DeAndre Ayton is the best player in college basketball right now. Arizona’s center absolutely dominated the Pac-12 Tournament in leading the Wildcats to a title. In the process he sent a message to the rest of the collegiate hoops world: despite a tumultuous season, Arizona is a legitimate national title contender.
To say Ayton was a man among boys during the Pac-12 Tournament would be dramatically understating things. He was more like a giant among toddlers. There was absolutely nothing the opposition could do to stop the 7’1″ Bahamian. He was everywhere on both ends of the floor, a one-man wrecking crew guiding Sean Miller’s team to a third conference tourney title in four years.
In three tournament games, Ayton averaged 24.7 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. He also went 31-of-50 (62.0 percent) from the field and 12-of-16 (75.0 percent) from the free throw line.
In Friday night’s overtime win against UCLA in the semifinals, Ayton scored 32 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in 40 minutes. He followed that up by dropping 32 points and grabbing 18 boards in the championship game against USC Saturday night.
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Ayton is the kind of player who can absolutely dominate the NCAA Tournament, but Arizona is hardly a one-man team. When you throw in Allonzo Trier (18.7 points per game), a healthy Rawle Alkins (13.7 points per game), Dusan Ristic (11.9 points, 7.1 rebounds per game) and Parker Jackson-Cartwright (7.8 points, 4.6 assists per game) it’s clear the Wildcats have a stellar lineup top to bottom.
Trier and Alkins give Arizona a perimeter duo who can hang with any in the country, while Jackson-Cartwright provides a senior presence in the backcourt. Then there’s Ristic, a 7-foot Serbian who helps take some of the load off of Ayton’s back in the frontcourt.
The Wildcats never really established consistent dominance this season despite a stacked roster. Questions about the FBI’s investigation into college basketball (and their program specifically) have dogged this team for months. But now an “us against the world” mentality has taken hold and the Wildcats are rolling.
Arizona has won five in a row and eight of its last nine. The lone blemish in that time came in an overtime loss to Oregon on the road. That happened to be the game Sean Miller sat out as the school reviewed his status.
While Arizona won’t get a top seed, it might be the most dangerous team in the country heading into Selection Sunday. While we know the Wildcats are good, Ayton is the reason they could be unstoppable.