There was a time when the Arizona basketball program was elite. From 1985 to 2009, the Wildcats made 25 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament, a string that’s been eclipsed by only one other school in history (North Carolina with 27 from 1975 to 2001).
That was when Lute Olson roamed the sidelines as head coach: Tan and debonair in a perfectly-fit suit, guiding the Wildcats with a typical up-tempo playing style. In 1997, the Cats won their only NCAA championship.
But it’s been four years since Arizona even appeared in the NCAA tournament, and after the public embarrassment of recruiting violations a few years ago and the firing of their head coach, the school is coming back to respectability. This year, an 11-0 start under head coach Tommy Lloyd has placed the Wildcats back into the conversation about the best team in the country.
The NET Rankings are the new method used by the NCAA selection committee to determine seeds in the men’s basketball tournament. Despite their loss to Tennessee last month, the Wildcats rank No. 1 in the Net Rankings, meaning they have a good chance to secure a top seed should they keep playing well.
Oddsmakers have No. 9-ranked Arizona as favorites to win the Pac-12, where UCLA will likely be its chief rivals. Arizona has a home game against Washington on Jan. 3, and the Wildcats are favored by a massive 24.5 or 25 points depending on which Arizona sportsbook you use. Then, on Jan. 8, the Wildcats will face Arizona State in Tempe.
Here are the futures odds for Arizona as conference play continues:
Arizona Wildcats Basketball Futures Odds
- To Win Pac-12: Arizona +135 (UCLA +135)
- To Make Final Four: Arizona +360
- To Win NCAA Championship: Arizona +1800
Only six teams: Gonzaga (+600), Duke (+800), Purdue (+850), Baylor (+1200), Kansas (+1200) and UCLA (+1600), have better odds to win the NCAA title, per DraftKings.
- To Win Pac-12: Arizona +130 (UCLA +140)
- To Make Final Four: Arizona +450
- To Win NCAA Championship: Arizona +2100
From Caesars Sportsbook
- To Win Pac-12: Arizona +140 (UCLA +140)
- To Win NCAA Championship: Arizona +2000
- To Win NCAA Championship: Arizona +1800
Future NBA Lottery Pick Leads Wildcats
He might be listed as No. 0 on the scorecard, but guard Bennedict Mathurin is No. 1 in the hearts of Wildcat fans. The sophomore is averaging 18 points and nearly seven rebounds per game. The former Canadian high school star is also a mature defensive player, typically showing off skills against the opponent’s best shooter.
Mathurin is headed to the NBA, and probably as a lottery pick in the 2022 Draft, but before that he has his mind set on the team goals of winning the PAC-12, earning a top seed in the NCAA tourney, and cutting down the nets in New Orleans in March.
Some are comparing Mathurin to former NBA wingman Quentin Richardson, who poured in as much as 17 PPG at the pro level. Mathurin has better defensive instincts, and with an increased emphasis on the 3-pointer, the Arizona guard’s fluid, high release on the long-range jumper bodes well for whichever NBA team nabs him. Earlier this season, Mathurin scored a career-best 30 points in a victory over Illinois.
The last time the Wildcats made it to the Final Four, they were led by a pair of future NBA stars: Mike Bibby and Jason Terry. For the team to get back, Mathurin will need to carry a large load of the offensive output, but he does have help on the inside.
Shot Blockers: Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo
The Wildcats rotate their two centers, junior Christian Koloko, a 7-1 giant, and first-year transfer Oumar Ballo, a 7-footer from Mali. Combined, the two big men are blocking five shots per game. Twice this season, Koloko and Ballo have teamed for 10 blocks in a single game. Their presence in the paint helps make opponents timid when they approach the rim. Arizona ranks fourth in Div. I in blocked shots per game.
Another Terry in Phoenix
Yet another young player is key to the NCAA tournament hopes of the Wildcats: Sophomore Dalen Terry. No relation to former Wildcat Jason Terry, who is now a head coach in the NBA’s G League, Dalen is second on the team in assists and fourth in rebounds despite averaging 24 minutes per game. He’s a versatile player willing to pass, score, or rebound as needed to help the team. He’s also a tough defender on the perimeter. If Terry continues his progress and becomes a 30+ minute guy, Arizona can become even tougher for opponents.