Scouting Muskies-Arizona Wildcats-NCAA Sweet 16-Thursday 10:09 EDT-TBS-San Jose!!!
Andy Mac Williams,
#11 Seed Xavier's March Madness roll(5 wins in 6 games-NCAA wins over higher seeds Maryland(6) and Florida State(3) in Orlando) propels them to San Jose,California Thursday night and a Sweet 16 collision with #2 Seed Arizona(32-4,PAC 12 Co-Regular Season Champ(16-2) with Oregon-PAC12 Tournament Champ with wins over Colorado,UCLA and Oregon). It's sort of Ground Hog Day on a couple of levels for the Muskies. They lost to #2 Seed Arizona two years ago in a Sweet 16 game at Staples Center in LA(68-60 the score-it was tied at the half-XU led 53-49 with 7:25 to play-then ran out of gas against a loaded Wildcat roster). And former Xavier coach Sean Miller is still calling the Arizona shots and still searching for his first Final Four trip. Sean has taken 5 UA teams now to the second weekend(in 8 seasons since leaving Cincy) and he's gunning for his 4th Elite 8 as a favorite over Xavier(Arizona is a consensus 8 point pick-Ken Pomeroy has it 73-69 Zona giving them a 65% chance of winning).
MUSKIES THRIVING IN MARCH!!!
The NCAA wins over Maryland and FSU were not flukish upsets! The Big East Quarterfinal victory over NCAA#4 Seed Butler (still alive in the NCAA Sweet 16 vs North Carolina) was a high pressure high quality effort. XU is not Cinderella. They've learned tough lessons and settled on a winning formula and a workable 8 man player rotation. This Muskie team is attacking confidently and finishing games.
Trevon Bluiett is healthy now and playing at an elite level(21.6PPG in post season-50 points in the two NCAA wins-5.6 rebounds-solid three point shooting and plenty of FTs). PG Quentin Gooden is playing huge minutes(36/game) productively(9PPG-5 assists-stout defense). Malcolm Bernard is on a Senior mission to extend his career. He's doing whatever it takes to win(leading the team in rebounding at 6.4-scoring 7.2PPG and making hustle defensive plays).
J.P.Macura pops up everywhere. He's scoring more efficiently(12.6PPG) without jacking up circus threes. He's cut down on turnovers and improved as the back-up point guard when Gooden needs a break.
BIG Sean O'Mara has emerged in March(11PPG-4 plus rebounds-deadly FT shooting-slick passing-a rock defensively in the middle of zone defenses). Frosh BIG Tyrique Jones muscled the huge Florida State front line for 13 points in 17 minutes. Kaiser Gates flourished in the two NCAA Orlando wins(25 total points-7 for 11 from three). Senior BIG Rashid Gaston has seen his minutes drop. XU may need him to reassert himself vs Arizona. The Wildcats start two talented 7 footers and bring serviceable 6-11 and 6-9 players off the bench.
Xavier's post season numbers are impressive against good competition(75PPG-65PA) with much better turnover numbers. The FT % is up considerably(over 71%) and X has made almost as many FTs(74) as the enemy has attempted(76).
Three Pointers have been an ally(40-100) while the bad guys have shot 32-104. Take out the Creighton loss and their 13-20 from three with Xavier playing on fumes(3rd game in 3 days at NYC) and the opposition is firing blanks from outside the arc(19-84 or 23%).
Xavier's rebounding dominance has held up even while playing more zone defense. Coach Mack is weaving the packline with both 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone looks-controlling tempo-reducing enemy fastbreak points and turning the bad guys into mediocre jump shooters.
Confidence is high! NCAA experience is accumulating. Xavier may be the only double digit seed left in the NCAA bracket,but the successful Muskie track record has to be considered. Chris Mack teams are 9-6 so far in NCAA games. This is Mack's 4th Sweet 16 run(2010,2012,2015,2017). Bluiett, Macura and O'Mara have each played in 7 NCAA games. It's time for Xavier to break through to an Elite 8 under Chris Mack.
The Sweet 16 losses have been competitive but painful. 2010-Double OT loss to Kansas State in Salt Lake! 2012-Injuries hit and a late comeback fails vs Baylor in Atlanta! 2015-Hammer and tongs against Arizona in LA featuring Matt Stainbrook and Dee Davis with a late fade and a close defeat! Can the recent Muskie March Mojo carry over to the Arizona game? A win over the Wildcats might really be an upset!!!
ARIZONA IS FORMIDABLE!!!
Sean Miller's team seemingly has a clear path to the Final Four in their backyard at Phoenix. UA knocked out XU two years ago out west. Zona is on a roll(6 straight wins spurred on by a rare home Tucson loss to UCLA on February 25th). Gonzaga and West Virginia might wear each other out Thursday in the other West Region Semi-Final while Zona ideally for them cruises past an overmatched Xavier Team 95 that's already enjoyed two shining moments in the NCAAs. Arizona is super talented.
