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Arizona Should Cruise By Xavier In NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
The NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 concludes on Thursday night with a matchup between No. 2 Arizona and No. 6 Xavier in the West Region, with the Wildcats as 10.5-point favorites on Sportsbook.ag with a total of 135.5. Arizona is -800 on the moneyline and Xavier +575.
Xavier rode a huge game from Matt Stainbrook in its 76-57 win over No. 11 seed Mississippi in the Round of 64, and then kept everyone’s favorite Cinderella, No. 14 seed Georgia State, at arm’s length, winning 75-67. The Wildcats cruised to a 93-72 win over No. 15 Texas Southern, and then pulled away from Ohio State in the second half of its 73-58 Round of 32 victory.
Of course Arizona coach Sean Miller, perhaps the best active coach yet to reach a Final Four, came to Tucson from Xavier and was replaced there by his former assistant Chris Mack. The two remain friends. Miller accepted the Wildcats' offer in April of 2009. A week later, Mack was unveiled as the Musketeers' coach. Their relationship is foremost among subplots in Thursday's game at Staples Center in Los Angeles, but it's just one of the ties between the programs.
"The fact is that it's hard to play against someone who gave me such an opportunity. We spent so much time in the trenches and he trusted me so much as an assistant coach. I enjoyed my time with him," Mack said.
Sixth-seeded Xavier (23-13) and second-seeded Arizona (33-3) have never met on the hard court. The Wildcats enter Thursday's outing with 13 straight victories. Xavier has won five of its last six. The Musketeers are the last Big East team standing, with Villanova, Georgetown, Butler and Providence all going down in the Round of 32. The Musketeers may rank 21st in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, but they aren't a particularly good shooting team. Remy Abell is the only player in the rotation who makes better than 40% from behind the arc. Stainbrook leads the team in scoring with 12.1 points per game, but six Xavier players average better than 8.5 points per game. That's a balanced attack.
Arizona, though, is in a good position to shut that offense down. T.J. McConnell is arguably the best defensive point guard in the country, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson have the length to close passing lanes and prevent those assists. With Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley, Arizona has the size to defend Stainbrook and Jalen Reynolds inside.
Reynolds accompanied Xavier to Los Angeles for its Sweet 16 game while the school looked into a complaint filed against him by another student. Mack said before the team left on Tuesday that the sophomore will play Thursday night. Reynolds had a career-high 21 points in a win over Georgia State that sent the Musketeers to their fifth Sweet 16 appearance in the last eight years. A student filed the complaint against Reynolds with the school's police department overnight Monday. Mack said it will take several weeks to investigate.
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