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Arizona, Buffalo prepare for battle of different styles in NCAA Tournament

Arizona's Rawle Alkins dunks over Southern California's Elijah Stewart during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game for the Pac-12 men's tournament championship Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Las Vegas. Arizona won 75-61. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

The Buffalo Bulls and the Arizona Wildcats are both coming into the NCAA Tournament hot riding a six-game game win streak and a dominant conference performance.

As the Wildcats usually dominate teams with its large size, the Bulls have strong guard play. While many have Arizona going deep into the tournament, others believe Buffalo has a chance to upset the Wildcats.

Essential Info

What: Buffalo (26-8, 15-3) vs. Arizona (27-7, 14-4)

When: Thursday, February 22 at 6:40 p.m.

TV: CBS

Storylines to follow

Guard play

While Arizona has struggled on defense, significantly with three-pointers, Buffalo is very efficient from deep.

The Bulls are led by their strong junior wing players such as C.J. Massinburg, Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris.

“We know that they play a fast tempo,” Arizona wing Rawle Alkins said Wednesday. “And they have four guards on the court at all times. They’re kind of a small team but they still play tough. That East Coast toughness. And we know it’s going to be a battle tomorrow.

Harris leads the team in three-pointers made while shooting 46.3 percent from behind the arc, one of the most efficient percentages in the NCAA. Buffalo follows his lead making 9.6 three-pointers a game on 37.1 percent of its shots, again one of the most efficient percentages in the NCAA.

On the other end, Arizona gives up open threes and gives up 21.7 points a game from three-point shots.

If Buffalo gets as hot as they usually do, scoring a top-10 in the country 84.8 points a game. then Arizona could struggle to score as much as the Bulls.

“They’re a tough matchup,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “They score the ball as easily as any team that we’ve played.”

Struggles against tournament teams for both sides

Both teams have struggled this year against other teams have also made it into the NCAA Tournament.

Buffalo, however, has struggled much more than Arizona. The Bulls had five matchups against other tournament teams and they all resulted in losses. Buffalo played Cincinnati, South Dakota State, St. Bonaventure, Syracuse and Texas A&M and lost by an average of 11.4 points.

Arizona had seven matchups against six opponents who also made the NCAA Tournament. Arizona finished the season just above .500 against these teams with a 4-3 record. The Wildcats lost two games early on in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament to Purdue, a loss by 25 points, and NC State.

The Wildcats, though, only ended losing one more game to a tournament team (UCLA) for the rest of the season. The Wildcats were able to beat Texas A&M and Alabama in Tucson before conference play. Against other Pac-12 that ended up making the tournament, the Wildcats handled ASU twice and were able to get revenge against the Bruins in an overtime win in the Pac-12 tournament.

Height

While Arizona starts two 7-footers in Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic, the Bulls only have three big men on their roster listed at either 6-foot-10 or 6-foot-11.

“That is a million dollar question,” Buffalo head coach Nate Oats said Wednesday of how to stop Ayton. “Everybody in the Pac-12 hasn’t figured it out. So I’ve got a few friends that coach there, I’ve talked to them.”

Buffalo has relatively good rebounding statistics, grabbing 39 rebounds a game, but it will be a struggle for the Bulls to control the glass because of the Wildcats’ size.

With Ayton leading the way posting an average of 11.5 rebounds a game, the Wildcats consistently dominate the paint. They outrebound teams by 7.6 rebounds a game, the eighth largest margin in the NCAA.

Players to watch

Deandre Ayton: The Naismith Trophy finalist, Pac-12 Player of the Year and likely No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft has done it all this year. Ayton is averaging a double-double with 20.3 points and 11.5 rebounds a game on 61.6 percent shooting.

With a likely mismatch on every possession, like nearly every game, the big man will look to dominate the glass and the paint both offensively and defensively.

Dusan Ristic: Alongside Ayton in the starting lineup, the 7-footer will be looking to do the same as Ayton in the paint.

The senior isn’t a bad 7-foot Robin to Ayton’s Batman role. Ristic has averaged 12.1 points, 7 rebounds and 0.5 blocks a game. As if one solid big man isn’t hard enough to guard, it’s likely that the shorter Bulls will struggle to contain the Twin Tower duo of Ayton and Ristic.

C.J. Massinburg: The Bulls junior guard is averaging a team-high 16.9 points a game while also helping on the glass grabbing 7.4 rebounds a game. The All-Mid-American Conference first-team guard also takes 1.1 steals a game. Massinburg can also make it rain from deep as he has shot 39.3 percent this season.

Nick Perkins: The other All-American Conference first-team player also helps out the team plenty in scoring. The junior forward scores 16.6 points a game with eight 20-point games this season including a 21-point game against St. Bonaventure this season.

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