San Diego State and Arizona collide in this NCAA Sweet 16 matchup in Anaheim on Thursday in the West Regional, and it’s a rematch of a game played early in the season. The number-one seeded Wildcats beat the fourth-seeded Aztecs back in November 69-60 in San Diego, and both teams have gone on to have great seasons since then. Coming into the game Arizona is 32-4 while San Diego State is 31-4.
The win in November was the third of 21 games in a row to begin the season for Arizona. After the Aztecs’ loss, however, they would go on a 20-game winning streak of their own. The Wildcats have a definitive edge in strength of schedule, beating five NCAA tournament teams in their non-conference schedule and six more throughout their Pac-12 conference season. San Diego faced only 3 tournament teams during the early part of the year, losing to Arizona but getting “statement” wins over Creighton and Kansas. Of their four losses on the year, two of them were to Mountain West Conference rival New Mexico–the second one in the finals of the MWC tournament.
One big difference between the Aztecs and Wildcats is their respective tradition in the NCAA tournament and the Sweet 16. Arizona has made a habit of making deep runs in post-season play with four appearances in the Final Four and a national championship in 1997. San Diego State is trying to get to the Elite Eight for the first time ever. Aztec head-coach Steve Fisher is confident that they can change that history, saying that his team was going up to Anaheim “with the expectation” that they are going to win. What will make this time different from the November loss to the Wildcats? One thing might be the presence of 6-7 junior forward Dwayne Polee, who has emerged as the team’s fourth leading scorer. Polee was not in the lineup for the first outing against Arizona for no other reason than Fisher did not put him in the game. It was simply a matter of Polee playing himself into the rotation as the season went along. In two NCAA tournament games he is averaging 15 points and six rebounds, and is hitting almost 43 percent from the 3-point line. Xavier Thames leads the team with 26.5 points per game in tournament play so far.
The striking thing about Arizona is their balance. In two NCAA tournament games this year the Wildcats have five players averaging double-figures in points, led by Nick Johnson’s 17.5 followed by Aaron Gordon with 17. Johnson and Gordon are also hitting 3-point shots at over 60 percent.
This NCAA Sweet 16 game between the Arizona Wildcats and the San Diego State Aztecs is going to be one of the great games of the weekend. In team statistics Arizona holds the edge in average points and assists, with rebounds just about even. On defense the Aztecs are second in the nation in points allowed while the ‘Cats are fifth, both allowing less than 60 points per game. If there is a home court advantage it would go to San Diego State, but the Arizona fans travel well and will be well-represented. Arizona has to be given the edge based on the quality of their opponents and their ability to score throughout the lineup. The Wildcats are favored by 6.5 points in this NCAA matchup. It will be low-scoring and closer than that, but Arizona gets the win 61-57.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky