Rushed Reactions: #2 Arizona 68, #6 Xavier 60

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 27th, 2015


Three Key Takeaways.

Despite Early Struggles, Senior Point Guard T.J. McConnell Came Up Large Late (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

Despite His Early Struggles, T.J. McConnell Came Up Large Late (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

  1. Wake-up Time. About 30 minutes into tonight’s game, Xavier led by four points and looked very much like the better team. The Musketeers were quicker to most loose balls. They were controlling the paint. They were running their offense through Matt Stainbrook with impunity. Dee Davis was beating his man (T.J. McConnell) off the bounce just about whenever he wanted, and McConnell, the Wildcats’ senior leader, looked nothing like the gutsy, scrappy veteran that we’ve gotten accustomed to. Arizona looked lost on offense and disinterested on defense. The large number of Arizona fans in Staples Center was quiet. And then, against Xavier’s tough 1-3-1 zone, T.J. McConnell found himself with a good-looking 15-foot baseline jumper. He missed it, but the Musketeers couldn’t corral the defensive rebound. The senior recovered it and banked in a hoop, prompting Chris Mack to call a timeout. A couple possessions later, Kaleb Tarczewski grabbed an offensive board and put it back in. On the other end of the court, he helped trap a Musketeer ball-handlers near midcourt, forcing a timeout. Following that timeout, McConnell swiped a steal from Myles Davis and, in the blink of an eye, the momentum of this game had shifted, Arizona fans were back into it, and the rest is history. A 21-9 game-closing run for the Wildcats following that McConnell second-chance bucket sealed the game.
  2. Zone Defense. The bad news is that Arizona again struggled mightily against a zone defense for large stretches of a game against a team from Ohio. Nobody but Gabe York could knock in the occasional long-range jumper. McConnell looked confused and frustrated. And whoever the Wildcats tried to turn into a play-maker in the middle of the zone had trouble finding open teammates. So, again, that’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: It is very likely that the Wildcats have seen their last zone defense for the year. Wisconsin isn’t going to zone them. There’s not a chance Kentucky would zone them. And we’d have to see the matchup in the final but it’s probably unlikely. Xavier stayed in the game tonight by throwing as many as four or five different defensive looks at Arizona. It uglied things up for the ‘Cats, but, hey, survive and advance.
  3. Kaleb Tarczewski. Of all the players in college basketball, there are very few that take the kind of abuse from average college basketball fans (even including Arizona fans) that Tarczewski does. But as Sean Miller puts it, “he just does his job.” Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook seemed to be getting the best of him early, using a number of pretty post moves against his single coverage on the way to a double-double of 17 points and 10 boards. But Miller views Tarczewski’s ability to guard frontcourt bigs like Stainbrook one-on-one as a key to the Wildcats’ defensive success. “Stainbrook had his moments, but he had one offensive rebound. And one of the strategies for us is we didn’t want him to provide 10 to 20 points for his teammates. Because they do a great job of throwing it into him and he’s such a terrific passer that all of a sudden, the floodgates open from three or they get the ball moving and the reason it starts to move is because you had to help on Stainbrook. And then it’s both: He’s not only scoring inside, but their perimeter attack is thriving because of him. The reason we won, in my opinion, is Kaleb’s double-double and his very good defense. He did what we asked him to do.” To summarize: Tarczewski limited Stainbrook on the offensive glass, grabbed his own offensive boards on the other end, and because he was able to battle the Xavier big man to an individual draw, stifle Xavier’s half-court offense.

Star of the GameT.J. McConnell. He didn’t play well for long stretches of the game tonight. Even as one of the nation’s best decision-makers with the ball in his hands, he couldn’t solve the puzzle of Xavier’s defensive confusion. He was shooting without confidence on one end, and on the other end, Dee Davis was beating the defensive bulldog off the bounce repeatedly. But down the stretch there he was again, the same old guy: poking a ball loose on the defensive end; taking a defensive dare and drilling a clutch three; penetrating the Xavier 2-3 zone drawing defenders and finding Brandon Ashley for a free throw line jumper. When it was winning time, the Wildcats’ purest winner took the challenge and pulled his team through.

Kaleb Tarczewski's Man-on-Man Battles Up Front Enable Arizona's Team Defense (USATSI)

Kaleb Tarczewski’s Man-on-Man Battles Up Front Enable Arizona’s Team Defense. (USATSI)

Sights & Sounds. Sleepy Staples. We’ve talked about it since the brackets came out: Arizona could expect to have a home court advantage through the regionals. But tonight, outside of a few brief moments of inspiration late in the game, there wasn’t a whole lot of buzz in the crowd. Part of that was from the antiseptic quality of an NBA arena as opposed to some of the more intimate venues in which the Wildcats have played in recently; part of it is from the division of seats among four different fan bases. But if the Wildcats were looking for a boost from their fans this weekend, they probably got the memo tonight — bring your own energy.

Wildcard. Trevon Blueitt vs. Arizona Wings. The Musketeers’ second-leading scorer at 11.0 points per game, Blueitt appeared to be the one guy on the Xavier roster with the requisite length and athleticism to match up with guys like Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Instead, he was largely invisible: 23 minutes, two points, one rebound. He’ll have a chance in the future to make amends for coming up small tonight, but in a game that was tight throughout, Blueitt didn’t produce the way he or his team probably hoped he would.


  • T.J. McConnell, on his early struggles: “In the first half you could have said I was practically playing for Xavier the number of times I passed them the ball. And I couldn’t hit water if I fell out of a boat from three. But we kept fighting.”
  • McConnell, on playing Wisconsin: “They’re the best team in the country… uh, except for Kentucky, of course.”

What’s Next? Arizona moves on to face Wisconsin in the Regional Final on Saturday, reprising last year’s overtime classic in Anaheim. Xavier wraps up its season at 23-14, and despite the graduation of Matt Stainbrook and Dee Davis, should have a talented group back and remain among the best in the Big East next year.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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