Previewing UH’s Sweet 16 matchup against Arizona
While the overwhelming opinion from the outside was that Houston’s season was a wash once guards Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark went down with season-ending injuries in December, the Cougars have continued to surprise people and have once again found their way to the Sweet 16 after defeating UAB and Illinois in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Next up, UH heads to San Antonio to take on the Pac-12 champs and South Region’s No. 1 seed — Arizona.
A look at the Wildcats
The Bennedict Mathurin show
Bennedict Mathurin has taken the country by storm for his play during his sophomore season.
The 6-foot-6-inch guard led the Wildcats in scoring with 17.8 points per game on his way to being named the Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Mathurin, a projected lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, checks all the boxes that scouts look for in an elite guard.
Mathurin shoots the ball at a high clip at 45.5 percent overall from the field and 37.2 percent from 3-point range and it is extremely difficult to affect his shot due to his size and high release on his jumper.
On top of that, Mathurin has transitioned from the spot-up shooter he was as a freshman to a guy who also is a great transition scorer and has also made major improvements in his ability to score off the bounce.
Mathurin’s best skill set on offense is the way he moves without the ball in his hands. Mathurin is an elite cutter, possessing the speed and athleticism to get around screens and knock down tough shots.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) March 21, 2022
Solid defender? Check.
The 19-year-old Canadian guard’s defense has improved immensely from his freshman season.
Mathurin has proven his ability to defend on-ball isolation situations as well as pick-and-roll ball-handlers at a high level.
Mathurin’s size and athleticism give him the versatility to defend both guards and forwards which is another major plus.
Monster in the paint
After facing one beast in Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn in the round of 32, UH has another tough test in Arizona’s 7-foot-1-inch Christian Koloko.
Koloko took home two pieces of hardware for his play in the regular season, earning the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player awards.
Christian Koloko put a lid on the rim on one end, and made All-American Hunter Dickinson look like a 7'1 traffic cone operating out of handoffs and ball-screens in Arizona's blowout win over Michigan. 22 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks for the potential first round pick. pic.twitter.com/g3mfRo5Wq5
— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) November 22, 2021
The junior center from Cameroon has been one of college basketball’s best rim protectors, blocking 86 shots to lead the Pac-12 during the regular season and another 14 in the conference tournament and the Wildcat’s first two NCAA Tournament games. Even when he’s not blocking shots, Koloko’s massive wingspan allows him to affect the shot of any player in his general area.
Koloko has also doubled his offensive production from last season, improving from averaging 5.3 points per game as a sophomore to 12.7 points this season.
Arizona will be the biggest team UH has faced all year.
Along with Koloko, 6-foot-11-inch forward Azuolas Tubelis averages 14.2 points per game, second-most on the team. Tubelis is not afraid to shoot the 3, attempting about one per game, but shoots at a clip of only 27 percent from deep.
Kerr Krissa and Dalen Terry round out the Arizona starting guard group, combining to score nearly 18 points per game. Both are 3-point shooting threats, shooting 34.2 and 35.1 percent from deep respectively.
Pelle Larsson, a 6-foot-5-inch guard from Sweeden, won the Pac-12’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Larsson averages 7.2 points on 21 minutes off the bench per game. Larsson is also a good 3-point shooter, shooting 36 percent on the year.
How UH matches up with Arizona
Controlling the offensive boards
Offensive rebounding has been the bread and butter of the UH program under Kelvin Sampson. While the Wildcats rank No. 2 in the NCAA in defensive rebounds per game, pulling down 30.08 defensive boards per game, they rank a mere 159th in defensive rebounding percentage at 74.2 percent.
The struggle to pull down defensive rebounds was on full display in Arizona’s round of 32 game against TCU as the Wildcats allowed the Horned Frogs to pull down 20 offensive boards.
UH has been of the country’s best offensive rebounding teams year after year and that hasn’t changed this season. The Cougars rebound nearly 38 percent of their misses.
If UH is to knock off the South Region’s No. 1 seed, it must continue to do what it has done all season on the offensive glass because the Cougars simply do not shoot the ball well enough on their first shot to score enough points to beat the Wildcats.
Defense has been the foundation for UH and the No. 1 reason for the Cougars’ immense success under Sampson, but the Cougars have their hands full against a high-powered Arizona offense that can hurt teams in many different ways.
Expect lots of double teams from the Cougars when Koloko or Tubelis gets the ball in the post, just as they did against Cockburn.
Kyler Edwards, who Sampson called the American Athletic Conference’s best defender, will likely draw the assignment of guarding Mathurin.
Edwards’ ability to hold his ground against Mathurin will be key if the Cougars are to advance to the Elite Eight.