Category Archives: Bias Blogging

Team Enters

BB: Our 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats

I’m always pretty honest here. I don’t love ASU and, despite being 6’5″, I’ve only dunked a handful of times. Fastballs don’t translate into verticals. And so to get my mind around, and my heart into, re-examining this season – if not that game – I needed some time. A passage of moments to absorb everything that was our (my) last five months. Because my team didn’t win and because they were supposed to. Because I watched a season, five months, rest confidently in the hands of Nick Johnson. And then the season didn’t quite make it out of his hands. To tell you that I didn’t hurt sitting in section 407, row B, seat 4, alongside my brother, would be a Badger faced lie. I hurt, alongside a fan base starving to be in North Texas, watching the most exciting iteration of their team – our Wildcats – fall one point short. Pain.

And in this afternoon there will be departures and returns. Perhaps some coaching changes down the line. New developments that might further dictate our feelings about those five months.

But for now, take a walk with me. Certainly not a run because a run might not let us appreciate things, the actual path. By running, we might get stuck with a singular memory of a ball, in hand, with a backlit backboard, and the wrong score. A run would neglect to recall how we got to Anaheim. So let’s walk. Walk to appreciate how we got there and because sometimes it helps to slow things down, make sure that this blog post doesn’t become one big :(. Also, my middle name is Walker. Fun fact.

Like any walk, I suppose we’d have to begin by getting off the couch. Of course that’s where it all began for me. I was amongst the more than 18,000 streaming a basketball scrimmage on a Saturday afternoon in October. On that day, TJ McConnell played defense. Yes, I was ecstatic to watch a 6’1” Pittsburgher play practice defense. A skill he’d assert 39 more times for my viewing pleasure.

But that was just a practice. We needed, craved, the real thing. And soon thereafter, by a convergence of love, convenience, and coincidence, I celebrated the first two games of the season and my dear friend’s wedding. In Tucson. God bless Sunday weddings in November.

Of course the Cal Poly game left something to be desired. The Mustangs (who would eventually win one NCAA tournament game) made eleven three-pointers and raised questions about whether or not the 2012-13 three-point defense was an anomaly or a trend. The Wildcats would go on to allow the 12th lowest percentage of threes in the nation. Opponents would make just 32% of whatever they got.

But Gabe York started, Kaleb Tarczewski grabbed zero rebounds, Jordin Mayes played 4 minutes to turn the ball over 3 times, and the team shot 56% from the line. Was this game foretelling? No, the next game was. An assertion of strength, execution, and we-are-better-than-you up and down the McKale floor.

The tone was set. Arizona would be the most exciting, defense oriented, pace conscious team there could be. At least that’s what we wanted. But their mettle was yet to be tested. Not even a win in San Diego meant enough. A stage, The World’s Most Famous Arena, was the only place to do it. So they went to Madison Square Garden, forced Jabari Parker into what would be the second worst offensive performance of his collegiate career (by ORtg), and left their scent all over the right coast. Early the following week, Carolina would win in East Lansing.

Four days later, Arizona was the number one team in the country. Back.

What do you think of our walk so far? Months of speculation about whether these Wildcats could shoot, lead, or get over their youthful hump had manifested into the nation’s top team. And it was fun. Validation of the previous tribulations that had seemingly set the program back. Number one again.

But this was December. Who cares about rankings – let alone college basketball – in December? The Wildcats had yet to take their toughest trip of the season, a frigid journey to Ann Arbor. I would join them. It become the upset dujour that weekend and perhaps deservedly so. Michigan was a talented squad playing at home. They’d go on to win the B1G and finish a dagger away from their second straight Final Four. Against Arizona, they led for more than 32 minutes. But Arizona won, Brandon Ashley was the best player on the floor during a game featuring countless NBA bound talent, and shit got real. Jim Nantz told me he’d see me in Dallas. I’m serious. The questions weren’t about whether the roster could do this or that, tt became, “Are they the best Arizona team, ever?” Jim fucking Nantz, you guys! And oh was it fun.

There were these:

aaron-gordon-vs-ucla-b

And this:

Rondae Dunk

And more:

aaron-gordon-double-clutch-reverseThere was a game that Washington State scored 7 points in an entire half. They scored just 0.46 points on each of their 54 possessions; twenty-five collective points from a high-major, Division-1 basketball team. That’s what Arizona was going to do to you.

And then these guys came up to see me. My team! Their first trip to the Bay Area in two years and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. My brother was going to be in town! The Wildcats! What a weekend.

But then it all changed.

The prohibitive favorites, winners of 21 straight and the top team in the land for eight straight weeks (a school record), lost in Berkeley. Sure the score read 58-60 and the court was preemptively rushed. How can an Arizona fan get pissed about that? Irrelevant. It all changed on February 1st when Brandon Ashley broke his foot. At the time, we couldn’t really speak of it. The foot failed but the team would not. Adjustments had to be made because there was still season to be played and we had to see Jim in Dallas. We’re on a walk here, right? Brandon couldn’t walk. It all changed.

And I buried that change, still absorbed by the narrative of January 31st, not February 2nd. Prohibitive favorites and now who knows what? Somberly, we left Haas that night with what felt like a season in flux. A proverbial tipping point. But the season couldn’t be buried in one podiatric misfortune. Onward the Wildcats would go. The feeling was buried. The season endured.

Exhibit A was a two-point home win over Oregon. Exhibit B was a hohum dismissal of the Beavers. The next two games would see the Wildcats in three overtimes, escaping with just one win. They lost in Tempe.

