It was really hard to see Xavier going to the Sweet 16 after how it closed the regular season, but that’s exactly where the Musketeers are. They’ll get a tough matchup against an Arizona team that is aiming for a Final Four appearance. The Wildcats opened as -7 point favorites at 5Dimes Sportsbook for the Game in San Jose.
Things couldn’t have gone better for Xavier in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Its first matchup was against a struggling Maryland team in which it had noticeable advantages and then it ran up against Florida State, which had little idea of how to beat a zone. The Musketeers are playing well, but this is still a team that lost its starting point guard a couple months ago and beating Arizona will take an even better effort than what we’ve seen.
The problem with going zone against Arizona is that the Wildcats are full of guys that can shoot, but also beat defenders off the dribble. LAuri Markkanen is a 7-footer that can beat you in the paint, but more importantly, shoot better than 43% from deep. Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins aren’t as good of shooters, but both can beat most defenders off the dribble and get to the hoop when they like. Then you throw in the defensive-first guards in Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright along with another big in Dusan Ristic and you have a team that can beat you in a number of ways. Arizona is favored by seven points for a reason, but Xavier can’t be taken lightly.
Trevon Bluiett has been unstoppable in the first two Games, totaling 50 points, with 29 in the win over Florida State. He’ll obviously be the key if the Musketeers want to pull off another upset. At 6-foot-6, he’ll see mostly Trier and Alkins on him, both extremely athletic and about the same size as Bluiett. Considering the Widcalts build their Game off defense, they’ll make a point to limiting any easy look for Bluiett. And that’s exactly where guys like JP MACura and Quentin Goodin step in. Neither have scored much in the first two Games, but both are doing plenty of other things. That may have to change in this Game with MACura a knockdown shooter and Goodin being Edmond Sumner’s replacement at point guard.
Malcolm Bernard and Sean O’Mara have played well for Xavier in the paint, but things probably won’t be as easy in this Game against Arizona’s bigs. That said, it can’t be overlooked that Florida State had a similarly big and lengthy team, yet really struggled to do anything against Xavier.
The Musketeers have been hard to predict because they weren’t very good in the final month of the season. If Arizona can limit Bluiett just a little bit, that could be enough for the Wildcats to get a cover. Then again, if they struggle against this zone, then who knows what will happen. But given the above information, ‘Zona has the players to have success. And while this Game is on the west coast, it’s not like San Jose is right next to Tucson as it’s almost a 12-hOur drive away. The Wildcats will have the home crowd, but it might not be that overwhelming.
Our Pick – Arizona -7.5