Dee Davis SR (6-0, 170) vs T.J. McConnell SR (6-1, 195)
McConnell, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, is the heart and soul of this Arizona team. A solid pass-first point guard and a tough defender, he averages 10.1 points, 6.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. He’s a 50.2 percent shooter from the floor, and a 34.3 percent shooter from 3-point range. He scored 19 points (8-13 FG, 1-3 3PT), grabbed six boards, dished out six assists and had five steals in the Wildcats’ win over Ohio State. This should be a good matchup between two similar players. Davis has been playing the best basketball of his career over the last month. He had 15 points (3-3 FG, 1-1 3PT), five assists, three rebounds, two steals and three turnovers in the Musketeers’ win over Georgia State. Staying on the court is going to be huge for both of these players and their respective team as neither wants to rely on their backups on this stage.
Slight Edge Arizona
Remy Abell JR (6-4, 194) vs Stanley Johnson FR (6-6, 245)
Johnson, the Pac-12 freshman of the year, is a physical specimen that is a tough scorer off the bounce and a tremendous rebounder on the wing. He’s the team’s leading scorer at 14.0 points per game to go with 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals. He’s shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from 3-point range. He was just 1-of-12 from the floor and 0-of-4 from distance with four points and 10 rebounds against Ohio State. He’s ranked as the No. 6 prospect in the upcoming NBA draft according to DraftExpress.com. Abell is very good at shutting down scorers, but Johnson is a different animal. Xavier will probably try to play as much 1-3-1 zone as possible and turn Johnson into a shooter. Abell had eight points (2-5 FG, 0-2 3PT), two rebounds and two assists in the win over Georgia State. This wouldn’t seem to be a great matchup for him on the offensive end in terms of driving to the rim, but if he could hit a three or two it would be huge for XU.
Moderate Edge Arizona
Trevon Bluiett FR (6-6, 215) vs Rondae Hollis-Jefferson SO (6-7, 215)
Hollis-Jefferson is a big wing/forward that can handle the ball, finish well in the lane and defend at an elite level. He ranks third on the team in scoring at 11.3 points per game to go with 6.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals. He’s not much of an outside shooter – he hit at just a 21.4 percent clip on 28 3-point attempts this year – but he is a monster when it comes to getting transition and second chance points. Keeping him off of the offensive glass will be a huge key for Xavier. Also, Hollis-Jefferson can be tough to guard when he gets the ball in the high post against the zone with his athleticism and passing ability. He was 3-for-12 from the floor with 11 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against Ohio State. He’s seen as a mid- to late-first round pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Bluiett is going to have his hands full on both ends with this matchup. He’s improved dramatically when it comes to keeping drivers in front of him on defense, so that may not be terrible for Xavier when it plays man-to-man even though he’s giving up some quickness. However, on the offensive end it’s going to be very difficult for him to find space for shots against the longer and much more athletic Hollis-Jefferson. Bluiett got in foul trouble and only played 14 minutes in the game against Georgia State. He was just 1-of-3 from the field with three points, two rebounds and two assists.
Slight Edge Arizona
Jalen Reynolds SO (6-10, 222) vs Brandon Ashley JR (6-8, 230)
Ashley is a long and athletic forward that can step out and hit a face-up jumper or finish above the rim. He’s second on the team in scoring at 12.2 points per game to go with 5.3 rebounds. He’s shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 34.3 percent on 35 3-point attempts this season. He was in foul trouble and only played 19 minutes against Ohio State, finishing with seven points (3-8 FG) and two rebounds. He’ll be a key piece to the offensive puzzle for Arizona against Xavier’s zone, as he’s capable of making the mid-range shot or passing out of the high post. These two players are fairly similar. While Ashley may be a little more polished and consistent at this stage in his career, Reynolds is a little bigger, stronger and more talented when he’s at his best. It’s important for the Musketeers that he is on his “A” game in this one. He’s coming off of one of the best games of his career at Xavier as he scored a career-high 21 points with six rebounds on 8-of-9 shooting from the floor against Georgia State. If he’s locked in, this game becomes a lot more interesting.
Matt Stainbrook SR (6-10, 270) vs Kaleb Tarczewski JR (7-0, 235)
Tarczewski is a mobile 7-footer with good hands that can finish above the rim. He has a back to the basket game, and is capable of hitting a mid-range jumper. He averages 9.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. He was 2-for-5 from the field with eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks against Ohio State. He’s seen as a late second round prospect in the upcoming NBA draft. Defensively, he’s a solid on ball defender and decent shot blocker. If Stainbrook seals deep against Tarczewski and can go over his right shoulder, he could have a big night. He had nine points, six boards and two assists in 35 minutes against Georgia State, but he also made the Panthers focus a lot of their defense on him. Arizona has brought big-to-big doubles against other tough centers, often using Brandon Ashley to help Tarczewski. If that happens, it should open things up for shooters on the perimeter or Reynolds on the other block. The time off in between Saturday and Thursday’s game should help Stainbrook refresh.
Slight Edge Xavier
Xavier Bench vs Arizona Bench
Junior guard Gabe York (6-3, 180) is the Wildcats’ sixth man and the most important bench player in this game. He’s the one true zone-buster in their rotation that could force Xavier out of its 1-3-1 zone. He can get hot in a hurry, as he showed against Ohio State when he scored 19 points and hit 5-of-9 from 3-point range. Sophomore wing Elliott Pitts (6-5, 180) is another somewhat capable shooter off the bench (35.6% 3PT) that averages 3.6 points in 15 minutes per game. He had five points (1-3 FG) in 14 minutes against Ohio State. Freshman point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright (5-8, 150) backs up McConnell for 10 minutes a game, but he played just two minutes against the Buckeyes. Freshman center Dusan Ristic (7-0, 240) only averages 8.9 minutes per game. While he could see an increased role against Stainbrook because of his size, he actually lacks the strength to be a very good post defender so it should be an advantage for X when he’s on the floor. He only played four minutes against Ohio State. For Xavier, Myles Davis came off the bench to nail 5-of-8 from 3-point range and score 17 points in the win over Georgia State. His shooting will play a big role in this one as well. If Xavier wants to have a chance, spreading the Wildcats’ defense out by hitting threes will be a necessity. James Farr didn’t have his best game against Georgia State. He finished with two points, three rebounds and three turnovers in 14 minutes against the Panthers. X will need his rebounding in this one. If Xavier is playing mostly 1-3-1, J.P. Macura could play a bigger role in this game as well. He played just six minutes and didn’t attempt a shot against Georgia State
Slight Edge Xavier
The biggest key for Xavier is to rebound the ball well. Also, the Musketeers need to get excellent post play, and they need to hit some threes. Arizona is an efficient offensive team with players that can get to the rim off the bounce, but the Wildcats don’t rely on their 3-point shooting – they currently rank 337th in the country with only 20 percent of their total points coming on 3-pointers. They’re also dominant on the glass. They’re the best defensive rebounding team in the nation, and their wings are very tough to keep from getting second chance points on the offensive end. Defensively they’re very good at forcing tough shots and then corralling the misses. They can also create easy transition opportunities with their defense if X doesn’t take care of the ball. Their three losses this season came at UNLV (#100 in KenPom), at Oregon State (#116), and at Arizona State (#61). Arizona is clearly the more talented team, but the matchups don’t setup terribly for the Musketeers in this two versus six seed battle.