On Tuesday night, the Wichita State Shockers beat the Vanderbilt Commodores, and as a result, the Shockers will attempt to pull the upset against the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday. Arizona is under-seeded, and so is Wichita State, which makes the game on Thursday night one of the most intriguing match-ups of the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The Shockers are an excellent team that has many experienced players that have been in the tournament before. Wichita State put themselves on the basketball map as a result of their Final Four run in 2013 where they "shocked the nation" and they have continued that success. In 2014, they were a 1-seed in the tournament, but lost to Kentucky in the round of 32.
This year's team is no 1-seed but still a dangerous team, which is why KenPom gives Wichita State a 52% chance of beating Arizona.
For Arizona to win the game they will need to do these three things well:
Speed up the Pace
Wichita State is the best defensive team in the country; they are only allowing 59 points per game to their opponents. Arizona is one of the best offensive teams in the country averaging 81 points per game. In comparison, Wichita State has only allowed more than 80 points to be scored on them twice (Iowa and Seton Hall). When Vanderbilt was having success, they were getting down the court quickly and not letting Wichita State set up their defense. With all of Arizona's athletes, this should work to their advantage, but it's a tempo that the 'Cats aren't too familiar with and that might cause careless turnovers as a result.
Dominate the Paint
The second thing that Arizona must do is control the paint when in the half court. Arizona will have a size advantage; Wichita's tallest player in their typical starting five is Shaq Morris, who stands at 6' 7". Kaleb Tarczewski and Dusan Ristic should have a day if they get the ball enough in the half-court. Also, Arizona should be able to out-rebound the smaller Shocker team which should give a dangerous Wildcat offense plenty of second-chance opportunities. But something to remember is that even though Arizona has the height advantage, Wichita State is a scrappy team that will do just about anything to get a rebound. This showed on Tuesday night where they out-rebounded a Vanderbilt team that boasts two seven-footers.
Not only is Wichita State one of the best in nation at opponents points per game, but they are also one of the best at causing turnovers. They rank 17th in the country in opponents turnovers per game. Their opponents are averaging just over 15 turnovers a game. In comparison, Arizona turns the ball over a lot, just under 14 turnovers per game, which has them ranked 188th in the nation. The Wildcats must avoid making careless turnovers that result in easy points for a Wichita team that doesn't light up the scoreboard.
Overall, this is a game of two under-seeded teams playing each other in the Round of 64, and as a result, it should be a fun one.