It all changed on 2/1 and whatever we buried was soon to bubble up. The aforementioned post-Ashley exhibits were less than encouraging and Colorado’s Keg was looming. Arizona had never won in Boulder as members of the Pac-12. Regardless, my buried feelings and tempered expectations flew to Boulder. With a busy mind, it wasn’t clear to me what would happen. I should have known better:aaron-gordon-dunk-gifColorado didn’t record a field goal for the game’s first ten minutes and Arizona won by 27. And then they won by 28 and then 13 and again we could believe. We could slip back into Goliath’s slippers and feel good in them.

There was a forgettable trip to Oregon before a defensive tour d’force through the MGM Grand Arena. Utah was throttled and Xavier Johnson – who once noted that the Wildcats “weren’t that good” – would make just 5 of 21 shots against the Wildcats after that January remark. And this:

Aaron Gordon BlockThen the Pac-12 championship game – Arizona and UCLA – was every bit the heavy weight battle it was supposed to be. The Pac-12 deserved and needed it. The Bruins punched first, taking it to Arizona’s top rated defense like no other team all season. The Wildcats, however, shot back. Raining from beyond the arc before settling into their more typical defensive effort. But when push came to shove – and it did – Jordan Adams hit the biggest shot. UCLA was your 2014 Pac-12 Tournament Champions. He didn’t touch the ball.

To this point I haven’t mentioned the walk we were on. It had a title, or at least I had one for it, “The Road to Dallas.” But this is the hardest part of the walk. The path narrows and the way more treacherous. Sudden death is a possibility. Sudden death is a reality. This is the NCAA tournament. You know all of this and when Arizona’s name was called on Sunday, you contemplated how you’d get to San Diego, Anaheim, and Dallas. I did. We toed the waters but never hesitated to jump in. Bring on the challenge.

And a challenge it is. Littered with hyperbolic prose surrounding its uncertainty and glass slippers. Goliaths enter and one exits. But you – we of the red shirts – were behind Goliath. The Wildcats were going to win this whole fucking thing.

And then they didn’t.

I had charged down Interstate-5 with my buddy, Jamie – a lifelong Badger, brilliant hoops mind, sports enthusiast, and beer drinker – for Thursday’s games. My brother was flying into LA to join. Jamie and I crashed at a friend’s Wednesday night, worked from Westwood the morning of, and then invaded the Honda Center. For Jamie, the early game was a breeze. Wisconsin was on to Saturday’s game faster than you could say ‘On Wisconsin.’

The Wildcats then took Thursday’s court and Nick Johnson scored 15 points in the games final 2:45. He made all of the free throws everyone thought the Wildcats would miss to send them packing from this tournament. The dismissal of SDSU evoked little sympathy. Self inflated with a brotastic following dripping with little brotherdom, I couldn’t have ushered them out any faster. And they were removed from the game’s hallowed event by the right  team. The Aztecs gave the West coast a go and the big kids will take it from here. Kthanksbye.

Which of course brings us to Saturday and me next to my brother at the tops of our chairs and lungs. The game itself could be dissected; examined for the minutiae of +/- data, offensive and defensive efficiencies, and probability charts. Ultimately, on the grandest stage where only one advances by any means possible – survival – the Badgers bettered the Wildcats. By one point. It needn’t be pretty, you just need to have the extra point.

For Arizona, they didn’t have the extra point. That’s the hurt stuff.

The kind of stuff that doesn’t let you appreciate an Aaron Gordon overtime three-pointer. He of the comically broken shot stepped into a three in the biggest game of his life. Onions. All the game long nothing would fall for the superfrosh. So naturally he grabbed 18 rebounds – nearly a quarter of all available boards in the game – and stuck that three.

It hurts and you maybe don’t get to remember when all seemed wrong, when the Arizona offense was operating at a second grade level, why not Jordin Mayes? He was there for the offensive rebound and the lay-in with sixty seconds left. In the three years of data I can access (hoop-math), it’s Jordin’s only career putback.

That immediate pain might not allow the opportunity to appreciate a moment like TJ McConnell and Nick Johnson hugging at mid-court. I can’t finger the exact situation but into a timeout, deep in the contest with the outcome in the balances and punches being thrown back and forth, the Wildcat backcourt embraced in the middle of the Honda Center. It was the kind of scene you expect to see with a Luther Vandross backdrop. Shit, I thought it meant they weren’t going to lose.

SPOILER: They did.

I’m late on all of this but I needed to get away from the suddenness of zeros and no more games. As noted I’m honest on here and the flurry of “UCONN!?!?!?!?! REALLY!?!?!?!?” texts into and out of my phone was…abundant? Ubiquitous? Fiery? And all of that heat was promptly followed by an outpouring of everything we couldn’t discuss after 2/1. A date we won’t forget and can’t neglect in reviewing, even appreciating, this season. Goliath down a peg.

Which is the end of our walk. A saunter through five of the most exciting and unique months of fandom I can recall. We felt promising optimism and crippling defeat. I saw triumphant revenge, fierce confidence, and assertions force. We hoped, believed, and hurt. We did it together and that’s the overarching importance of sport. 2013-14 was section 407 with my brother; the living room with my best friends;  a bar with countless strangers; every arena I entered. In taking this walk, it’s my hope that you remember where you were and who you were with for each of the shining moments that were this season.

Those illuminated flashes that define our favorite game are brief because they’re shared. If 68 enter and only one leaves, then we have to believe in those shining moments. We can share those and remember when.

