PG: Mark Lyons (6-1, 200, Sr.) vs. Shane Larkin (5-11, 176, So.)
This is a pretty even matchup because Larkin has been playing some good basketball this season. He is averaging 14 points per game to go along with three rebounds and three assists as well. In fact, there is only one game that Larkin has failed to score ten points. The key here is that sometimes Larkin can get carried away with the pace of the game and although he is not a turnover machine, he still gets in the habit of trying to do a bit too much, as shown by his five turnovers against Detroit and four against Jacksonville. Lyons may be the most dangerous player Larkin has faced all season because of his strength and it is hard to imagine Arizona’s point guard having two bad games in a row. We will give the advantage to Lyons, but it is not a big one and could go either way.
SG: Nick Johnson (6-3, 200, So.) vs. Durand Scott (6-5, 203, Sr.)
There was never any question that Scott had talent, but he has finally put it together and now he is one of the most dangerous players around. Scott is shooting a blistering 58 percent from the field and 47 percent from behind the arc while averaging 16 points per game. In addition, Scott adds six rebounds and four assists to the equation as well. Scott’s worst shooting performance of the season is 6-13 against UMass and he has not had more than two turnovers in a game either. Johnson has been efficient as well and is probably a better defender than Scott, but this is a difficult matchup for both players. Either one can have a major impact on the game and frankly, both should.
SF: Solomon Hill (6-7, 220, Sr.) vs. Trey McKinney Jones (6-5, 220, Sr.)
McKinney Jones came off the bench because he had a fever on Friday night, but it did not seem to affect him a ton against Hawaii. McKinney Jones went to the line seven times and knocked them all down to help match his average of 11 points per game. More than half of McKinney Jones’ field goal attempts have come from behind the arc, where he is shooting 41 percent. Hill has become a very solid defender and is the stronger player here, especially with us not knowing how McKinney Jones feels physically. This is a big opportunity for Hill to get Arizona an advantage, so he needs to be aggressive from the start. Hill is a better rebounder as well, so we would be a bit surprised if he struggled tonight even with McKinney Jones having plenty of talent.
PF: Brandon Ashley (6-8, 235, Fr.) vs. Julian Gamble (6-10, 250, Sr.)
Gamble is a tough player to predict because he normally comes off the bench, but will start due to Reggie Johnson’s injury. When Gamble came off the bench, he was struggling and basically irrelevant to the outcome of the game. However, he started against Hawaii and had 16 points and 13 rebounds with eight of them coming on the offensive end. If Gamble plays like that, Miami is in good shape. If he plays like he did in his four scoreless games this season, it could be a long night. Ashley is much quicker than Gamble and has a better ability of taking his man off the dribble, so it makes sense for him to be aggressive to the basket like he was on Saturday night. We’re giving the advantage to Ashley figuring that he is able to do just that and that the Gamble we saw on Saturday night was more of a fluke than him playing like he will against Arizona.
C: Kaleb Tarczewski (7-0, 255, Fr.) vs. Kenny Kadji (6-11, 242, Sr.)
Kadji is similar to Erik Murphy in how he plays, but is definitely not close to being as effective. He is averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds per game, but shoots 43 percent from the field and 30 percent from behind the arc. Almost a third of his field goal attempts are from behind the arc, but he is not a good enough shooter to warrant that. Tarczewski needs to be physical in the paint and if he is, the big man should be just fine. Fouls should not be a huge issue with Tarc because of the way Kadji plays, but the Miami big man’s skill level is enough to make this an even matchup.
Bench: With Johnson hurt, Miami basically has no bench. It can trust players that have not played this season or go with a six man rotation. Rion Brown will likely be the main guy off the bench unless he starts and McKinney Jones comes off the bench instead. Either way, Miami has absolutely no size and Arizona should be able to wear down the Hurricanes. With Grant Jerrett and Kevin Parrom coming off the bench, there is a big advantage for the Wildcats here and one that needs to exploited.
Coaching: Sean Miller vs. Jim Larranga
Larranga deserves credit for what he did at George Mason and he has Miami to a fantastic start. However, he has not done much besides Mason’s Final Four run and consistency is the difference here. It will be interesting to see how Larranga handles the rotation and if he attempts to somehow make Arizona uncomfortable, which it needs to be in order for Miami to win.
Prediction: It may seem like Arizona has a big advantage here, but Miami is a good team. It is a veteran squad that matches up well with Arizona at every position, except for the bench. The Hurricanes should be able to stick with the Wildcats throughout, but Arizona’s depth and size may be too much. We’re guessing Miami gets a bit worn down at the end of the game and it is enough for Arizona’s guards to take advantage.
Arizona 74, Miami 67