Arizona Basketball

Three top storylines Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Arizona Wildcats



Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell is deceptively smooth and extremely confident as a combo guard (YouTube video screen shot)

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PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall
PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played)

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NO. 10 OHIO STATE (24-10) VS NO. 2 ARIZONA (32-3)
Tip Time: 2:15 p.m. MST
TV: CBS (Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner/Rachel Nichols)
Radio: Arizona IMG Sports Network (Brian Jeffries/Ryan Hansen)
National Radio: Westwood One (Wayne Larrivee/Mike Montgomery)
Overall: Arizona trails, 0-2
At Neutral Sites: Arizona trails, 0-2
Current Streak: Ohio State won 2
Last Meeting: Ohio State won, 73-70, on March 28, 2013
Sean Miller vs. Ohio State: 0-2

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Top three storylines for today’s game:

1. The aura of D’Angelo Russell.

The Ohio State freshman guard phenom is so good he got Phil Jackson in hot water for praising him after scouting him in a game last month at Columbus, Ohio.

Jackson was quoted as saying to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer about the 6-foot-5 combo guard: “He’s a great-looking kid. Great prospect.”

Jackson reportedly violated an NBA rule in which a club’s front office can’t talk about “draft-ineligible players,’’ which includes underclassmen such as Russell.

Miles Simon remarked on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Friday night that Russell is the best player in the NCAA tournament. lists Russell as the top guard available in the upcoming NBA draft and the No. 3 prospect overall. Projected ahead of him are Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky freshman post player Karl Towns.

Another freshman, Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, is listed as the No. 5 pick.

“Talented lefty scorer who can put points on the board with amazing ease,” Jonathon Givony writes about Russell. “Shows an extra gear he can get to off the dribble that isn’t readily apparent on first glance. Game comes very naturally for him, but goes through prolonged stretches of inefficiency. Will benefit from being pushed by Ohio State’s coaching staff.”

I researched it and Arizona has played 31 NBA first-round draft picks the same year in which it faced that player in the NCAA tournament. The top three of them all played as advertised against Arizona: Duke’s Kyrie Irving (No. 1 pick in 2011), Illinois’ Deron Williams (No. 3 in 2005) and UCLA’s Richard Washington (No. 3 in 1976).


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2. NCAA second-game overdrive for Arizona.

This is Arizona’s record by round in the NCAA tournament:

First game: 19-13 (.594)

Second game: 16-3 (.842)

Third game: 9-7 (.563)

Fourth game: 4-5 (.444)

Final Four: 2-2 (.500)

Championship: 1-1 (.500)

With anything in the postseason, what was done in the previous years has as much value as the Big 12 after Thursday’s games in the NCAA tournament. Nada.

But there’s no escaping the kind of historical success Arizona has experienced in its second game of the NCAA tournament, winning 84.2 percent of the time with a 16-3 record. No other round comes close, which makes sense because winning is more difficult as the tournament progresses.

Only three losses in that game is what grabs the attention.

I listed the first four rounds as “games” because the 1976 NCAA tournament featured only 32 teams, so Arizona’s first-round win that year over Georgetown put the Wildcats into the Sweet 16 against UNLV in their second game.

The second-game success can be attributed to Arizona psychologically getting past the pressure of winning the first game after the build up of the week leading into March Madness. The Wildcats’ average margin in the 19 second games is 11.5 points.

The last time Arizona lost in the second game was against No. 1-seed Villanova in its hometown of Philadelphia in the 2006 NCAA tournament. The Wildcats took the other Wildcats to the brink before losing 82-78.

3. Perimeter defense for Arizona the key.

Similar to Arizona, Ohio State scores at a good rate (75.9 points a game) and shoots with a high percentage (48.6 percent). The Wildcats average 76.9 points a game and shoot 49.3 percent.

Unlike Arizona, the Buckeyes don’t get a bulk of their points at the free-throw line. Arizona has attempted an astounding 223 more free throws (901 to 678) despite playing only one more game than Ohio State.

Where Ohio State can be dangerous is its perimeter game with Russell and sophomore wing player Marc Loving taking most of their shots. The duo combines to make 140 of 324 shots (43.2 percent) from beyond the arc.

They get loose with constant ball movement off screens. Ohio State has attempted 620 three-pointers (made 231), which is 131 more attempts than Arizona. The Wildcats have made 177 of 489 attempts from beyond the arc.

The fluid execution of Ohio State’ offense is evident with senior point guard Shannon Smith producing a 2.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He has 206 assists with only 79 turnovers. Russell has 169 assists with 101 turnovers.

Ohio State works efficiently for good looks on the perimeter or for high-percentage shots inside after creating double-teams from penetration or passes off screens. Buckeyes’ senior center Amir Williams has benefited from that action. He is shooting 66.4 percent from the field but has tried only 113 shots.

Freshman forward Jae’Sean Tate and senior forward Sam Thompson can also be dangerous from the attention Russell, Loving and Smith get defensively from opponents. Thompson and Tate have combined to make 252 shots in 488 attempts (51.6 percent).

In Arizona’s favor: Miller’s stringent man-to-man principles and the athleticism on the perimeter that allows for one of the best defenses in the country. Expect Arizona to stick to its assigned man and recover off screens. Ohio State has not faced a defense like Arizona’s this season with the exception of Wisconsin, which routed Ohio State 72-48 in Columbus only 13 days ago.

Wisconsin held a 41-27 rebounding advantage, shot 50 percent from the field (31 of 62) to Ohio State’s 34 percent (18 of 53) and got 14 points off the bench to two for the Buckeyes.

Russell took 18 shots to score 17 points and was 1-of-7 from three-point range. If Arizona (primarily Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) prevents Russell from getting hot from the outside, the same result will occur today.


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[table “” not found /] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He has also written articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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