The first games begin in November with the promise of a whole season with anticipation for the unexpected and hopeful before us. And then we get caught in a sprint. Running to March in search of the shining moments that just might not come. Everything changed on 2/1 and maybe that’s OK? Maybe it’s not. It’s OK to remember, just don’t get stuck in Haas.

And remember this walk, and all the fun you had watching the 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats Men’s Basketball team.Team Enters

Powell dunking

BB: #NoTreeDunk

On Monday, Stanford Athletics published the following video in anticipation of #1 Arizona’s visit to Maples.

It has been viewed more than 4,800 times and includes 15 dunks on the lonely Wildcat and one milk-carton smash. The title includes #TreeDunk and that is what most caught my eye. Because there really isn’t much to suggest Johnny D’s team is dunking. I mean, they have to go to school for it. There’s more.

The Cardinal get the third lowest percentage of shots at the rim (32.9%) in the Pac-12 which is good for 285th in the country. That’s very little time around the tin despite being the ninth tallest team in the country! That’s right, the average height of a 2013-14 Stanford Cardinal is 78.4 inches and they never dunk.

#NoTreeDunk

But maybe the Cardinal, despite taking so few shots in the success zone (should we call it that moving forward?), make a ton of ‘em? Nope. They’re just very un-Stanford which is to say: average (whomp, whomp). The D-1 average FG% at the rim is 60.9%. The Card sink 60.6% of ‘em – fourth lowest percentage in the Pac-12.

#NoTreeDunk

Furthermore the Wildcats are the stingiest rim defense in all of America. Just 17.8% of shots against the Sean Miller Monsters come in the ‘success zone.’ It’s near impossible to put your hands on whichever basket Arizona is defending. Ugh, sure they yield an insanely high FG% up there (69.1% the 10th highest FG% at the rim nationally). But getting to the rim against the Wildcats is so difficult it’s like winning the Hunger Games: you’re gonna get rewarded. In NCAA-terms it’s an easy basket. In Peeta Mellark-terms it’s at least a few make outs with Katniss. Winning.

#NoTreeDunk

#NoTreeDunk

But maybe Stanford already knew all of the above. The video calls for #TheyWontKnowWhatHitThem which would be about right if dunks ensue. They could abandon their affinity for the 2pt jumper (38.8% of total shots at a 43.2% FG% ranking 25th and 6th, respectively) as Arizona’s defense is built to force this shot (54.3% at a 30.7% clip, 1st and 45th). We dissecting similar prior to the UCLA-Arizona game, and how’d that work out? Defense prevailed. So yes, should Maples Dunk City arrive, #TheyWontKnowWhatHitThem and I imagine no one else would either.

I don’t see a floppy tree throwing many basketballs down on Wildcats any time soon.

ArizonaNIT

BB: Arizona beats Duke for NIT Title

Jabari Parker was the best player on the floor with Rodney Hood close behind. And that’s the extent to which we will talk about Duke in this column. We don’t need to discuss their strengths or weaknesses, the makeup of their roster, or the Hall of Fame coach at their helm.

Because when vying for a championship, when the sights are set on AT&T Stadium in Dallas for a Monday night showdown, it doesn’t always matter who the best player is. Games are won by the collective effort of those dressed alike and what Arizona proved to us during their time in New York City was that their collective is going to be better than any individual. And could very well be better than any team.

Again, this isn’t about Duke because Arizona beat them without needing a perfect game. Sure they leaned on some moments but when push came to shove – and it always does – Arizona was the better team. When it came to a 19-point deficit against a hotter-than-a-Dragon’s-breath Drexel team, the Wildcats responded. Not with the efforts of one, but with anyone wearing a white jersey. Aaron Gordon had this to say to ESPN’s Andy Katz following the win:

“I’m the glue guy on a team that has talent,” Gordon said. “You can stick me in the middle of all these pieces and we have all the potential in the world.”

That’s coming from the rumored star. The prodigal one-and-done who’s declaring that his curtails won’t be rode to Dallas but that you’ve gotta mess with the whole damn lot of them.

Let’s roll things back 12-months with Billy Donovan’s Gators were headed to Tucson. It was a colossal game – particularly within the context of Arizona’s recent basketball history – that the Wildcats would win. But did it really feel monumental? Could you revisit that game, talk about it with a friend and think, “Wow, this Arizona team has got it.” Please don’t get me wrong here, I enjoyed watching that game as much as the next guy. My neighbors could hear the screams through the walls. But we couldn’t walk away sensing that Arizona was necessarily better than Florida – or anyone else for that matter. Frankly, the Gators outplayed the Wildcats for everything but the critical moments. The national dialogue – despite Arizona eventually running out to a 14-0 record with that nice RPI win – became such that the Wildcats were a good team who’d won a few ball games and would come back down to earth. That Florida perhaps dribbled one too many balls off their feet and Arizona hadn’t necessarily beat the Gators so much as outlasted them. There was a feeling of overachievement.

After defeating Duke, things feel different.

As the game was closing down to it’s final moments, with things slipping away from the Blue Devils and Arizona playing to its strengths, time seemed to slow as Kaleb Tarczewski set a nonchalant screen into the back of an unsuspecting Blue Devil. You could see the play developing from Tucson as TJ McConnell lofted the ball to the far side of the rim from 30 feet away. Rising to put the ball through the hoop was Aaron Gordon who emphatically did so. It was the Wildcats 17th assist on their 22nd made basket.

