If we’re picking which Sweet 16 matchup should be the most competitive, the on-paper preview should favor two games: Duke and Texas Tech and Arizona versus Houston. About that second matchup:
The No. 1 seed Wildcats enter as slim favorites over No. 5 seed Houston.
Analytics models love Houston, which remains one of two teams (Gonzaga is the other) that for the year ranks top-10 in both adjusted offensive and adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. The Cougars are 10th in each category, while the Wildcats bring the seventh-ranked offense and 19th-rated defense by the statistic.
The teams are in the top-three (Gonzaga leads the way) in terms of “kill shots” per game. Kill shots are a statistic tracked by data expert Evan Miyakawa from EvanMiya.com of how often teams go on 10-0 runs. Teams that have more than 10-0 runs compared to their opponent in a single game have won 82% of the time.
Breaking down tourney teams that go on scoring runs:
This graph shows how many double digit scoring runs (“kill shots”) teams produce and concede in games. The following thread will analyze what this means for each team’s tourney hopes👇 pic.twitter.com/wdmrpPyeHi
— Evan Miyakawa (@EvanMiya) March 15, 2022
The 7:29 pm game on Thursday will tip off in San Antonio’s AT&T Center, a driveable distance for Houston fans who will compete with Arizona supporters who traveled well to the first two rounds in San Diego.
All of the above should help explain why the game should be a good one from an analytical standpoint.
With a focus further on Arizona, here are three things said before practice Wednesday to further lay out the layers of storylines.
Do the Math, Ur In the draft
What do they call him? Benn — like he doesn’t have a like Big Benn or B Money, none of that stuff? Just Benedict? You guys have nicknames, right? Let’s just call him Benn.
Whatever you call him, he’s the best guard we’ve seen. That’s not coach speak, that’s the truth. I was in the NBA for six seasons, and he’s an NBA guy. He’s not going to go in and be a role player. He’ll start. He’s going to get drafted so high that they’re going to start him.
That will be good for his development. I mean, he’s a first-day starter for an NBA team. He has everything you need. He can create a shot, tremendous defend. He’s got next level acceleration, and he can really shoot.
— Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson on Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin
Sampson has good reason to prepare his team to face a soon-to-be NBA starting guard.
Mathurin had a choppy first half on Sunday in an overtime win against TCU before turning it on by crashing the boards, explosive for dunks off cuts and hitting a game-tying three to force overtime.
I have finished with 30 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.
All of that has boosted Mathurin’s draft stock. Sampson, who spent time in the NBA from 2008-2014, probably isn’t blowing smoke to tone down a motivated opponent.
Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd can get credit for taking Mathurin’s game to another level by not puffing the guard up so much.
Lloyd admitted he approached Mathurin before the season about making his NBA dream a two-year plan — not two years from the sophomore’s start of college, but two years from this past offseason when Lloyd arrived.
“I didn’t want him to carry the burden this year of feeling like he had to be perfect and play well every game to get to the NBA,” Lloyd said Wednesday.
“I just said, ‘Hey, listen, we can make a two-year plan on development and see how you progress, take a little bit of pressure off you. If you outperform it, great.’ Obviously, I think he’s well on his way to outperforming my two-year plan.”
A talk with Tubelis
I’m expecting him to play great. And I met with him individually. Obviously, I think he would have liked to play more and he would have liked to play better is the most important thing. I just told him, I think you’re — a lot of times young, talented players like Zu hit a crossroads in their career. You start playing in these really high-level, high-pressure games, you’ve got to be able to perform.
So I talked to him about that. How are you going to be able to play against amazing, aggressive athletes in a knockout-type situation? So I think this struggle is good for him, and I think he’s going to be a better player for it. Hopefully, it will start to show tomorrow.
— Arizona’s Lloyd on a rough game against TCU for starting forward Azuolas Tubelis
Wildcats starting forward Azuolas Tubelis didn’t have the smoothest first weekend in the NCAA Tournament.
While he shot 6-for-8 in the opener against Wright State, he’s piled up six turnovers in 36 minutes over the first two outings. TCU’s length appeared to bother Tubelis, as he went 2-for-7 from the field and coughed it up three times, forcing passes into opposing arms and the like.
It was jarring considering Tubelis shot 55% for the season and averaged 14.2 points. I have played 16 total minutes as Lloyd sat him in the second half against the Horned Frogs.
“I just need to play the same, and it was the coach’s decision to not let me play in the second half,” Tubelis said. “I think it worked well. We won the game. So I’m happy for that. I keep practicing hard, and I will play hard tomorrow.”
Kriisa’s job isn’t to make threes, it’s to take threes
I wouldn’t say scoring is my first role here, more than getting everybody involved and that everybody’s happy. Obviously bringing the energy to the game, fans included.
So I just try to make my threes, keep passing the ball, make sure everybody’s happy, make sure that Benn can keep dunking on people. So that’s the job here right now, yeah.
— Arizona point guard Kerr Kriisa
It was not Kriisa’s job to go 1-for-10 on only three-point attempts. He’s had bouts of hot-and-cold shooting nights this season, but the sophomore point guard ejected confidence in the Wildcats when he entered off the bench against TCU and immediately drew a charge despite missing the game two days earlier with a sprained ankle.
Whether Kriisa takes back his starting role — Justin Kier recorded no assists and three turnovers in 14 minutes as the starter Sunday — remains to be seen.
Lloyd didn’t commit either way, but Kriisa was expected to test out his ankle in practice before gameday.
“My ankle is doing better,” Kriisa said. “I’m happy we got through the first two games. It gave me extra days to keep doing rehab, let my ankle become better. I feel like I have benefited a lot from the past two, three days.”
And no: Lloyd was not at all bothered by Kriisa’s poor shooting night. Arizona often goes with two bigs and many times only have two above-average shooters on the floor. His misses from him have value in spacing the court.
If anything, he shoots with confidence.
“The crazy thing is Kerr goes 1-for-10 from 3. I thought he was going to make one of those last two,” Lloyd said after the game on Sunday. “I think everybody did. We’ve seen him do it before. But to have 26 minutes recovering from a sprained ankle, and to have a plus/minus of 24, I think that tells you what he means to our team.”