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Sweet 16 Previews: No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State

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On Wednesday and Thursday, we will be breaking down all eight of the Sweet 16 matchups. Here is our look at No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State:

RELATED: Sweet 16 Power Rankings | Top 16 Players | Eight Critical Individual Matchups

WHEN: Thursday, 10:17 p.m.

WHERE: Honda Center, Anaheim (West Region)

MAJOR STORY LINES: There’s a lot going on here beyond the actual game itself. These are arguably the two best programs out west, although UCLA’s resurgence under Steve Alford, particularly on the recruiting trail, might make one reconsider. Both programs rely on recruiting California, especially the the southern part of the state, to bring in talent. Steve Fisher’s done an unbelievable job building SDSU into a program that is actually relevant, and as good as Sean Miller is as a coach, he won’t be considered among the elite nationally until he leads the Wildcats to at least a Final Four.

KEY STATS: Arizona leads the nation in effective field goal percentage defense and is second nationally in defending two-point field goals. San Diego State ranks in the bottom 25% nationally in effective field goal percentage and is sub-300 nationally in their ability to make two point shots. SDSU shoots 74.4% of their shots from inside the arc and Arizona forces opposing offenses to shoot 73.5% of their shots inside the arc; for comparison’s sake, the national averages is 67.1% while Creighton takes just 55.5% of their shots from two-point range.

In layman’s terms, SDSU wants to get shots in and around the paint, and Arizona is one of, if not the best in the country after defending that.

SWEET 16 PREVIEWS: Dayton-StanfordWisconsin-Baylor |Florida-UCLA

Iowa State-UConn | Michigan-Tennessee | Virginia-Michigan State | Louisville-Kentucky

KEY PLAYERS: Xavier Thames is San Diego State’s offense. He’s not just their go-to guy, he’s not just their facilitator, he’s the focal point of everything they do on the offensive end of the floor. That puts Steve Fisher in a tough spot, as the Wildcats are not only the best defensive team in the country, they might have the nation’s best backcourt defender in Nick Johnson. Slow down Thames, beat SDSU.

POINT SPREAD: Arizona (-7.5)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. Arizona in transition: The Wildcats are not great when it comes to executing in the half court, but what they have done in the past month or so is to put more of a priority on getting easy baskets in transition. There is not a trio in the country that is more athletic than Nick Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Aaron Gordon, and the three of them thrive in the open court. When Arizona allowed to run the floor, they are a much more dangerous team.

2. Free throws: The Wildcats are not a good free throw shooting team, and while much of that blame falls on the shoulders of Gordon (42.9%), T.J. McConnell (60.9%) and Hollis-Jefferson (66.7%) struggle from the stripe as well. Given the physicality of both these teams, if this ends up being a close game, free throws could end up making an enormous difference.

3. Dwayne Polee: Polee didn’t even play the first time these two teams matched up back in November, but he’s become an integral part of the SDSU attack since the turn of the calendar in large part due to the fact that he can knock donw a jump shot without being a liability defensive. In the last four games, he’s averaging 15.5 points and shooting 62.5% from three.

CBT PREDICTION: Arizona

Nigel Hayes’ comment on basketball brands hits on greater point

Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes (10) drives on Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Madison, Wis. Hayes had a team-high 21 points in Wisconsin's 79-68 win. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
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Much is made about the ball when it comes to how the sport of basketball is played and rightfully so, as the ball is the most important piece of equipment. Different brands have different characteristics, and with college basketball programs being able to pick the ball they use for home games there are adjustments to be made during the season.

Wisconsin will play at No. 2 Maryland Saturday, meaning that in the days leading up to the game the Badgers needed to get used to the Under Armour basketball. The brand became a conversation point in the aftermath of Maryland’s win over No. 4 Iowa last month, with the Hawkeyes (while not blaming the ball for their loss) made note of the differences between the Under Armour ball and the Nike ball they use for their home games.

Thursday Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes offered up his observations on the basketball while also pointing out (albeit sarcastically) the goal of intercollegiate athletics.

“It’s definitely different,” Hayes said. “Personally, we don’t like it too much. I don’t like the Under Armour ball whatsoever. But that’s the way this amateur sports league is set up. We’re supposed to be having fun, but all the money is in these basketballs that colleges play with. But it’s an amateur sport, we’re just here for fun. It’s not really that serious. So I guess any ball should be OK.

“Maybe we should have a universal ball like the NBA. You don’t go to the Clippers’ stadium and play with a Nike and then go to Golden State and play with a Rawlings. But in this amateur sport of college, where money isn’t the goal — it’s the student education and experience that you get — we play with a million different basketballs.”

Hayes makes a good point here, and in regards to the NBA all hell would break loose under similar circumstances (remember the leather vs. microfiber composite controversy in 2006?). If these games are solely about fun and the college experience, wouldn’t having one ball used by all schools better fit that mission? This isn’t the biggest of deals when it comes to “amateur” athletics, as different basketball brands have been used for years.

But Hayes was able to take this situation and work it into the discussion of the goals of intercollegiate athletics. Is it about the experience? Or does the ability to profit, be it through a minor move such as using a particular ball or the more impactful step of moving from one conference to another, take precedence? Given the shifts that have occurred in college sports in recent years, it’s quite apparent that the search for additional revenue streams has won out.

Hayes did note that neither he nor his teammates would make excuses, saying that the team would simple “have to get used to” the unfamiliar basketball according to the Wisconsin State Journal. In the end, this was a good use of sarcasm by Hayes to make a greater point about the collegiate athletics machine he and his teammates are but minor parts of.

Marquette fan sends Providence money for missed free throw

Providence's Kris Dunn reacts to his shot during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against Villanova, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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It goes without saying that sports can inspire some interesting promises, from players and coaches guaranteeing victory to fans making statements that hinge on the outcome of a particular game or play (see: tattoos celebrating a team’s triumphs before they’ve even won the game in question). For one Marquette fan, the need for Providence’s Kris Dunn to miss a free throw during Wednesday night’s game (which Marquette won in overtime) inspired him to make a promise that he intended to keep.

Jamey Schilling took the approach of yelling that he’d pay Dunn $10 if he missed the free throw. Sure enough Dunn missed the shot, and Schilling made good on his promise. But with players themselves unable to receive such funds due to NCAA rules, Schilling sent the check to the Providence athletic department.

Schilling’s gesture did not go unnoticed by Marquette either, as the school sent him a gift card to use in the Marquette Spirit Shop.

H/T For The Win