It wasn’t Mark Lyons off balance or Solomon Hill with a late steal. It wasn’t Brendan Lavender for 18 or a Derrick Williams block. It was an executed team play – repeatable and effective – for the Arizona win.

Tell me, how does that feel?

And this:

 

Miles Simon championship

BB: Stanley Johnson picks Arizona

Last night SDSU was beat on the same court  that Arizona won the 1997 national championship. I plastered this across chat boxes all the Thursday morning long and you can read about it at the bottom of this page. If you don’t read that then let me tell you that the playing surface at Viejas Arena is the same one used at the ’97 NCAA Final Four. In case you need a refresher, Arizona won that title. I reminded my friends, “HOLY NAPOLEON COMPLEX. You can’t script this stuff!”

But when I told a third party – a non-Wildcat with no emotional ties to what happened inside the late RCA Dome of Indianapolis in 1997 – I came to realize that the late-90’s was a lifetime ago. Seriously, someone born that year is driving today. A motor vehicle. And the Champions Classic so gloriously hosted on Tuesday didn’t bother to invite Arizona because Mike Bibby.

Arizona has been a terrific basketball school. They’ve danced on par with the elite and they’ve tasted success on an annual basis that few have. But the 1997 title was a long time ago. Much has transpired in the Old Pueblo since I watched the basketball team address fans in the football stadium on a spring afternoon. That was a glorious day and beautiful times.

But that third party highlighted for me that ’97 is approaching a generation ago. Do they snap chat? Arizona was uncomfortably close to being the snap chat of elite basketball programs: a flash genius and gone for eternity. But Sean Miller said yes to Jim Livengood’s pleas.

(And quick aside while we’re on this snap chat analogy. If you’re reading this blog then we are friends and as a friend I encourage you to say ‘yes’ to any offer that ends in billion.)

And so too has Stanley Johnson.

The athletic, competitive, strong, skilled, tough talent out of Mater Dei has declared himself a Wildcat. He joins an already sound 2014 class of Craig Victor and Parker Jackson Cartwright with more on the way. By just about every standard, he’s league bound. A game changer on the scale of Mater Deis before him:

Simon Says

Simon Says

Because that’s why players come to Arizona. It’s why Miller did and what Simon said is the reason you play the game. For two media days now I’ve sat and watched coach after coach, player after player effuse about their forthcoming season. Only Miller and his travel partners (Solomon Hill and Nick Johnson) have used the word “championship.”

The Wildcats are in the midst of a season with the potential to stand on a ladder with scissors, have a Jim Nantz pun thrown at us, and later visit the Obamas. 1997 was a long time ago but it’s imagery is as real as ever. It’s the banner Stanley Johnson and every other kid that’s agreed to Sean was sold on.

When the Aztecs cut last night’s lead to four, with The Show and the rest of Viejas swelling, Aaron Gordon absorbed the harm and dunked. Seats were re-acquired or exited. It was the kind of moment that suggests a team is built for big things. The kind of team and program Stanley Johnson wants to be a part. And wants to build.

Hats and t-shirts.

Basketball games in football stadiums.

SeanMillerPresser

Getting to know Arizona: For one reason

Sean Miller sat at a table next to Jim Livengood, his wife, and his three children. Set up in the middle of the McKale floor, the former AD spoke effusively about his newest hire before turning the mic over to the native Pennsylvanian. Miller thanked Coach Olson before saying anything to anyone about anything else. He too would speak effusively about the program he was inheriting and the legacy he would work to carry on. Hours earlier, at a similar press conference with a less celebratory mood, Miller was asked about his decision to become the next head coach at the University of Arizona, “I would never leave Xavier unless it was a place that I really felt you could win a national championship.” He’d go on to lead his first Wildcat team to a 16-15 record. The first Arizona team since 1984 not invited to the NCAA tournament. Xavier would attend their third consecutive sweet sixteen. That was 2009 and this is 2013. Four years removed from that press table on the McKale floor, Sean Miller will unveil his best team yet. His best chance yet to affirm that April 7th decision.

Why I love them: Arizona is going to be so outrageously good. It’s wild that Gordon gets the majority of eyeballs (yet understandable) and if you’re writing a 1000 word column on the Cats, he’s taking up 40% of it. Respect. But in a singular blurb entitled “Why I love my favorite team of all-time on my own blog so you’re going to have to deal with all of my biases and Kool Aid drinking because it’s mine all mine” I’ll gladly talk about the other kids:

  • Brandon Ashley was AG before AG.
  • TJ McConnell was a top five theft before bailing on small ball for the big boys. A defense and pass first PG in a SM system? Yes please. Did you know a former coach said TJ was the best player on Arizona’s practice floor last year? Do you know who that former coach was? Luther Olson.
  • Nick Johnson made exponential improvements from FR to SO season. That’s a somewhat expected improvement; a standard time to leap ahead. But the greatest leap he made was fully understanding and embracing his role as a lock down defender. You see what he did down the stretch? Dinwiddie, LD2, Ian Clark, Wesley Saunders, Craft? Zipperhead nada. Lock down. And now he’s got a partner in crime (see above) (and below)
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson compares more favorably to Andre Iguodala than AG compares to Blake Griffin. 6’7″ with a 7’1″ wingspan, when translated into hoop, means: NIET. As in NIET anyone is getting by him. StealsOnblocksOndeflections.

Quick break here because I’m exhausted and can’t even wrap my mind around who to write about next. I literally have an elevated heart rate right now because I got anxious I’d forget to mention someone.

