that won't happen during the team's stay in the NCAA Tournament. With Frye in the lineup there's no question this is a more dangerous unit.

A fresher Arizona that isn't struggling to find holes due to player foul issues bodes for the potential of a much-more competitive group once tournament play begins. That in turn gives the UA an opportunity to go head-to-head with its best available options.

It's certainly no guarantee for victory, but it might be enough to make the Wildcats a whole lot to handle every time they take the floor.


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