Friday’s “madness” may have been a little limited in comparison with the tournament’s grand opening on Thursday, but the Saturday and Sunday round of 32 is all too often under-rated in terms of the upsets it can provide. This is where good teams meet good teams and anything really can happen. An interesting example of that could be a Saturday afternoon matchup between the second seeded Arizona Wildcats and #10 seed, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
This matchup is notable for the friendship shared between the teams’ head coaches. The Buckeyes’ Thad Matta and Wildcats’ Sean Miller have worked together twice before, most notably when Matta was head coach at Xavier. They even lived together for a spell when Miller and his family were looking for a home in Cincinnati after joining Matta’s staff there.
They’ve met twice in NCAA tournament play before with Matta and his Ohio State team getting the better of it each time. However, the roles are slightly reversed on this occasion. It is Miller and his Arizona team that start this game as significant favorites.
Arizona are widely considered to be the tournament’s strongest #2-seed and they lived up to that billing with a 92-73 rout of Texas Southern in their second round game. Star player Stanley Johnson was effective scoring 22 points and he continues to be this team’s game-breaking talent on the front court. Senior guard T.J. McConnell plays the critical role running the team’s offense and as a leader on the court.
The Wildcats will still bear in the mind the need to improve defensively. They came into the tournament as one of the league’s better defensive teams – actually as one of March Madness’ most balanced and deep rosters. Still, they are playing against one of the tournament’s better shooting teams and there’s nothing that disrupts strong defense more than high percentage shooting.
The Buckeyes fell behind early against the energetic VCU Rams, but were led back superbly by their own star freshman – D’Angelo Russell. He hit 28 points against the Rams as the Buckeyes erased a big early deficit eventually winning the game in overtime.
Size could be an issue for Ohio State in this game. They come up against an Arizona team with significant height and high quality wing players. They’ll have to compete a little harder to grab enough rebounds to stay competitive as well.
Betting Preview: Arizona (-9) v Ohio State
Ultimately, this feels like a game where Arizona should have just a little too much at both ends of the floor and should be able to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament successfully. However, this is still a game against a tough opponent, with an experience coach and a game-breaking player. If Russell has a strong game, then the Buckeyes will make this a more competitive game than the nine-point spread is currently indicating.
The Pick: Ohio State (+9) (www.betonline.ag)
Writer’s Record Against The Spread: 34-28