  • Kaleb Tarczewski is a seven footer who dropped 6/6 a season ago. Kinda meh, ho hum, but if you were privy to the report my boy James whipped up a year ago regarding top-50 big men recruits, it’s about par for the course. You know where the majority of those top-50 big men who average about 6/6 in their freshman campaign wind up? Lotteries.
  • Once there was this frail point guard I interviewed. He went on to surprise people as a freshmen and disappoint them in the subsequent two years. But he’s a senior now. He’s seen this and he’s experience that (and by that I mean an elite eight, ever been?). He’s Jordin Mayes and he’s going to surprise you because iced veins were meant for March.

And that’ll cover it for now. I didn’t get to the defensive collective of this group or the possibility of instant offense from a guy like Gabe York. Zach Peters is like a Wear twin who won’t ever have to be featured (that’s what the Wears were supposed to be). Yet the Wildcats aren’t even allowing Peters to play. Just try and come at me with the shooting stuff.

Oh, and there’s that Miller guy.

Why I hate them: I don’t. Can’t. Won’t ever. Bear down.

Stat you need to know:

35.8

Percentage from three point distance opponents shot against the Wildcats last season, the second highest such percentage a Sean Miller team has ever yielded. Aside from his first ever season, no other SM team allowed opponents to shoot better than 33%. His worst ever ranking (the bookends aside) was 85th. My point here is that last year appears to be a statistical anomaly in which his defense was lead by not-TJ McConnell. Last season’s eight losses saw AZ opponents shoot 46% from distance. In my book, How to Lose Basketball Games, chapter three is titled “Allow Your Opponent to Shoot >40% from 3FG: And other ways to lose from beyond the arc.”

In their words: Ezra covers Arizona hoops for PointguardU and is a great twitter follow. Do you like sports? Follow Ezra.

There are no more excuses.

With TJ McConnell running the show, an improved and polished front court at his disposal, and Aaron Gordon doing basketball things that only Aaron Gordon can do, justifications will not manage if Arizona does not reach the Promised Land. The talent is too strong and the road to Jerry World is too forthright.

Now that’s not to say the task won’t be daunting. The Wildcats have one of the more challenging out-of-conference schedules in the country – a potential Madison Square Garden match-up with Duke overshadows a trip to Ann Arbor to play the national runner-ups.

And despite being the runaway pick to win the conference, the Pac-12 won’t be a cakewalk as Oregon, UCLA, Cal, and even The School Up North could provide legitimate challenges.
But come March, when Sean Miller’s teams traditionally peak, this one should peak a little bit higher. By then, the chemistry between McConnell and his teammates should be uniquely strong and Arizona will have an inherent advantage against most opponents because its front-court size and talent.

Furthermore, if the Wildcats earn a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, their path to the Final Four will presumably never stray from the comforts of Southern California and its rich base of UofA alums.

It’s year five of the Sean Miller Era and patience is becoming less of a virtue and more of a commodity It’s time for expectations to become reality.

Quotable:

“They’ve got about 75 pros on their team.” – Lorenzo Romar on why Arizona is the Pac-12 favorite

“But who in their right mind would think that Gordon will bring the ball up against Duke in the Final Four, cross over Jabari Parker, spin off of Rodney Hood, and dunk so hard on Rasheed Sulaimon that Sulaimon gets a concussion? (Arizona fans just scanned the room for something to put on their laps to hide their collective erection.)” – Mark Titus

Outlook: I have sunglasses on right now and it’s not the hangover. No the future is so bright I’m wearing shades and it’s taking all I’ve got to not talk about hotels and things to do in Dallas. What’s it like there in early April? Alas, there’s entire slate of basketball to be played and games to be won. None of this is going to be easy for the Wildcats but they’ve positioned themselves to make it look so. Their schedule is great – I’m attending as much of it as I can – and everything I mentioned above. Detractors, critics, and realists will mention Arizona’s unproven outside shooting. They have a point. But the greater point on that front is that if Arizona is grossly reliant on its shooting they’ve got bigger problems. If the offense isn’t running through someone named Aaron, Kaleb, or Brandon: issues. Furthermore, Arizona is going to get its buckets in transition. Defense will be their signature. I imagine a lot of run stopping timeouts from opposing benches (20-4 run, etc.).

We’re one week away.

He touched the ball.

Go Cats and here’s to basketball games in football stadiums.

Bear down.

NCAA Basketball: Southern Mississippi at Arizona

BB: The Urgency Issue Addressing Itself

I’m excited.

And it’s not a new feeling. Since Sean Miller arrived in Tucson, expectations were tempered and then quickly elevated as he made an improbable run into the 2011 Elite Eight and that was awesome. I went to Anaheim to see Jamelle Horne’s three rim out. I walked out of that place with hope and excitement – amidst some hollow gut – for the future of this program.

Of course last year let some of the air out; but then the recruiting class and Lyons and the promise of veterans Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom, and we were back.

We all know this story and the subsequent 29 games that have transpired since. Expectations and hype are gone. Reality arrived.

Of late, the air has once again been let out.

But here’s the thing. I see an Arizona team that has struggled with urgency. A group that’s allowed itself to play from behind too often and now that’s burning them. Their early success in such situations, through the lead of calm veterans, perhaps earning them a level of comfort that grew too comfortably. Urgency has been the issue.

No more.

Saturday marks the beginning of the new season. The final act in what should prove to be a three part act: 14-0, 9-6, ?. This third act will not be lacking in urgency because there is nothing but urgency left.

