LOS ANGELES - The Buckeyes are back in the Sweet Sixteen and while the Arizona Wildcats may not be a familiar team to many fans in the Midwest, their head coach Sean Miller is a known commodity to Ohio State fans and more importantly to Ohio State head coach Thad Matta and Thursday night's game should be a battle with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.
Ohio State has faced teams with great guard play during the 2012-13 season and played against teams with talented big men but the upcoming game will be a challenge with Arizona possessing both attributes. Arizona's 12-6 league record isn't overly impressive when you just look at it on its own but when you figured in a 27-7 overall record, coupled with wins over fellow Sweet Sixteen teams Miami (Fla.) and Florida, and then Arizona becomes a little bit more of a threat, at least on paper.
Arizona has not been tested, at least in the score column, in its two tournament games so far (wins against Belmont and Harvard) with a 17 point and 23 point win so far and it appears that the Wildcats may be playing their best basketball of the season, even after getting bounced out of the Pac 12 tournament somewhat prematurely at the hands of UCLA.
"They have played some unbelievable basketball," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. "I know their players and they are as talented as any team in the country and Sean has done a great job of bringing that together and the right time of the season."
The Wildcats are diverse in their offense and offensive weapons and while most of the focus will be paid to former Xavier player Mark Lyons, the Arizona team is built to not be about the play of just one player and reminds one Buckeye of a fellow Big Ten team.
"We are going to have to treat them like a Michigan State," Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas said. "We are going to have to rebound the ball and get the 50-50 balls."
Ohio State was challenged in its last game against the Cyclones of Iowa State and while the Wildcats are able to shoot from distance the way that ISU (and even Iona) were able to, the outside shot does not define how the Cats run their offense and the Buckeyes can't just key on the perimeter.
"We see one of the better teams that we have played all year," Ohio State forward Sam Thompson said. "We see an athletic team, a skilled team, a team that likes to get out in transition and a team that can defend you and beat you in a number of different of ways."
This game will create several intriguing match-ups with the Buckeye scoring defense allowing 58.8 ppg (Ohio State is the 3rd highest remaining defense in the Sweet Sixteen, trailing Florida and Louisville) while the Wildcats put up 73.5 ppg (6th in remaining teams in the field, Ohio State - 70.2 ppg).
Players like Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott have become the faces of the defense for the Buckeyes but the Ohio State defense has grown out of the play of more than just a pair of players.
"We do a good job of defending together," Craft said. "We have some guys who can harass the ball one-on-one and I think as a team we have done a good job of helping one another, playing hard and not playing perfect but covering each other up when need to."
And Craft and the Buckeyes don't want to turn any of these games into a one-on-one situation the way that people tried to build up the Aaron Craft vs. Lamont 'Momo' Jones battle of the first game of Ohio State's run. But with that being said, Craft should be in for a battle against Lyons and his 15.4 ppg. and Lyons knows he will have a tough competitor in his face.
"Honestly, I'm just trying to win games," Lyons said. "Everybody is caught up in this one-on-one match-up, and I'm not looking at it like that. If my team wins, all of us look good, and that's all that really matters."
Craft echoed the same sentiment.
"It's all about our team and how we can get in gaps, show him bodies and hopefully take away some lanes that he drives in usually," Craft said. "Make him make some tougher shots and hopefully that will be enough."