With junior stars Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill leading the charge, Arizona figured to be a dangerous team in the postseason.
The only question was whether the Wildcats would be invited to the NCAA Tournament or relegated to the National Invitation Tournament. The answer came Sunday, and it was a mild surprise.
Arizona not only managed to sneak into the NCAA's 65-team field, it is favored to win in the first round. The Wildcats, a No. 12 seed in the Midwest Region, opened as 1-point favorites over fifth-seeded Utah on Friday in Miami.
The Utes, who won the Mountain West Conference Tournament on Saturday, are underdogs despite being seeded much higher than the Wildcats -- highlighting the difference in opinion between the NCAA selection committee and the oddsmakers.
"It's interesting that the No. 12 seed is going to be favored," Ken White of Las Vegas Sports Consultants said. "I think the general public is going to be on Arizona."
The Wildcats (19-13) lost five of their last six games and finished in a fifth-place tie in the Pac-10 Conference.
Hill, a 6-foot-10-inch forward, averages 18.5 points and 11.0 rebounds per game to lead the Wildcats. The 6-7 Budinger, another forward with solid NBA potential, averages 17.9 points.
Utah (24-9) counters with 7-2 senior Luke Nevill, the Mountain West Player of the Year.
"It's all going to come down to if Arizona can stop Nevill or not," White said. "Arizona could be in trouble if Hill gets in foul trouble."
White said he found several more intriguing matchups Sunday, when LVSC made opening lines on 32 first-round NCAA Tournament games.
Brigham Young, the only other MWC team in the field, is a 11/2-point favorite over Texas A&M on Thursday in Philadelphia. It's a rare rematch of a first-round game from last March, won 67-62 by the Aggies.
Louisiana State opened as a 31/2-point favorite over Butler, with early action showing on the underdog Bulldogs.
"It's contrasting styles, with Butler playing methodical, smart basketball and LSU's athletes trying to push the pace," White said. "It's going to be two teams trying to do totally different things."
In another Thursday game, UCLA opened as a 10-point favorite over Virginia Commonwealth, led by senior guard Eric Maynor, who averages 22.4 points. Betting on the Rams drove the line down to 7.
"I've loved UCLA all year. I think they're a solid team, but they haven't always shown that," White said. "Maynor is a great player. It wouldn't surprise me if he's shooting a 3-pointer to try to win the game in a low-scoring battle."
LVSC opened Southern California, the Pac-10 tournament champ, as a 11/2-point favorite over Boston College on Friday. The line jumped to 21/2, and White said he favors the 10th-seeded Trojans mostly because of the emergence of freshman guard DeMar DeRozan.
"DeRozan is finally coming around," White said. "It's a coaching mismatch, and USC is playing its best basketball of the season."
Arizona State is a 5-point favorite over Temple on Friday in Miami. Sophomore guard James Harden is the Sun Devils' top scorer, and the Owls ride high-scoring guard Dionte Christmas.
"If the NBA was involved in marketing this game, it would be Harden versus Christmas, two of the best guards in the country," White said.
Marquette opened as a 7-point favorite over Utah State on Friday in Boise, Idaho, but the line was bet to 41/2.
"Utah State will try to slow the game to a crawl," White said, "and the crowd in Idaho will be rooting for Utah State."
North Carolina is the biggest favorite in the first round. The Tar Heels are laying 28 points against Radford.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907.