The two teams took two different paths to reach Saturday's third round but the result was the same, victory to set up a round three match up pitting the second-seeded Wildcats against the tenth-seeded Buckeyes. Arizona was largely untested in a first round rout of Texas Southern behind great performances from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson. Meanwhile Ohio State needed every second of regulation and then five more minutes to finish off VCU.
Ohio State has largely had a disappointing season for their standards and it may have come as a surprise to some when they were seeded as low as they were when the brackets were announced this past Sunday. Still, given the competition it played in the Big Ten most of the season as well as the combo of a veteran coach and lottery pick talent in D'Angelo Russell, the Buckeyes present a challenge for the Wildcats on Saturday.
Looking at the matchups, what can we expect to see determine the outcome?
Who gets the D'Angelo Russell assignment?
While the Buckeyes put five players on the floor who average just about ten points per game, the reality is this is Russell's offense and he makes everything go. The Buckeyes' best shot at pulling the upset Saturday certainly involves Russell doing what NBA lottery picks are capable of doing. Yet despite his talents, this isn't an offensive element Arizona is completely unfamiliar with having faced the likes of Joseph Young and Delon Wright this season.
In two games vs Delon Wright, the Utah star averaged 13.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6 assists, slightly below his season averages in points and rebounds but most notably held him to 7-19 shooting, really making him inefficient in his production.
Joe Young really felt the grip of Arizona's defense scoring just over 14 points per game on 15-43 shooting in three games. When it has come down to controlling a star in an offense that doesn't offer much support, the Wildcats have had great success limiting the production of that player.
Hollis-Jefferson seems the logical choice to draw the Russell assignment and it will be as tough a test as both players have faced all season long. Can the length and athleticism of Hollis-Jefferson force Russell into tough shots and more importantly require Russell to use a large volume of shots to get his numbers? It's probably the most important element of the entire game.
Arizona's front line again with favorable match up
When the bracket came out, the one team that stood out with the combination of size and athleticism to match Arizona was Baylor. Ohio State does not double as Baylor. The Buckeyes play one guy regular minutes who is taller than 6'7, Amir Williams, However for the most part Ohio State plays five guys who are 6'7, the same height as Arizona's two wings with 6'9 Brandon Ashley and 7'0 Kaleb Tarczewski tossed in.
In its opening tourney game, Arizona repeatedly beat Texas Southern up in the post with its size. With Tarczewski's emergence in the second half of the season the Wildcats post offense has opened up the offense even more. How the Buckeyes handle the size difference early in the game could be a telling sign for what type of afternoon fans of both teams are in for.
If the Buckeyes can't keep the Wildcats off the offensive boards and limit Arizona's points in the paint, it's tough to see how they can hang around for 40 minutes with a chance to pull off the upset.
It's a pretty favorable matchup for Arizona on a number of fronts. While VCU also would have been at a significant disadvantage inside, the Rams press would have been an interesting match up key to prepare for in basically a day and a half. Ohio State really doesn't do anything special on offense or defense that Arizona won't have seen time and time again this year. There's no gimmicks or style of play that makes them drastically different than what Arizona will have seen in PAC-12 play.
It will be a game that just comes down to who runs their sets better and who can force the others into mistakes. If the Wildcats don't beat themselves with bad shots and turnovers, they should be onto LA come next weekend. Look for Arizona to win a 71-57 type of game.
2:15 PM PT