Three Keys for Arizona and San Diego State in Tonight’s Game

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) & Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on March 27th, 2014


Arizona and San Diego State will play in the nightcap at Anaheim tonight, with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line. To break down this match-up, we asked Arizona expert Adam Butler of to give us his three keys for Arizona in this game, while RTC correspondent Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) will offer up San Diego State’s biggest priorities. Make sure to also follow @RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Anaheim throughout the week.

Three Keys For Arizona

  1. T.J. McConnell and the turnover battle — Any discussion of offense in this preview is a disservice to the defense both of these teams play. That said, defense is also the only known commodity offered by both teams (though SDSU really leaves a lot to the offensive imagination). And so I turn our attention to T.J. McConnell. Arizona’s floor general — as you’ve heard all season long — is the quintessential pass-first point guard. That’s great. It’s perfect for Sean Miller‘s system and feeds the Arizona beast. But when he isn’t, Arizona struggles. When dimes turn to turnovers, San Diego State can turn those into easy buckets, and for a crummy offense, those are gifts. Great gifts. Like the kind of gifts you hunt for before Christmas day, great. If McConnell is playing heady and taking care of the basketball — taking shots when he has them and creating them for his friends when he can — Arizona should roll.

    T.J. McConnell Is A Catalyst For Sean Miller's Squad. (Icon SMI)

    T.J. McConnell Is A Catalyst For Sean Miller’s Squad. (Icon SMI)

  2. Continuing to rebound — The glass has been a place Arizona has dominated this season. They’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, which often salvages their less-than-elite shooting and puts greater pressure on their opponents. They offer a double-edged sword of not allowing you transition opportunities and grabbing offensive rebounds. Furthermore, they own the defensive glass  (#8 defensive rebounding rate in the nation). You’re not getting rebounds against this team. Unless you are. In which case, you have a chance to compete. San Diego State can board, ranking top 35 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates. They’re not Arizona, but I’m telling you there’s a chance.
  3. Stopping Xavier Thames — If there is one surefire way to win a game in which seemingly no one can score, hope that you have the one guy that can score. Xavier Thames might be the best offensive player to take the court on Thursday night, and should the Aztecs manage to keep this thing close late, they just might have a hot hand’s chance. Ask Cal and Justin Cobbs about it.

Three Keys For San Diego State

You Can Bet Arizona Will Keep Close Tabs On Xavier Thames Thursday Night

You Can Bet Arizona Will Keep Close Tabs On Xavier Thames Thursday Night. (AP)

  1. Limit turnovers — Arizona has shown all season what they can do when they force turnovers and get out in transition; Gonzaga is the latest carcass to collide with that freight train. The Aztecs are not a particularly turnover-prone team (in 28 of their 35 games, they’ve turned the ball over on fewer than 20 percent of their possessions), but tonight is no time to get sloppy. If you’re going to miss shots, that’s one thing. But don’t end possessions on live-ball turnovers against the Wildcats.
  2. Find easy points somehow — It doesn’t matter how this happens, but the Aztecs need to be able to find a way to manufacture points without having to score over the vaunted Wildcats’ half-court defense. Arizona isn’t particularly turnover-prone either, but forcing some miscues and getting transition points of their own would be a good start for Steve Fisher’s group. Another priority it going to be finding a way to get to the line (something that would serve the dual purpose of also straining the short Wildcats bench). The third option would be to crash the offensive glass in search of putbacks and tip-ins. None of these areas are particular weaknesses for Arizona at all, but the Aztecs are probably going to prefer checking off some of these boxes rather than scoring in the half-court against the ‘Cats.
  3. Rebounding — Mr. Butler touched on it above, but the Wildcats generally don’t get beaten on the glass. In these teams’ first match-up way back in November, Arizona bested the Aztecs on the glass, grabbing 40.6 percent of available offensive rebounding opportunities and cleaning the defensive glass efficiently too (74.3%). Let’s not think for a minute that the Aztecs are going to own the boards against the Wildcats, but they’ve got to find a way to fight to a draw, at the very least.
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