On Saturday we will celebrate the careers of the first, four-year Wildcats of the Sean Miller era. They’ve endured the bumps and bruises of a budding program and will be just the second and third four-year seniors to participate only twice in the NCAA tournament (Kyle Fogg was the first). The theatrics of Senior Day should serve as a glaring reminder that this whole thing is finite. It doesn’t go on forever, you don’t get to connect over Patric Young or dismiss Chase Tapley or freeze up in LA and Colorado forever.

Urgency is the issue that has been addressed but not handled and now it’s going to be forced.

Solomon: You lose and it’s over.

Kevin: You lose and it’s over.

Mark: You lose and it’s over.

I know it means something to the fans, the legacy a player leaves behind, and this is the month when legacies are cemented. That Horne jumper I mentioned before? Had that thing fallen, it’s a whole different memory for the four-year contributor who always seemed to leave a lot to be desired.

And I imagine it means a lot to them. After all, they came to Arizona to compete for things they might not have otherwise competed for at another school. They wanted to finish with the best 18-game record. They want to run through a tournament in Staples (now the MGM). They want to hear their school’s name called on a Sunday. They want to win their last six games.

At this juncture, the legacy is beginning to spiral; taking a turn towards “what happened” and off of the road to “special.” Because something special is what we knew Arizona had – what that team knows they have – when this season started. A dyanmic front court with size and length and skill. A gutsy and tried play maker delivering arrogance to a group perhaps lacking just that. A spring loaded off guard capable of defensive havoc and highlight reel finishes. A veteran pair of point-forwards who have laid the red carpet for those to come.

But special can’t happen until the urgency of these finite moments is realized, embraced, and attacked. The Wildcats have been dropped into the deep end. Will the sink? Or will they swim?

Yeah. I’m excited.

I_5

BB: Pauley Want a Playlist? Road Trippin’

About this time tomorrow I’ll be flying down the monotonous Interstate-5 in a red prius with a busted driver’s side mirror packed with four Wildcats and one set of crutches (s/o Timmy). En route to the renovated Pauley Pavilion, I expect to be a coffee or four deep and no piss breaks. I’ll be sure to not keep you posted on that.

And we’ll be pumping jams through the Red Dragon’s (that’s what I call my car) stock speakers. After all, this is shaping up to be a road trip of Game Day proportions. I think we have tickets. We might have a hotel room. We could need handicap parking. There’s a chance we pickup a fifth on the return drive. It’s rumored we’re putting in this effort to watch a team with no effort.

But back to the jams.

Who doesn’t love cranking some classics while blasting down the highway carefree until you see even the slightest resemblance of a Crown Vic to which you react by slamming your breaks and passing the next 45 anxiety ridden seconds examining the hell out of your rear view mirror? I love it and here’s a chunk of the playlist:

I’m missing so many but holy cow are we in for a treat and then there’s a basketball game. It’s well documented how much I love hitting the Pac-12 road and I’ll once again say it’s the best damn road trippin’ conference in America. Sure it’s not always that accessible by vehicle (Boulder would be quite a drive) but I’m taking Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Eugene, Tucson, Salt Lake over Norman, Lincoln, Lubboch, Stillwater, or Morgantown.

And this trips a special one to me: I’m oh-for-Pauley. It was one of my first Pac-12 roadies and I’ve never attended a game in that arena in which the Arizona Wildcats have won. Tough. I’ve seen wins at Maples, Haas, Madison Square Garden, The Orleans, The Pond, Wells Fargo, and Cox but I’ve never tasted sweet victory inside Pauley. Could this be the year? Could the Wildcats set aside their fatigue or confusion or whatever it is that’s going on defensively and piece one together if not for me then for their own damn season?

I’d like to see it and I think so too would they.

The stakes are about as high as they can get and the atmosphere, to get fully cliche, will be electric. It doesn’t always get that way in Westwood but I guarantee you this sell out will be packing some punch.

I’ll see you there. I’ll be the one coming down from a music/coffee/gas pedal bender.

Choltender

BB: More Moments, This One the Choltender’s

As we celebrated McKale’s fortieth amidst tales of moments that filled Arizona’s home stadium, Angelo Chol had one of his own.

With Grant Jerrett out and the dynamic front court of the Stanford Cardinal imposing much of their will onto Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley, it was the intermittently used Chol who captured the opportunity to win. He doubled his previous biggest minutes output of the season in producing 6 points and 8 rebounds and disrupting the active Dwight Powell just enough to allow the Wildcats to pull away. Because without Chol there was no stopping that man.

It was his moment and he seized it.

Sean Miller would go on to rave of his back-up forward’s, back-up’s performance, going so far as to say had he not risen to the occasion it was “game over.” The Wildcats grew dependent on the ninth player off their bench and he delivered. That’s impressive and that’s special.

And so too is the season Solomon Hill is compiling. Which at this point has moderately gone without saying. Twenty second half points while also drawing defensive duties on the overpowering tandem of Huestis and Powell is damn impressive. That Lyons kid was special, too. Miller called it his best game as a Wildcat and you’ll hear no argument from me. He’s “turning the corner” as a point guard, Miller raved. A fact that is both special and frightening regarding the ever elevating ceiling of this team twenty-two games deep.

[This is the point in the post where I must say that Dwight Powell is unstoppable]

Indeed last night was a celebration of the moments we’ve enjoyed and the Wildcats have delivered for the past 40 years inside that stadium. And Chol and his teammates treated us to a few more, painting a clearer picture of what this team is capable of with its depth, fortitude, and leadership. A team unafraid of the moment.

