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Q&A on Arizona from the Desert Swarm

We chatted with the Arizona writers about the flaw in this team, and why this team is so impressive.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Along with the preview for St. John’s game against Arizona [read more about it here], we had a chat with Ryan from Arizona Desert Swarm, the fine Arizona SB Nation site (really, they’re quite good).

Let’s get to know a little more about the Wildcats, who are a powerful offensive force, and a real challenge for the Red Storm tonight.

[We answered questions for the Desert Swarm on St. John’s at their site.]

Given the NCAA and legal drama that has surrounded the program, how are fans feeling about this particular Arizona team - is this squad feeling redemptive, like a reprieve while the fanbase waits, something else?

Yeah, I think that’s a good way to put it. Arizona fans obviously know sanctions could be coming, but they aren’t really thinking about it because they are unlikely to be handed down this season. Plus, this team has a lot of talent and has been really fun to watch, aside from the losses to Gonzaga and Baylor.

What about this team makes you feel that they are destined for a big year and maybe a real shot at a national championship?

It’s simple: the Wildcats have all the pieces they need to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. It’s just a matter of putting them together and playing well at the right time.

Arizona has a star point guard in Nico Mannion, an athletic wing in Josh Green, and a quickly-emerging big man in Zeke Nnaji, who has arguably been UA’s best player to this point. All three freshmen could be first-round picks in June.

What is really interesting about this roster is that they are surrounded by four fifth-year seniors (although two are newcomers). So while UA’s star players are young, their team as a whole is not.

Where is the flaw in this team? Related: what did Pepperdine and Penn do to score so well against the Wildcats?

Rebounding is the team’s biggest issue. It stems from a lack of attention to detail rather than a dearth of size or athleticism.

And while Arizona has statistically been a good offensive team this season, it has shot extremely poorly in its two games against ranked teams this year (27 percent against Baylor and 38 percent against Gonzaga). Is that just a coincidence or have the Wildcats been exposed on that end? That’s the big question right now.

St. John’s is a perfect opponent to wrap up non-conference play against since it has the No. 38 defensive rating in the country.

Is this freshman class one of the best in Wildcat history?

Definitely. Mannion, Nnaji, and Green lead the Wildcats in scoring and I can’t remember another time three freshmen have done that at Arizona. I know it hasn’t happened in the Sean Miller era. This was expected from Mannion and Green, who were McDonald’s All-Americans, but Nnaji’s dominance has been somewhat surprising since he was a four-star recruit.

What are the keys to the game for Arizona?

As I said earlier, rebounding and actually making open shots. Arizona especially needs Mannion to get back on track after he shot 3 for 20 against Gonzaga. He has been nursing a back injury lately and having a week between games hopefully will do him some good.