The Sweet Sixteen of the 2014 NCAA Tournament is scheduled to begin on Thursday. No.1 Arizona will close out the night’s action with a contest against No.4 San Diego State.
Of all the favorites in the upcoming round, the Wildcats are expected to have the best chance of advancing. Most Las Vegas casinos have them giving the Aztecs 6.5 points.
San Diego State is very fortunate to still be alive in the tournament. While they easily defeated No.12 North Dakota State in the third round, they barely beat New Mexico State in the field of 64. The Aztecs needed overtime to get past the No.13 seed in the West region.
Arizona didn’t have much trouble in their first two games. They fended off No.16 seed Weber State by nine points and followed that up with a 23-point drubbing of No.8 Gonzaga.
Thursday’s contest between Arizona and San Diego State could be the lowest-scoring affair of the Sweet Sixteen, considering it features two of the five best defensive teams in the nation. Arizona allows 58.3 points per game, while San Diego State ranks second, giving up 56.6 points to their opponents.
While Arizona may not be the No.1 overall seed, but they were the best team in the country for almost two months. They didn’t suffer their first loss until Feb. 1, when they were defeated by California. Before that game, though, the Wildcats had beaten some tough competition. They amassed wins over Duke, New Mexico State, Michigan, UCLA, Colorado and Stanford, all of whom were selected to the Big Dance.
Included in those first 21 straight wins was also a victory over San Diego State. The Wildcats visited a then-unranked Aztec team on Nov. 14. Arizona led by double-digits after the first 11 minutes, and the score never got much closer.
Following their loss to Arizona, San Diego State started a winning streak of their own, stringing together 20 consecutive wins. They’ve defeated the likes of Kansas, Creighton and New Mexico, en route to a 31-4 record.
If the Aztecs hope to pull off the upset, they’ll need a big performance from their best player. Xavier Thomas leads the team in scoring and assists, and has been a major factor in the tournament. He’s averaging 26.5 points in the last two games, and accounted for almost of San Diego State’s points on Saturday.
San Diego State might have an elite defense, but it won’t be easy for them to slow down Arizona, which has three players that could be drafted in June. Nick Johnson leads the way with 16.3 points per game. Aaron Gordon might be the team’s most complete player, averaging 12.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
The winner will face either No.2 Wisconsin or No.6 Baylor in the Elite Eight. Bovada.lv gives Arizona even odds to reach the Final Four. San Diego State is listed at 5/1.
Prediction: Arizona 70: San Diego State 58