And perhaps capable of a shining one.

ShabazzAZ

BB: Briefly on Last Night In Tucson

I’m just going to ramble a little bit about last night’s Arizona UCLA game. An overarching takeaway, revealed truth, or a silver lining just aren’t in the cards. Not today. I’ll proceed in four parts:

1. A Decree

Hear ye, hear ye! Now hear this! I hearby begin the campaign to get Kaleb Philip Tarczewski to foul out of a game! In doing such, he would demonstrate that seven-feet and two-hundred-sixty pounds of developing manbeastchild got aggressive; a terrifying prospect considering the aforementioned mass metrics. Just two rules to the campaign:

  • No fouls committed beyond eight feet from the basket
  • If And-One occurs and it is not #SCtop10, 1000 stadiums will be run

[insert image of Tarc stare down following block of LD2]

2. Mark Lyons

Bad game. Happens.

3. I Was Wrong

Last night was a big game – contrary to what I said – and UCLA played it as such. I’m microwaving the crow now. My oversight was in not recognizing the issue of Oregon’s stranglehold on the conference. NCAA tournament seeding is really awesome stuff, but conference championships are super awesome. Arizona is going to need some help now. I also mentioned that the Cat was let out of the bag about Arizona making statements en route to season’s end. The cart was a bit ahead of the horse there but Brandon Ashley continues to improve, Grant Jerrett is playing more assertively, and sometimes point number two (above) just happens. Worried about Arizona? No. Expected more, a better effort? Absolutely.

4. Lizard Catching

In something like second grade – and note that this is very growing up in Tucson-centric – we learned how to catch lizards. I don’t recall if it was for scientific purposes but someone, presumably from the Desert Museum, guided our class into the desert and showed us how to capture these little critters. We would dig a small hole, big enough to bury a coffee can or the like, then surround that hole with four rocks to prop a shade delivering something over the hole. The unsuspecting lizard would be gleefully drawn to the shade and fall right into coffee can, unable to climb his way out. And that’s how we got ourselves lizards. The moral of the story? Don’t fall into holes. (As defined here, a hole is 3 points in a game’s opening 7 minutes and 37 seconds)

ASU Mountain Red

An Arizona Rivalry Breakdown: Q&A with Cats

Their colors alone have been known to evoke a visceral reaction. It’s been said that they develop billboards that will make you scratch your head. They have attended fewer NCAA tournaments than Arizona has Sweet Sixteens. Their antics have been celebrated by the Daily Show. The brand they’ve created has been associated with a Chicago gang.

They are…the least interesting basketball program in the world.

To say that Wildcats dislike Sun Devils (and the converse) is an understatement.

So I went to Ezra, Brad, and Scott, three with Navy and Cardinal blood and Bear Down hearts, to tell me what they thought about it. Ezra (EA) is a great writer at PointGuardU and a knowledgeable twitter follow; Scott (SC) also delivers it on the twitter and contributes to SB Nation’s hoops coverage; Brad (BH) and I have been through the trenches of Wildcat fandom and have exchanged fourteen copies of War & Peace worth of texts, gchats, emails, and verbal communication re: Wildcat hoops.

I will note that any efforts to get a Sun Devil involved in this Q&A went unresponded to. Anyhow, I’ll let these guys take it from here:

Do you hate ASU? If yes, why? If no, why not? I challenge you to be brief.

BH: To say I hate ASU in a basketball blog is to dignify a basketball rivalry that doesn’t exist. ASU has never had anything to lose in this game, and Arizona has never had anything to gain. As a result it’s just a carnival game for ASU fans: they know they can win, but they don’t expect too.

SC: Yeah, I’d say I’m not too fond of our sister school up north. It’s just a shame their basketball program isn’t worth a damn, because I’d love a natural in-state rivalry where one team hasn’t won 95 percent of the games over the past three decades.

EA: Hate is a forceful word and one that shouldn’t be used on a basketball program that has reached the Elite Eight just once in the past half-century.

Favorite rivalry memory?

BH: This strikes me as an opportunity created by @pachoopsab for @pachoopsab to talk about doing a lap around Wells Fargo after Sean Miller’s first team waxed the Sun Devils in Tempe. I’m not sure I have a favorite memory, but if I had to choose, I would pick between two: 1) Arizona fans packed into Wells Fargo arena wearing shirts that simply said “1997” (I don’t remember the outcome of the game); or 2) Lute Olson responding to classless ASU fans by pointing at the scoreboard.

I wonder what those numbers mean?

I wonder what those numbers mean?

SC: Salim Stoudamire drilling a jumper from the elbow to sink ASU at home back in 2005. It was loud in the arena that day, and when Stoudamire’s shot went in, there was nothing but silence from those wearing gold.

EA: It has to be Salim Stoudamire’s signature, last second jumper to beat ASU in March of 2005 to clinch Lute Olson’s record breaking 305th Pac-10 victory and an 11th conference title. Despite 25 points from Ike Diogu and a double digit second half comeback, the Sun Devils couldn’t help but watch the All-American Stoudamire smoothly drop in the dagger.

Yes, I’m actually going to ask you this and I expect an answer: Who is your all-time favorite Sun Devil? If you can’t wrap your mind around that phrasing: Who is your all-time least hated Devil?

BH: I’m going with Bill Frieder here. Bill was the kindly in-state coaching foil for Lute Olson during a few years in the 1990’s, and even experienced some limited success. However, there was never any question that Lute had the upper hand (even in local commercials satirizing the “rivalry” between the coaches). To put it another way Bill coached the Generals and Lute coached the Globetrotters.

