Preview: Arizona vs. Ohio State
The longstanding friendship between Arizona coach Sean Miller and Ohio State coach Thad Matta will be set aside Thursday when the sixth-seeded Wildcats and No. 2 Buckeyes collide in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in Los Angeles. Miller and Matta became friends while serving on the Miami (Ohio) staff of Herb Sendek, currently the head coach at Arizona State. Their 12th-seeded RedHawks upset fifth-seeded Arizona in the 1995 NCAA Tournament.
Matta later hired Miller as his assistant at Xavier, where Miller took over after Matta left for Ohio State in 2004. They met on opposite ends of the floor once before, in the second round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament, with the top-seeded Buckeyes prevailing in overtime against No. 9 Xavier. This matchup looks to be similarly close, as Ohio State enters on a 10-game winning streak but could be vulnerable against Arizona's size. Amir Williams, a 6-11 sophomore center, is the only player taller than 6-8 for the Buckeyes, but he's been limited to 16.5 minutes. The Wildcats, meanwhile, feature 7-foot freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski in the starting lineup with freshmen forwards Grant Jerrett (6-10) and Brandon Ashley (6-8) off the bench.
TV: 7:47 p.m. ET, TBS.
ABOUT ARIZONA (27-7): Mark Lyons has already accomplished something no other player in NCAA history done, advancing to two straight Sweet 16s with different teams. Lyons, a 6-1 senior point guard, led Xavier to the quarterfinals last season before moving to Arizona in the offseason as a graduate transfer. He also helped the Musketeers to the Sweet 16 as a freshman before they lost in double overtime to Kansas State. Lyons has been playing his best basketball of the season lately. He's averaging 25 points through the first two tournament games and has turned the ball over twice in each of the last four games.
ABOUT OHIO STATE (28-7): Aaron Craft missed three free throws in the final 4:40 of Sunday's game against 10th-seeded Iowa State but saved the Buckeyes by drawing a controversial charge with 1:41 remaining and then sinking a 3-pointer with one second left in the 78-75 victory. His defense on Lyons will be key in the West Regional semifinal. Some opposing coaches consider Craft the best defensive guard in the country. "You can't simulate the defensive pressure of Craft in practice. He's like having two guys on you," Northern Kentucky coach Dave Bezold said after a loss to the Buckeyes back in December.
1. Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas is averaging 23 points through the first two tournament games after leading all players in scoring at last season's NCAA Tournament (19.2).
2. Ohio State and Arizona have met once previously, a 90-47 victory by the Buckeyes during the 1972-73 season.
3. With his next appearance, Arizona State senior forward Solomon Hill will tie the school record for most games played (139). Kyle Fogg set the current mark from 2008-12.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 64, Arizona 60.