By Tyler Leli @jetleli on March 25, 2014
The Arizona Wildcats have been one of the top college basketball teams in the country during the 2013-14 season, and they have justified this title so far in the NCAA Tournament. As the No. 1 seed in the West region, the Wildcats have found their opening two games against Weber State and Gonzaga to be relatively easy. Still, they now face an impressive San Diego State side in the Sweet 16, and they need these 5 players to step up to win.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will start at small forward for Arizona, and they will rely on the freshman to attack the rim with vigor. Hollis-Jefferson has a glaring weakness shooting the ball, but thus far he has been nearly unstoppable because of his athletic and fearless play. He scored 18 points with five rebounds, five assists, four blocks and one steal in the Round of 32. Expect the freshman to have a big impact on both ends of the court.
Distributing and shooting the basketball is immensely important in knockout games, and T.J. McConnell will ensure Arizona is efficient in both departments. McConnell isn't a flashy point guard, but he plays exceptionally hard, is a tough defender and after averaging 32 minutes per game this year is used to playing big minutes in big games. Expect McConnell to play a selfless game that allows Arizona's stars to flourish.
Winning the battle at the rim is very important, and in order to do this Arizona needs center Kaleb Tarczewski to succeed. Taczewski is a legitimate 7-foot, 235-pounds, although his average of 28.5 minutes played per game this season shows the fact that he is much more durable than most big men. The sophomore center likely won't light up the scoreboard, but he should limit San Diego State from scoring in the post and will play big minutes.
Aaron Gordon has been billed as a top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and it is easy to see why. The freshman power forward has jaw dropping athleticism, plays hard on the boards and has developed an adequate mid-range and three-point shot this season. During the two NCAA Tournament games to date Gordon has averaged 17 points, seven rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.5 blocks and two steals, and these totals should be low water marks against SDSU.
Nick Johnson is somewhat of an elder statesman on this Arizona team, and he will play a big role both on and off the court heading into the Sweet 16. On the court, Johnson will be relied upon to stay somewhere close to season averages of 37.3 percent from three-point range and 16.3 points per game, and he will likely be a go-to guy for big shots. Off the court, Johnson will have to keep the Wildcats stable enough to defeat SDSU.
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