Arizona basketball has its work cut out for it this Thursday night. Playing the No. 2 seed Ohio State, Arizona is going to need to cool off one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Buckeyes have won 10 straight including victories over two top-five teams, and four top-20 teams.
To beat the Buckeyes, the Wildcats will need to tame the fiery Aaron Craft and one of the best scorers in the nation in Deshaun Thomas. Their matchups with Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill are going to be some of the best individual battles of the entire tournament.
If the Wildcats are able to pull off this difficult feat and beat Ohio State, there are teams that provide an easier path to the national title. This list covers the best and worst matchups for the Arizona Wildcats.
If advancing, Arizona will be playing La Salle or Wichita State
If playing La Salle, it is going to be a clash of styles. La Salle plays a four guard lineup, and other than Jerrell White, has no player taller than 6'5" who plays significant minutes. They are extremely quick and able to break team's down off the dribble. They are also very small.
Arizona has played two small teams already this postseason and smashed them. But La Salle is much more aggressive about getting into the paint. While Belmont and Harvard shot a lot of threes, La Salle uses its quickness to get to the paint.
Further, this team isn't afraid of anybody. They played in the Atlantic 10, one of the best conferences in the country, and knocked off two top-25 teams in their first two games.
Size is therefore Arizona's biggest advantage. The worry with this team is that Tarczewski can be turned into a huge liability because he won't be able to defend the smaller lineup. And while Jerrett is more athletic than Zeus, he may be too slow as well. Arizona may be forced to change its lineup and style of play. It could go the other way as well, where the size is just too overwhelming and La Salle freezes up like Harvard. It would be interesting to see which style wins out.
While size and strength is going to be Arizona's advantage against La Salle, it likely won't be against Wichita State. The Shockers are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. Playing Pittsburgh, one of the more bruising teams in the NCAA, the Shockers out-bullied them. They grabbed 10 offensive boards and two more rebounds than the Panthers overall. The following game they played Gonzaga and beat them. This team will minimize but not eliminate one of Arizona's biggest strengths.
The better matchup for Arizona is Wichita State. While they may be a better rebounding team, they won't force Arizona to change its lineup and style entirely. This is a strong probability with La Salle. With Wichita State, Arizona can keep its best players in the game and out athletic the Shockers.
If surviving to see the school's first Final Four since 2001, Arizona will get Louisville, Duke, Michigan State or Oregon.
All of these teams are playing great basketball at this point. The team that comes out of these four will be playing great, but a couple of the four will be better matchups for Arizona.
While I would never say Duke is soft, the team is similar to Belmont and Harvard in that it shoots the ball very well and rebounds very poorly. Duke is 15th in shooting percentage (Harvard 16th, Belmont fifth) and fifth in three point percentage (Harvard eighth, Belmont 38th). But the Blue Devils are 204th in rebounding and 250th in offensive rebounding, slightly better than these two schools.
Arizona's size and athleticism would be difficult for Duke to handle. Of the four possible Final Four matchups, this would be the best for Arizona.
This is a good matchup for Arizona because it would be a close game until the end. With both coaches playing a very physical type of ball, the game would be low scoring and tightly matched. The pack-line defense would be in all its glory with two of its best ambassadors playing it all the way. In the end, Arizona would pull ahead late because it has better athletes. The Wildcats have too much firepower for the Spartans to match for an entire 40 minutes.
Louisville would feast on one of Arizona's weaknesses. All year long Arizona has struggled with turnovers and decision making. With Louisville's pressure and up-tempo style, the Wildcats would give the Cardinals 20 extra possessions on turnovers and another good number with bad shots.
The countermeasure to a team like this is a cool-headed point guard. While Lyons is playing great, he is not cool-headed. His wanton shot selection and carelessness with the ball would play right into Louisville's hands. This matchup would not be pretty.
Oregon was the Pac-12 champ, which means the team was playing really well. Then fuel was added to its fire when it got a 12-seed. On top of this, it played and pounded Arizona early on in the season. And the team is familiar with the Cats, which plays both ways, but is better for Oregon.
Oregon also has a great mix of talent. It has good guard play and great frontcourt play. The Ducks can dump the ball inside but have a good set of three-point shooters to throw the ball out to.
Everyone thinks the Louisville victory against Oregon is a foregone conclusion, but the Ducks are going to be very tough to beat even for the No. 1 overall seed. While not as bad as Louisville, this is not a good matchup for the Wildcats.
