#2 Arizona vs. #11 Xavier
Storyline: Xavier has nothing to lose. Arizona has everything to lose.
Arizona is a top tier team. They were one of my top title favorites once I saw their draw. They are a very complete team with talent and depth at all positions. Combine that with Sean Miller’s acumen and sweating and that is a winning combo. When ranking the Sweet 16 teams I had Arizona ranked second just behind UNC.
The story of this game is to find out whether Xavier is for real. It is tough to peg this #11 seed because they played most of the season with point guard Ed Sumner. Xavier went through a brutal stretch after losing Sumner losing 6 in a row before a win over Depaul to close out the regular season. Before the tournament, the once Top-25 team had only one notable win since February 1st with a win over Butler in the Big East tournament. Then the tournament started and the Musketeers beat both Maryland and Florida State to advance to the Sweet 16. Both those wins don’t necessarily show that Xavier has fixed their Sumner-less problems as Maryland relies mostly on freshman (Melo Trimble excluded), and Florida State seemed to flame out after a torching hot start to ACC play.
It is extremely shocking that the Musketeers are here and they are really a team with nothing to lose against Arizona. No one will blame Chris Mack for losing a game without one of his Top 2 players. (Indiana lost one of its top 2 players in conference play and missed the tourney). Getting to the Sweet 16 is impressive enough for this Xavier team. Advancing farther will be legendary.
Sean Miller is definitely spending his week focusing on stopping Xavier’s catalyst in Trevon Bluiett. He is the leading scorer and will need to have a big game to top the Wildcats. Luckily for Miller, Kadeem Allen is stud defensive player and the rest of the Wildcat guards are very tall with Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins, and Allonzo Trier all similar heights to the combo guard/forward Bluiett.
Xavier will spend its week preparing for the slew of skilled big men that Arizona will throw at them. Xavier has no one that could conceivably match up with Lauri Markkanen. Combine Lauri with Chance Comanche and Dusan Ristic and that is one heavy burden for Rashid Gaston and Sean O’Mara to deal with for 40 minutes. This matchup will be the difference in the game and that is why the Wildcats will move on to face Gonzaga in the Elite 8.
Prediction: Arizona 82, Xavier 65