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Deeper Dive: Expect a Big Night from Arizona's Stanley Johnson

by Photo of Tommy Dee

Coming off a poor performance against Ohio State, expect the freshman forward to explode against Xavier

Deeper Dive: Expect a Big Night from Arizona's Stanley Johnson

School: University of Arizona
Conference: Pac-12
Head Coach: Sean Miller
Key Players: Stanley Johnson, Fr. Forward, Brandon Ashley, Jr. Forward, T.J. McConnell, Sr. Point Guard    

They say timing is everything and if Arizona's Stanley Johnson were among any other freshman class, he'd probably be talked about as a lock for a top 3 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Johnson, the Arizona Wildcats' 6'7", 245 lb. beast of a forward, has all the physical tools you'd look for in a modern day NBA perimeter player. He has the athleticism and strength that would remind you of Bulls forward Jimmy Butler, and like Butler he just looks the part of a young star on the rise. 

But Johnson gets lost among the other bigger names like Okafor, Russell and Towns as pundits become fascinated by the ceilings of young, big, post players. With the Wildcats primed to make a serious run out of the West Regional, I expect Johnson to dominate in his matchup against Xavier tonight in Portland. Call it a hunch, but I'm a firm believer that players of Johnson's caliber are able to recalibrate quickly off of poor performances. Despite solid defense that included a team-high 10 rebounds, Johnson shot a miserable 1-of-12 from the field finishing with just 4 points and just two trips to the free throw line in his last outing. 

Throughout the season, Johnson has shown his resiliency after off nights. In his college debut against Mount St. Mary's, Johnson was held to just eight points and six rebounds on 2-of-8 shooting (which included 0-for-4 from three). In his next game, he bounced back for 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting (2-of-3 from deep) against Cal State Northridge. In the loss against UNLV, Johnson put up a respectable 13/13 double-double, but he shot just 3-of-11 from the field and a putrid 6-of-11 from the free throw line. He followed that up with a much more respectable 13/7 against Arizona State where he shot 5-of-8 and was perfect from deep and from the line. In the loss against Oregon State, Johnson took just four shots and was held to seven points and three rebounds. He exploded in the next game against Colorado for 22 points and eight rebounds on 7-of-15 shooting and 8-of-9 from the charity stripe. Johnson has a short memory, which will serve him well in this Sweet 16 matchup.

With a potential match against Wisconsin looming in the Elite Eight, it's also worth noting that Johnson has performed quite well in games leading up to a big opponent. Before Arizona took on Gonzaga earlier this season, Johnson got ready by dropping 18 points and eight rebounds on Gardner-Webb. Before each of Arizona's tilts with Utah, Johnson put up the aforementioned 22/8 against Colorado and then a 15 point binge in just 25 minutes against the same Buffaloes team. When something really meaningful is looming on the horizon, Johnson really starts to turn it on in anticipation of that big matchup. This game against Xavier is a perfect example of one of these "gear-up games".

I expect Johnson to be much more aggressive attacking the basket early against a Xavier defense that ranks just 154th in the country in defensive rating. Xavier wants to play fast and put points on the board and that fits well into what Arizona wants to do. The Musketeers allow an alarming 49% from 2-point range and have given up 659 free throw attempts to opponents which ranks them 201st in college basketball per sports-reference.com. If I'm Sean Miller, I'm telling my team, Johnson in particular, to attack the cup starting from tip-off. If Johnson can get rolling early his confidence will build and he'll have a big day. Johnson has 12 games where he's gone to the line seven or more times and in those contests the Wildcats are 11-1 with a 15-point average margin of victory.   

Quote Worthy:

“This type of atmosphere, playing for a Sweet 16, you don't have to remind someone like Stanley that this is a big game, a game that in many regards we're all judged by. His intent was very good.” - Arizona coach Sean Miller following Johnson's 1-12 shooting performance against Ohio State.

The Numbers: Sports-Reference.com

PPG: 14.0
RPG: 6.6
APG: 1.7
SPG: 1.5
FG%: .447%
TS%: .551%
eFG:. 501
ORating: 111.6 
DRating: 86.0


The Conclusion

If Arizona is going to come out of the West Region they are going to need Johnson's best all-around game to do so. I'm envisioning an epic battle and rematch with Wisconsin and can't wait to see Nigel Hayes/Stanley Johnson matchup to see who advances to the Final Four. But first Arizona has to take care of business tonight against Xavier. I think Johnson brings his best and the Wildcats win going away setting the stage for redemption from last year's disappointment. 

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