West Regional final preview: Arizona vs. Connecticut

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When: 7:00 pm EST, CBS

The Details: Neither Arizona or UConn is supposed to be in the Elite 8. The Wildcats were the Pac-10 champs, but the consensus was that was more of a knock on the Pac-10 than it was praise for the Wildcats. In just Sean Miller’s second season at the helm in Tucson, Arizona has climbed right back into the mix as the best team on the West Coast, shocking considering how young this team is and how raw they are outside of Derrick Williams.

For UConn, this is the culmination of a fairly incredible run. The Huskies weren’t supposed to be a game away from the Final Four this season, not after Stanley Robinson, Jerome Dyson, and Gavin Edwards all graduated. Not with a lineup full of freshmen and sophomores, a coach that can barely make it an entire season healthy, and an NCAA investigation looming. This was supposed to be UConn’s rebuilding year. Its nice to be able to make the Elite 8 when you are rebuilding, isn’t it?

Key Matchups: Derrick Williams vs. Roscoe Smith, Momo Jones/Jordin Mayes vs. Kemba Walker

Look, let’s just get this out there — UConn is not going to be able to stop Derrick Williams and Arizona is not going to be able to stop Kemba Walker. No one has really been able to stop either player this season, but the key is to slow them down.

Derrick Williams may very well have played his way into the No. 1 overall pick with his performance against Duke on Thursday. It was unreal. He’s strong enough to dominate on the block, he’s got the perimeter skills and the explosiveness to do this, and he is apparently now hitting contested threes from Jimmer range. I have a feeling that UConn will put Roscoe Smith on him. Alex Oriakhi would get torced by Williams on the perimeter. Smith is more mobile and a better perimeter defender, but Williams will be able to dominate Smith in the paint. Doubling a post touch is easier, however, than help side rotations when a perimeter defender gets beaten off the dribble.

Kemba Walker is a nightmare to try and stay in front of on the perimeter, and when he is knocking down his jumpers from the top of the key, he is damn near impossible to stop. The key to slowing him down is to make it a team effort. A lot of teams have switched to a zone defense to defend UConn, while others have played a sloughing man-to-man or some other junk defense. The key to beating Kemba is to force him into tough shots in the mid-range. He’s really learned to avoid taking the ball all the way to the rim unless he is going to have a good look when he gets there. Unfortunately, at times, that has resulted in more tough pull-ups. And that is the key for Momo Jones and Jordin Mayes.

But, like I said earlier, you aren’t going to shut down Williams or Walker. In the immortal words of Dan Patrick, “you can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain them.”

Key Stats: Transition possessions

I live and breathe the data on Kenpom’s website, but sometimes it doesn’t tell you the whole story. Like, for example, the pace that UConn and Arizona play at. The Wildcats average about a half of a possession more that the Huskies do, which would lead one to believe that, in general, these two teams like to play at just about the same pace. That would be incorrect.

Looking at the chart that Luke Winn posted on his Sweet 16 power rankings (scroll down to the BYU section), you can see that the Huskies get out in transition on 17.4% of their possessions, while Arizona runs on just 10.8% of their possessions. Watching the games backs it up. What UConn likes to do is attack quickly to see if they can get anything easy before the defense is set. But if they don’t get anything easy, they pull the ball back out and run clock, looking to isolate Kemba Walker or Shabazz Napier in a high ball screen.

If they can limit the number of easy baskets UConn gets, Arizona has a very good shot at winning this thing.

X-factors: Jeremy Lamb, Momo Jones

Playing against two potential first round NBA Draft picks last night, would you believe me if I told you that Momo Jones actually was the best point guard on the floor last night? He finished with 16 points, six assists, and no turnovers, helping to hold Nolan Smith to 3-14 shooting and six turnovers. Jones, however, is incredibly inconsistent. He went scoreless in the win over Texas as Jordin Mayes had 16 points, but in the opening round Jones had 18 points in a two points win over Memphis. Which Momo shows up against UConn?

Jeremy Lamb has slowly but surely developed into a very valuable secondary option for the Huskies. After last night’s 26 point performance — which included a three to give UConn a 68-64 lead with 30 seconds left and a subsequent steal and dunk to seal the game — Lamb can probably no longer be considered under the radar. What ever he is, his ability to knock down open threes and create his own shot by slashing to the basket is huge for the Huskies.

And the winner is?: UConn Huskies

I can see this game turning into a shootout between the two all-americans. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if both ended up with 30 or more points. That said, I think that UConn’s supporting cast has been much more consistent late in the season. Its not just Jeremy Lamb. Shabazz Napier has gone from a turnover prove gunner to a freshman with the stones to take, and make, some tough, clutch jumpers. Alex Oriakhi is a horse in the paint that Arizona won’t have an answer to.

As good as Jones and company were last night, I think the non-Kemba’s outplay the non-Derrick’s.