Your #2 seed Ohio State Buckeyes (28-7, 13-5 B1G) are set to take on the #6 seed Arizona Wildcats (27-7, 12-6 Pac-12) this Thursday at 7:47 pm ET. The two clash for the chance to face the winner of #13 La Salle v. #9 Wichita State. Of course, this is how everyone had the West Region shaking out.
What was already a soft section of the bracket got a lot softer with the elimination of the 1, 3, 4, and 5 seeds in the West. Seemingly the road to Atlanta has opened up for the Buckeyes, but they’ve got to take care of head coach Sean Miller’s Wildcats first.
Sun Tzu said, “know your enemy and know yourself." It’s safe to say these two head coaches have that box checked.
Miller and Thad Matta are longtime friends dating back to their days on Herb Sendek’s coaching staff at Miami of Ohio. After Matta moved on to coach at Xavier, he brought on Miller as an assistant. Later, Miller took over as head man of the Musketeers after Matta left for OSU in 2004.
This is not the first time these friends have faced off. The two clashed once before when the top-seeded Buckeyes took on #9 Xavier in the second round of the 2007 tournament. The Bucks prevailed in OT, but getting there wasn’t easy. You might remember how that one made it to extra minutes.
It’s safe to say this one isn’t going to be a cakewalk either, so let’s get to know the Arizona Wildcats.
How They Got Here
The Wildcats opened up their season with 14 straight wins including W’s over #5 Florida, Miami, and #17 San Diego. The impressive streak allowed them to climb as high as #3 in the country before losing to Oregon on Jan. 10. The loss would be one of seven on the year with additional defeats coming at the hands of Cal, Colorado, USC and three times to UCLA, including a 66-64 loss in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament.
The performance was good enough for a six seed in the dance, where the Wildcats were pitted against #11 Belmont. Arizona easily dispatched the Bruins on their way to a 81-64 win, ultimately allowing them to take on unlikely challenger Harvard.
Unable to muster the magic that helped them beat the Lobos, Harvard looked outmatched against Arizona, losing 74-51.
Leading the way for the Wildcats in both games was senior Mark Lyons. The 6’1’’ guard out of Schenectady, NY averaged 25 points in the first two rounds, a full ten points above his team-leading 15.4 ppg average.
Which brings us to...
Watch Out For
This is clearly Lyons. As mentioned, the senior is first on the team in points per game, and second in assists (2.9 apg). The Wildcats' offense will largely run through the first-team All-Pac-12 guard.
In order to negate his effectiveness, Aaron Craft will match up with Lyons for the majority of the evening. It will be interesting to see if A.C. can force a few more turnovers than Lyons is used to committing. Over the past four contests the guard is averaging 2 turnovers per game.
Arizona's lockdown specialist
The Wildcats’ version of Aaron Craft is sophomore Nick Johnson. The 6’3’’ guard is garnering acclaim for his ability to shut down the opposition’s primary scoring threat. In the first round against Belmont, Johnson held the nation's best 3-point shooter, Ian Clark, to 3 of 8 from behind the line. Against Harvard, Johnson held the Crimson’s leading scorer, Wesley Saunders, to a mere 8 points and 1 of 11 from the floor. He’s also averaging a team-leading 2 steals per game.
Johnson's defensive style is different than Craft's. While Aaron plays a scrappy, quick hands game, Johnson flies around the court using his lanky frame to jump into passing lanes and block shots.
This is also Johnson. The guard is averaging 3.3 assists per game (while also chipping in 11.6 PPG).
Wildcat freshman Kaleb Tarczewski will look to clean up everything off the glass. The 7’0’’ center is averaging 6.2 rebounds per game.
As a high school recruit, Tarczewski was ranked as the No. 4 overall prospect in the country and the #3 center in the nation according to Scout. Make no mistake, he’ll be a tough matchup underneath the hoop, but look for OSU to take advantage of his youth and inexperience on the big stage.
Also Watch Out For
Senior forward Solomon Hill is an all-around player averaging 13.3 points per game, 5.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Hill has been a key piece for this team all season long, and the Wildcats will lean on him for his leadership and experience (he has started in his last 78 consecutive appearances). Hill will also draw Thomas duties, saying in Wednesday's presser that he'd guard Thomas, regardless of whether he was playing the 3 or the 4 at the other end.
Look for the first-team All-Pac-12 forward to try to make a statement and extend his collegiate career into the Elite Eight.
Some Additional Numbers
Points Per Game: 73.3 (OSU, 69.9)
Field Goal Percentage: .450 (OSU, .456)
Assists Per Game: 13.8 (OSU, 13.5)
Rebounds Per Game: 36.3 (OSU 35.4)
Reader meet the Wildcats, Wildcats meet the reader. Everybody good? Great, let's make this thing happen Thursday.