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LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Four days after its buzzer-beating win over Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament's round of 32, the second-seeded Ohio State basketball team (28-7, 13-5) will return to action on Thursday, when it'll face No. 6 Arizona (27-8, 12-6) in the Sweet 16. On Wednesday, members of the Buckeyes and Wildcats helped preview tonight's matchup.
Student vs. teacher
Despite a spot in the Elite Eight being on the line, the top storyline heading into tonight's matchup focuses on its head coaches in Ohio State's Thad Matta and Arizona's Sean Miller. The duo spent time together as assistants at Miami (OH) in the mid-90s, and it was Miller who was Matta's top assistant at Xavier from 2001-04.
'We talk periodically throughout the course of the season. It is kind of ironic as we talk about our teams to each other," Matta said. "So he's got a pretty good feel for us as I do for his team."
This isn't the first time that Matta and Miller have squared off with one another. In 2007, it was Matta's OSU team that beat Xavier in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, thanks to a Ron Lewis buzzer beater that sent the game into overtime.
Having already lost to Matta once, Miller is hopeful that it won't happen again, but if it does, he admitted that he'll become the Buckeyes' No. 1 fan.
"When you lose the game, and hopefully that won't be me, it's a little bit easier, I believe, to deal with, because no matter who Ohio State plays, I always cheer for them because of my relationship with Thad," Miller said. "What he's meant to me is simply, I wouldn't be here today without him. I learned a lot from him, enjoyed being around him when we worked together, and we remain very good friends."
Aiming for Arizona
In the Wildcats, the Buckeyes will be facing a team that finished second in the Pac 12 standings, but reminds Ohio State players of a Big Ten team due to their physicality. Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft said that if he had to pick any team, it would be Michigan State that compared favorably to Arizona.
"They're going to play very physical, and I think the league that we played in, we played physical people," Craft said. "Michigan State comes to mind with the bigs they have inside that can score, and also the guys that are surrounding them that can knock down outside shots and also drive the ball."
Drawing the assignment of stopping OSU star Deshaun Thomas will be Arizona forward Solomon Hill. Thomas is aware of the defensive challenge that Hill will present in what may be the game's premiere match-up.
"He's a great player. He's a great offensive player. He can make shots. He's a mismatch nightmare out there too at 6'7", long, and can play the post, can shoot the three," Thomas said. "He's a great player. It's going to be a great match‑up, and I'm looking forward to seeing it."
Cat's eye view
Perhaps the one thing that concerns Miller most about the Buckeyes is their defensive effort in the backcourt. The Wildcats coach was quick to not only praise Craft, but OSU point guard Shannon Scott, who joined the former on the Big Ten's All-Defensive team.
"They're a remarkable defensive team. You can admire the way they play defense. It starts not only with Aaron Craft, who I think is the best at what he does defensively," Miller said. "Shannon Scott to me doesn't get nearly enough credit. They almost have two guards that just ball hawk your team and make defense easier sometimes for their other players. But they do it really, really well. They're connected. They play with great effort, and it's amazing how well they play defense against the conference that they played in."
While Miller said that Ohio State will be the best team that Arizona has played this season, Hill sees similarities between the Buckeyes and the Belmont and Harvard teams that the Wildcats beat in the first two rounds of the tournament.
"There are certain things that they do that other teams have done. They down ball screens. The first two teams we played in the tournament do the same thing. So it was all about just keeping the same reps that we did in practice," Hill said. "They have a couple big guys. We still like to get the ball down low to our bigs, and really get them going."
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