Of the eight teams left on the other side of the bracket, only six will I mention. Florida Gulf Coast has been the darling of the tourney, but they just aren't good enough to beat three top-10 teams and neither is Marquette. Here are the rest:
These three teams all share one very important trait: They are great defenders. All three of these teams is in the top ten in defensive efficiency. Kansas is eighth. The reason this poses such a problem for Arizona is that the Wildcats don't have great offense. At many points this season they have found it difficult to score against teams like Utah or Washinton. Playing a No. 1 seed with a top-ten defense will be trouble.
Adding the matchup issue, Jeff Withey, the traitor, is playing like a man possessed and will neautralize the Wildcats' size. They have the projected top-three draft pick in Ben McLemore and a series of experienced players Travis Releford, Elijah Johnson and Kevin Young.
Kansas is going to have a tough road to the championship game, and I don't think the team will make it, but if it does, Arizona would have a tough time beating the Jayhawks.
Syracuse ended the season poorly but has righted the ship. The team is playing great basketball. The reason this is a bad matchup is Syracuse's 2-3 zone. The Wildcats have looked totally lost with teams playing zone. Syracuse has this thing worked out as well as it can be worked out. For Miller, it would mean winning a Final Four game and trying to implement a gameplan against this zone.
On top of this Syracuse has great athletes, good size and good scoring options. Not a good matchup for the Cats.
On Dec. 15 in Tucson, somehow, someway, Arizona pulled this game out. Up the entire game and six points with just over a minute, Florida felt the pressure and the Wildcats came away with an improbable victory. The Gators were a better team on that night, but didn't win the game.
The issues for the Wildcats in this game are again, the defensive prowess of the opposition. Florida is third in the nation in defensive efficiency and would make every basket difficult.
Also, the Gators would take away any advantage the Wildcats have. Size is mitigated if not vitiated for Arizona with the Florida bigs. Arizona is not more athletic or skilled, in fact, Florida probably is at the higher end of both spectrums. While the Wildcats won the first game between these two, Florida would get the better end of the deal this time.
Michigan is an offensive juggernaut but struggles on the defensive end of the floor. Third in the nation in offensive efficiency, Michigan has five guys that can put up 20 on any given night. The team is led by the best point guard in the nation in Trey Burke.
But Michigan doesn't play great defense. The Wolverines are 94th in the nation in defensive efficiency and 211th in rebounding. Like Duke, this is the profile of team that Arizona does very well against. Arizona would have no trouble scoring and would get enough stops on the other end to pull this one out.
Like Florida, the Wildcats played the Hurricanes earlier this season. Unlike Florida, Arizona beat Miami in a blowout. At that time, Miami was playing without its center Reggie Johnson. And Miami has undoubtably been a better team since it got him back. But now Johnson is out again. While he may be back for the title game, it is doubtful he will be 100 percent.
The matchups are good for Arizona in this one. Although it wouldn't be a blowout, if the Wildcats play Miami in the championship, the odds are they come away with national title No. 2.
While Arizona would be a big underdog, this game would be close. Indiana isn't a great defending team. While the Hoosiers are good, they don't compare to the bad matchups for the Cats. Arizona would be able to score on this team. For this reason Arizona's success would hinge on stopping the Hoosiers, and they can.
Victor Oladipo is a good player, but is more of an athlete than a pure scoring guard. He gets a lot of his points and game-changing plays off of his athleticism alone. Nick Johnson, while not as long, is just as good of an athlete and could keep Oladipo from being the guy who wins the game.
Cody Zeller is a great college player, but he is less of an athlete and more of a skill guy. Tarczewski isn't going to be able to totally stop him, but when he runs into the 6'10'' Jerrett and the long Brandon Ashley in the paint, he is not going to have an easy time. I think Arizona has good matchups for Indiana's two best players.
The rest of the team, Arizona has advantages. If Solomon Hill is aggressive, he will not only be able to stop Christian Watford, he will have difficulty with him. The point guard slot goes to the 23-year-old Lyons in his third Sweet 16 against the freshman Yogi Ferrell. The supporting cast of Arizona is better as well, and if they could elimnate the three pointers made, the Wildcats could upset the Hoosiers.
While all these hypotheticals are fun, the agenda for the Wildcats is clear, beat Ohio State.