SC: I always liked James Harden, even if he killed Arizona throughout his career. His game is just so smooth.

EA: I’m going with an unconventional choice here with Derek Glasser. A key part of the historic Three Game Win Streak up in Tempe, Glasser was annoying as heck on a few spring afternoons but it’s impossible to not respect what he did under Herb Sendek’s offense. He finished his career as the ASU record holder in assists and games played, a sign of his durability and knowledge of the game. At 6’1, he was never destined to be NBA material but had everything a fan could want in a college point guard.

There was some Twistophere spice going on between Jahii Carson and Mark Lyons (I think one of you started it), what do you expect to see from these two on Saturday?

BH: If we’re talking about Lyons on Sunday, we’ll be talking about his defense. Maybe we’ll see Nick Johnson and Lyons double team Carson—worked for DePaul. But then, does Arizona’s already porous perimeter defense risk leaving Carrick Felix or Evan Gordan open beyond the arc? My expectation: post-game pub is directed at someone not named Lyons or Carson.

SC: I think they get after each other all game long. Lyons has the size and strength advantage, while Carson is incredibly quick and seems to play at a crazy level when at home. I’d be surprised if both players don’t have upwards of 15 points.

EA: Although crazy things are always known to happen in rivalry games, I expect much of the norm from both of the starting point guards. Lyons will continue to frustrate Wildcats fans at one moment with sloppy passing or contested layups and then awe them the next with a dazzling drive to the bucket. Carson will be asked to put up another 20 point, five assist type performance to keep the Sun Devils offense facilitating. 

What do you love about this Arizona team?

BH: Kevin Parrom.

SC: After essentially playing all last season with one player in the rotation above 6’6, the size Arizona has in the paint is a welcome addition. And other than the San Diego St. championship game in Hawaii, UA has shot free throws very well all year. That’s always nice for one’s blood pressure.

EA: Without hesitation, the answer is Lyons. Although he can often force up NBA range threes and drives to the lane only supposed to be attempted by Derrick Rose, he knows how to close games out. After seeing Arizona struggle in the final minutes of play repeatedly last season, it’s a relief to know there is a guy on the roster who has all the confidence in the world that he will make the game-winner.

If you had one super power what would it be?

BH: Teleport.

SC: The power to make Kate Upton love me.

EA: This is a question I’ve pondered since second grade literature arts class and in the years since, only one superpower stands out above the rest: time traveling. I mean who wouldn’t want to be able to revisit in person Eddie House’s 61 point night in Berkley or Miles Simon’s 3/4 court “Do You Believe In Miracles WHAT?” buzzer beater?

Give me your tears gypsy thoughts on the freshman class now halfway through their first season in Tucson.

BH: They’re probably doing about as well as we should have expected. That being the case Arizona has won games in spite of them, not because of them this year. They’ve shown flashes of greatness on par with their potential, but as fans we’re still waiting for the monorail we were pitched. But if one or all of the freshman can steadily improve between now and March this team will be hard to beat rather than just dangerous.

SC: It’s been a mixed bag so far, although they’ve all shown flashes of being studs. Jerrett and Ashley really got after it against Oregon State after being challenged following a lackluster showing in Eugene. As they continue to get accustomed to the grind of a college season, the sky is the limit.

EA: Not all freshmen are going to be Anthony Davis, something Big Blue Nation is learning a lot harder fashion than Arizona fans this year. As for the trio of big men in Tucson blooming like the flowers on prickly pear cacti, patience is the key word. While all three have shown glimpses of their potential, inconsistent play is inevitable. Even when not playing at the level Sean Miller expects of them this point in the season, Tarczewski, Ashley, and Jerrett still bring much needed size that Arizona fatally lacked the last time it drove up Interstate 10 to play the Sun Devils.

Alright, I know you guys watch all the games so you know best…what happens Saturday in Tempe?

BH: I think Arizona feels like it has something to prove after getting out gunned in Eugene. If they can channel that into some defensive intensity I like their chances. On the other side: this is the Super Bowl for ASU and its fan base. I look for ASU to come out swinging and land a few punches early; I expect attendance to increase 200% (and still not sell out); and I expect ASU to lose by 8. In short: if the Cats keep Jahii from doing his thing (which they can, just ask Kenny Boynton) the Sun Devils will have more problems than they always have. Arizona wins 78-70.

SC: I think it’s a pretty close game throughout. I wouldn’t be surprised to see ASU move out to an early lead with the crowd behind them, but their lack of depth will show in the second half. In the end, UA’s experience and talent advantage off the bench leads them to a 77-73 win.

EA: Predictable at this point, Arizona State will keep things close and probably hold the lead for a good portion of the game. Bachynski should torment Tarczewski in the paint and the Sun Devil shooters always seem to feel a little bit hotter from behind the arc when the opponents are wearing navy blue and cardinal red. In the final minutes however, Arizona’s depth and the dominance of Solomon Hill will be just too much for ASU. It is a rivalry game so anything can happen but come Saturday night, I don’t think Carson will be typing out any snarky 140 character comments.

 

As our contributors note, Wells Fargo will be unrecognizably rocking; the game tight and competition fierce. The Wildcats should win. I’ve been there for this one, as BH mentioned. I wish I could be there Saturday and I hope that you are. Tweet me some pics and wish me luck streaming this thing on an SWA flight sitting right next to the best Wildcat I know, baby brother.