One thing that immediately jumped out at me in preparing the preview for tomorrow’s Sweet 16 matchup is that Arizona is very good. That may not come as a huge shock to many of you, they are, after all, in the Sweet 16 and have been nationally ranked all year. This isn’t just a good team though, it’s a borderline great one. They aren’t impregnable though. This isn’t the same team that Xavier lost to two years ago, and it isn’t of that calibre. If the Musketeers are to win come what will likely be early Friday morning, there are some ways to do it.
Make Arizona shoot outside:
The Wildcats are a great three point shooting team, but they don’t like to do it. Only 30% of their attempts come from behind the arc, good for 309th in the nation. They also tend to run hot and cold from deep. Rather than a cluster of games around their 39% season mark, they have 10 games where they shot 50% or better and 13 games where they were 33% or worse. In all four of their losses they didn’t even make 30% of their three point attempts.
Mix in some zone:
Both UCLA and Oregon threw some zone at the Cats. In those games Arizona shot 5-18 and 5-17 from three in their attempts to shoot their opponents out of it. That also served to keep the pace of those games slower. Let Arizona get the pace up around 67 possessions and you are in trouble, let them get it even up to 68 and you lose. Going zone slows the pace (if you have the patience at the other end) and at least keeps the game from getting into the track meets that Zona doesn’t lose.
Don’t just bomb away:
Oregon shot 16-25 behind the arc when they beat Arizona. Obviously, shooting like that is going to win you a lot of games. In the other three losses the Wildcats suffered this year though, they only allowed an average of seven made three pointers. UCLA shot 30% and Gonzaga shot 33%. On the other hand, all four of the teams that beat Zona shot at least 50% inside the arc. Arizona is still 13-4 when teams shoot 50% inside the arc, but that’s better than the undefeated they are when teams don’t.
Keep them off the offensive glass:
Both Oregon and and UCLA employed this method to win. Oregon only allowed the Cats to corral 25.8% of their misses, UCLA only 16%. Interestingly enough, Northern Colorado also held Arizona to only a 16.1% offensive rebounding rate and was only down three with ten to play when the Wildcats got hot. Oregon held them to 26% in nearly pulling another win at the Pac 12 tournament, and Colorado also gave Arizona a run by only allowing them to get 25% of their misses.
None of these things are sure things. There are no sure things when you are playing a team like Arizona. On the other hand, these are things that Xavier is capable of doing to spring an upset would put them within touching distance of the Final Four.