6-5 Sophomore wing Alonzo Trier missed the first 19 games due to a suspension. UA is 15-2 since his return(17PPG-5 rebs-scores at all three levels). The Wildcats play a lot of double low post featuring 7 foot Frosh Lauri Markkanen from Finland(16PPG-7rebs-steps out to shoot threes) and 7 foot Junior Dusan Ristic (pronounced Ris-tish) from Serbia(11PPG-6 rebs). He is strictly an inside scorer. The two BIGS play well together offensively and really clog up the lane on defense without fouling a lot.There's BIG bench depth with 6-11 Chance Comanche and 6-9 Keanu Pinder.
Miller likes to have a Vulcan mind link with his PG (T.J. McConneli in 2014 and 2015 at Arizona)(Drew Lavender, Dante Jackson and Tu Holloway at Xavier). Miller is starting Senior JC transfer Kadeem Allen(6-3,205)(10PPG). He's more of a driver than a disher but very talented. 5-11 Junior Parker Jackson Cartwright is a more traditional PG and plays about half the time.
The 2 guard is powerful 6-5 220 pound Frosh Rawle Alkins a tough NYC guard from Brooklyn(11PPG). He dislocated a finger on his shooting hand in their second round NCAA win over St Mary's(69-60) had it popped back in and kept playing. Alkins may be slowed against Xavier though because of the finger?? We could see more of 6-5 Frosh Kobi Simmons who was a starter earlier but has not played much since the UCLA loss 6 games ago.
Arizona plays packline defense almost exclusively. It's a Miller mantra!! The Wildcats have only double teamed one BIG all season-huge Przemek Karnowski of Gonzaga. Arizona lost to the Zags 69-62 in Los Angeles. Their other non-conference defeats was to Butler 69-65 in Las Vegas. Alonzo Trier did not play in either of those Arizona losses. UA also lost in the PAC at Oregon and home to UCLA. You'll note that all 4 of those teams-Butler-Gonzaga-Oregon and UCLA are still playing in the NCAA. 7 footer Markkanen under performed in the 4 losses shooting the three ball well below his norm. UA was creamed in the three point FG category in all four defeats.
Arizona usually scores 77PPG and gives up 66. They have a giant edge in free throws and a fat rebounding edge. They don't trigger a ton of threes,but they are very accurate when they do. Miller hates to give up fastbreak baskets so he demands low turnovers and harps on transition defense.
HOW DOES XAVIER PULL THE UPSET??
Two years ago Xavier played Arizona dead even for 35 minutes before Matt Stainbrook ran out of energy and the Muskies were forced to play all zone defense. UA was composed. PG T.J. Mc Connell made huge plays and Zona won 68-60. Arizona covered the three point arc very well(XU 3-17 from three). Arizona won that battle making 7 three pointers and had a slight edge in made FTS(17 to 13). Xavier's zone bothered UA. XU's BIGS did damage inside.
To flip the script in 2017 Xavier TEAM 95 has to deploy their March game plan again almost perfectly. Changing defenses are needed. UA will be forced to make jump shots. They have better shooters overall than Maryland and FSU though. Rebounding will be no picnic against the Wildcats 7 footers. Trier and Alkins go hard to the glass also. Turnovers need to be controlled and kept near single digits.
Patience will be a must on offense. No quick threes!! Multiple passes without turnovers!! Post touches and tries despite some blocks by their BIG GUYS!! A decent number of threes have to go down without jacking up 25 or more outside shots. Breaking even at the FT line is a must.
Goodin has to stay out of foul trouble. Miller will try to muscle and test him and run his Big Guards-Alkins and Allen right at Quentin. Xavier can win this with smart guard play, persistence to pound the ball inside and savvy to pass out of the post to open wing shooters. That did not happen two years ago. Miller may leave Goodin open at the top of the key in half court sets and bait him into launching threes. "Q" may just have to bang a couple in.
Arizona isn't as experienced as in 2015 without McConnell and Brandon Ashley and Gabe York and Rondae Hollis Jefferson and Stanley Johnson and Kaleb Tarczewski. They are very talented but maybe not as cerebral and experienced??
How they handle the zone will be interesting. Can XU move the ball well enough to find and drill open threes? Can the Muskies earn and stick their FTs?
Xavier is comfortable playing in the 60's and low 70s. They can beat Arizona using their proven post season formula. Now if only the basketball gods smile down and give Xavier some shooting luck!!! XU 72 UA 70!! Maybe Hugs and Press Virginia in the Elite 8???