After three tragically boring days, the NCAA Tournament returns Thursday night. The Big East's lone remaining team, the Xavier Musketeers, will be facing off with the Arizona Wildcats at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles California.
These two teams have taken different paths to get here, however.
For the 2-seed Arizona, it was a blowout win over Texas Southern, then a convincing victory over Ohio State in which Arizona outscored the Buckeyes 47-33 in the second half. Arizona has been pegged by some as "the team with the best shot at beating Kentucky", and it's easy to see why. They have a supreme amount of talent at all five positions.
For the 6-seed Musketeers, it started in the Big East Tournament. After all, without their run to the Championship, they definitely wouldn't have gotten up to the 6-seed. They drew Ole Miss in their first NCAA Tournament game, and won by a margin of 76-57, dominating the whole game. The second game the Musketeers played, again the Cinderella's of the first weekend, Georgia State, ended in an eight point victory for Chris Mack's crew.
Now that you know how we got to this point, here are the three things to keep an eye on going into Thursday night's showdown.
Teacher vs. Student
A lot of people will tell you this is the only storyline of Thursday's game. It's not. But, it's certainly not one we could ignore. Sean Miller, Arizona's coach, used to coach at Xavier. Chris Mack, Xavier's coach, served on Miller's staff. Both men have carved out great legacies so far at their schools. Miller is looking to take Arizona to his third Elite Eight in the last six seasons. Mack, on the other hand, has taken Xavier to their third Sweet Sixteen in six seasons, but never has he made it farther than that with the Musketeers. The relationship these two have will certainly be mentioned once or twice by Kevin Harlan on the TV broadcast.
Xavier: The Ultimate Underdog
It's easy to look at this game and write it off as a dud that Arizona will roll in. Vegas has. The line opened at Arizona -9, and has jumped to Arizona -10.5 at the time of this writing, via OddsShark. That is the biggest spread Xavier has faced since February 2005. Again. With all the detracting of Xavier, it's easy to write this game off. But March is a funny month. All it will take is a few bad possessions from Arizona coupled with good possessions from Xavier to build some confidence. A confident team is a dangerous team.
Ultimately, I think Arizona wins this game. They're too good on too many fronts for Xavier to keep up with. However, as stated above, if X can get some confidence, who knows what they're capable of. Maybe Arizona will get into foul trouble. Maybe Jalen Reynolds will continue his hot scoring from the last game. Perhaps Matt Stainbrook will have a 20/20 game. NCAA Tournament games are a blast because they are unpredictable.