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What to watch for when Arizona men’s basketball faces Michigan in Roman Main Event final in Las Vegas

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-michigan-wolverines-2021-las-vegas-roman-main-event Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats have little time for the bruises to heal from their overtime win over Wichita State, as an even tougher test awaits on Sunday night when they take on the Michigan Wolverines in the championship game of the Roman Main Event in Las Vegas.

The UA (4-0) survived Wichita 82-78 on Friday night, overcoming sloppy play on offense and too many missed free throws for any coach’s liking. Now comes a Michigan team that is ranked No. 4 in the latest Associated Press poll.

Here’s what to look for when the Wildcats take on the Wolverines at 7:30 p.m. MT Sunday in T-Mobile Arena:

Mopping up the slop

After averaging well over a point per possession in its first three games, Arizona’s offensive efficiency rating against Wichita was 93.0. Some of that was from shooting an abysmal 5 of 27 from 3-point play but most of that was due to 22 turnovers.

That’s the most for Arizona since it gave it away 27 times in a 63-55 win over Southern Miss in 2012.

“We’ve got to tighten up our fundamentals, coach Tommy Lloyd said.

Thankfully for the UA, Wichita only converted those 22 turnovers into 12 points, a credit to Arizona’s ability to get back on defense, particularly on the 11 steals the Shockers recorded.

“I thought our guys did an awesome job of responding,” Lloyd said. “In a game situation you don’t have time to do breakdown drills.”

Making the free ones

Lloyd said during the preseason that he doesn’t like to use practice time working on shooting, particularly foul shooting, because that’s something players should do on their own time. If the results from the line keep up at this pace, though, that may need to change.

Arizona was 29 of 42 from the line against Wichita, and for the season is shooting 70.7 percent from the line. It’s early, but that would be the Wildcats’ lowest rate since 2013-14.

The UA missed eight free throws in the second half and four in OT, including three occasions where different players (Christian Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis in the second half, Kerr Kriisa in OT) missed both shots in the same trip to the line.

For now, though, Lloyd isn’t worried.

“I know it’s easy to sit there and say, ‘make your free throws,’” he said. “You’ve just got to keep playing.”

Vegas Benn?

First there was Maui Justin, then came Anaheim Dylan. Did we get a glimpse of Arizona’s latest tournament superstar on Friday in Bennedict Mathurin, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds in by far his best performance of the season?

Mathurin, who was 11 of 32 from the field in Arizona’s first three games, was 8 of 15 against Wichita. He also recorded his third career double-double, with five of those boards coming in the final 6:27 of regulation or in OT.

“Coach gets on me to get rebounds,” Mathurin said. “I just felt like today was when I needed to grab a lot of rebounds to help my team win.”

Throw in three 3-pointers and Mathurin is the first UA players to go for 25 and 10 with three triples since Solomon Hill in 2012.

There’s only one more game left in this tournament, but consider: the Pac-12 Tournament will also be in Vegas in March, so if Mathurin likes playing in T-Mobile Arena that bodes well for the future.

Mighty Michigan

Michigan is coming off a trip to the Elite Eight, where it lost to UCLA. The Wolverines are coached by former Fab Five standout Juwan Howard, who is in his third season and just got a contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

That extension came right before the Wolverines were upset 67-65 at home by Seton Hall on Tuesday, a game that saw them squander an 11-point second-half lead.

A more composed Michigan beat UNLV 74-61 on Friday night in Vegas, with preseason All-American center Hunter Dickinson going for 13 points, seven rebounds and two assists while guard Eli Brooks had 22 points and freshman Moussa Diabate posted 14 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench.

Dickinson will be a huge defensive test for Koloko, whose 63.9 defensive rating is tied for fourth in the country.

Michigan is ranked in the top 10 in both adjusted offense and defense, per KenPom.com.