There weren’t a whole lot of upsets in the West Region and that’s highlighted by the Elite 8 matchup between the 1 and 2 seeds. Even though Wisconsin had the more convincing Sweet 16 win, Arizona opened up as -3 point favorites.
The Badgers cruised from the start against Baylor and ended up winning by 17 points. They controlled Baylor’s zone with multiple shooters and played great defense even with a smaller team. It was quite the letdown from the Bears after pouncing on Creighton, but all credit goes to Wisconsin.
Things weren’t as settled for Arizona as they were behind most of the Game against San Diego State. And then the final three minutes came. After not scoring and shooting 0-of-10 from the field in the first 37 minutes, Nick Johnson proceeded to Score15 points in the Game’s final three minutes to lead the win. The Aztecs played as well as they could play, but it wasn’t enough in the end.
Arizona is going to have to face a much different team this time around. While SDSU only really had two consistent scorers, Wisconsin has a plethora of guys that can put the ball in the hoop. Not to mention they also have a 7-footer that can stretch the floor. And while Baylor and Arizona don’t play the same kind of defense, both teams are similar in stature, with multiple big guys and playmaking guards. That aspect may give an advantage to Wisconsin.
Starting with the Wildcats, their depth issues showed up a bit against the Aztecs. since Brandon Ashley left, they only really use six players each Game with a couple others seeing spare minutes if absolutely needed. Kaleb Tarczewski got into foul trouble early and forced him to only play 20 minutes which wasn’t good going against a bigger team in SDSU. Zona allowed 18 offensive rebounds in that Game, yet still found a way to win.
There’s no doubt the Wildcats’ backcOurt will need to shoot better in this Game after Johnson and Gabe York started 0-of-13 from the field in the Sweet 16. They won’t have a ton of advantages in the matchup against the Badgers, but Aaron Gordon may be the go-to play. He’ll likely be marked up by Sam Dekker at the start, but could also see Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes at times. In three Tourney Games, Gordon is shooting 22-of-30 from the field and 3-of-4 from behind the arc. That’s what Wisconsin has to stop. And even though Johnson is Arizona’s leading scorer,
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can be a difference maker off the bench as he’s averaging just over 15 points per Game in the Tourney. His athleticism for a big guy is a mismatch for anyone.
On the defensive end, the Wildcats are facing a much different squad than the Aztecs. Already mentioned was Kaminsky, who can stretch the floor with his shot, but also go to work in the paint. He scored 19 points going against Isaiah Austin and the Baylor big men. Can Tarczewski stop him without getting into foul trouble? Then you have a range of shooters in Dekker, Ben Brust and Josh Gasser. Traevon Jackson runs the show and can hit the big shot if needed. Dekker could be a problem against Gordon, with his speed and long-range shooting. The backcOurts actually matchup pretty evenly, with the edge going to Zona and Johnson, although Wisconsin has the better shooters.
Much like Hollis-Jefferson for the Wildcats, Nigel Hayes is going to be vital for the Badgers. Hayes gives valuable minutes off the bench as a freshman and provides the size to help out on Gordon and maybe even Tarczewski. Duje Dukan also got decent minutes to battle Baylor’s size last Game and could once again see cOurt time.
Arizona is favored in this Game mainly because of their seeding. Wisconsin has all the tools to win and if they’re hitting their shots, that could easily happen. It could come down to which big men have the better day. Kaminsky or Gordon?