In the film, "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button", a boy is born as an old man and lives his life in reverse, going from old to young before eventually passing. As in any life, there are triumphs, defeats, moral victories and inevitable downfalls. Benjamin Button does not do anything conventionally nor does anyone truly know what to think of him. He is, for the most part, a complete and total unknown.
The Arizona Wildcats are Benjamin Button. This team, at this point and time in the season, basically represents a team without a true identity.
Ranked highly in both major polls to begin the season, the UA has fallen a considerable amount due to inexperience, a lack of size and some downright bad luck. They lost their sixth man to a gunshot wound and a broken foot for most of the season, and were without their starting point guard because of a few immature decisions to begin the season. They have lost games at the buzzer, struggled to score the basketball on a consistent basis and have managed to frustrate the daylight out of their fans.
Arizona now sits squarely on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, with most in the belief they have a lot of work to do in order to go dancing in March. For a program that once had all of the momentum in the world behind them just a few months ago, failing to earn a bid is quite possible and would dampen the spirit of Tucson.
This team enters the week with a decent record of 16-8 overall, including a 7-4 mark in conference play. They sit two games back of first place with only seven left to go.
Of their four losses in Pac-12 play, three have come by two points or fewer. Of their four non-conference losses, which came against Mississippi St., San Diego St., Florida and Gonzaga, each team is currently projected for a No. 6 seed (or higher) in the latest March Madness projections. Other than the shellacking against the Zags, the UA should have probably won the other three.
At the end of the day, though, this team still has eight losses, which is all that matters to the NCAA Selection Committee. We can only hope they recognize just how much this team has improved in recent weeks and that nothing more than a handful of points separates them from having upwards of 20 wins.
So what has been the cause for this success? Defense. And a lot of it.
According to Kenpom, Arizona ranks No. 23 in terms of total defense. They lead the conference in opponents field goal percentage and are rapidly moving up the national leader board. While this may be the norm going forward with Sean Miller, it is quite the contrast from the Lute Olson days where the 'Cats would be a lock for upwards of 80 points and would simply outscore the competition.
Without their efforts on the defensive end of the floor, this team would not have a prayer. Heck, even a chance to play in the NIT would be far from guaranteed.
This brings us back to Benjamin Button, the most unpredictable and one of the most lovable fictional characters in the history of literature. This is a good team, and certainly one that has captured the hearts and minds of the fan base, but if the last few months have taught us anything, it is that we have absolutely no idea which way this team will turn next.
If we have learned anything from Sean Miller over the last few years, it is that you do not want to bet against him or his program come February and March. There is plenty of work left to be done, but now is the time to show the entire country the Arizona Wildcats are here to stay.