I could note that Steve Kerr first mentioned Lute Olson on the NBA Champion’s podium or that Adam Silver handed Andre Iguodala the Finals MVP Trophy. Could note that Luke Walton is tracking to be the greatest coach in NBA history or that TJ McConnell is the only player in League history to – it’s pretty ridiculous stat and godbless the kid who researched it – record 12 or more assists in 2 or more of his first 4 games. As Nike would have you know, Arizona basketball doesn’t stop (except for Adidas schools from the 30th State). And it doesn’t project to be taking this year off. Sure they’re out of the AP Top-10 for the first time since before Cuonzo Martin knew who Ivan Rabb was (and now they’re teammates!). But this is a notably new team. For starters, there isn’t a projectable lottery pick on the roster. There isn’t a 6’8″ freak that’s soon to be bullying in a West Coast arena near you. This team isn’t going to be the defensive stalwart you watched for the past two seasons. For Tucsonans, it’s going to be a season of change and they’re going to be uncomfortable with that. Embrace it. This is a year in which we’ll see Sean Miller flexing his coaching acumen. I’ll get into his roster options later, but this Arizona team, while not as sexy as years past, just might be the most fun.
If this is 2015’s last PacHoops Power Rankings, is it kind of like our Senior Day? I’m coming back but this still marks the end. Let’s start the walk-ons, kiss the floor, and beat Utah.
There are six teams separated by two wins in the MIddle Amoeba of the Pac-12. And then Washington (not separated by two wins from #5) beats Utah on the season’s final day. The Power Rankings are here to help make some sense of things but why? have an idea. Let’s have a tournament where teams are seeded based on their 18-game records against an unbalanced schedule of conference foes? We can hold the event in Vegas and we can start it Wednesday. Who’s with me?
Finally everyone’s favorite socks will have their jersey hang in the rafters of the McKale Center. It’s been a long time coming for Jason Terry’s #31 but it’s well deserved. And because we adore a game that celebrates its moments, I thought it fitting to share one of my favorite Jason Terry moments (Stanford game-winner was hard not to link aside from its lack of a web presence).
First, let’s note that The Jet won a national title and was named the national Player of the Year. He was the Pac-10’s 1999 Player of the Year, made the bench cool, wore the socks and played basketball with the enthusiasm of 1000 Sean Miller practice plans.
Pure Terry: Continue reading
If you’re not familiar with Grantland’s Year in Holy S***!!!, familiarize now. In a swift Bart ride back to my house I was taken out of the stat holes of KenPom and hoop-math and reminded that SPORTS! Watch that Steph Curry highlight reel and tell me you don’t get goosebumps as he drops trey on the Nuggets, turning to their bench before net.
Alas, this is a Pac-12 blog and holy shit happens here, too. We’re about to dive into it. But to further preface this reactionary and sudden expulsion of disbelief; before unveiling the moments that had as out of our chairs, jaws gaping, eyes wide, SMHing all over; prior to that, I’d just like to say that these are the things that have us coming back. Fandom, for better or worse or otherwise, allows us to get lost. Why we stand and shout. Holy shit. Bravo.
Here are a handful of those times from Brad, Ben, Matt, Jason, and me in no particular order.
The McKale Monitor Mishap
Jason of AllBuffs.com– The Monitors at McKale moment game started late for me. I was in the car in a part of Colorado that severely tested KOA’s claim of “3 countries/38 states” motto. When I arrived at my destination, not exactly civilization, but a place that does have DirecTV, (luckily the game was on ESPN) I turned on the TV and my first “Holy Shit” moment occurred. CU was up, by double digits, in McKale, “Holy Shit indeed”. Over the remaining 15 minutes of the game, the rest of my party arrived, the beers and wine were flowing and then the FT’s started clanking, oh those FT’s. When Mark Lyons made his second free throw with 10 seconds left, I stood up and I didn’t sit down for several minutes. Sabatino Chen ended up with the ball in his hands with 3.5 seconds left, it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t designed, it was….. BANKED, but it did go in. There were high fives and then a “wait a minute, they’re reviewing it”. It was good, it was definitely good was being echoed throughout the room. Then it began, the slow walk toward the TV, the room was hushed, the volume was cranked and everybody was gathered around a 52 inch high-definition TV.
Over and over we watched, angle after angle, hands now ON the TV, “no-it’s out right there, it’s good, the red light isn’t on yet”. Then it happened……”HOLY SHIT” they called it no good. F-bombs were dropped; BS’s thrown around and the air had been let out of the room. I don’t remember the last 5 minutes of the game, all I know was that CU lost, but I will never forget that “HOLY SHIT” moment and that I was in the middle of nowhere, with high-definition TV while the refs standing courtside were stuck with the standard-definition variety
Adam – I’d watched as my Wildcats made a furious comeback from the most three pointers the Buffaloes would hit in a single game all season. Well, it was going to be the most until Chen happened. Head down dribbling out the clock he heaved it up and you know the rest. I was here with friends and had conceded Arizona’s loss. We watched all of the angles and I even broke things down for my houseguests exactly how, if I were one of the officials, I’d bury my head in the monitor, confirm the call with field goal arms and bolt off the McKale floor. I bolted out of my living room to demonstrate. But when I returned, the officials were waving the whole damn thing off and…HOLY SHIT. Hey, Cats win and Mark Lyons doesn’t give a rats ass about how nice Sabatino’s hair is.
He Touched the Ball x5 and Cancun
Adam – From my Vegas vantage point following the UCLA-Arizona game I had this to tweet which, as you’ll notice, when unreplied, retweeted, or favorited. For shame.
Really intrigued to see the Sean Miller presser. Wouldn’t be surprised if L. Scott had to talk to SM afterward
— Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) March 16, 2013
Well then what happened?
AND THAT’S SOME STRAIGHT NOSTRADAMUS ACTION PEOPLE. Anyhow, in our hotel room, we watched that presser another 3-to-fifteen-hundred times because oh my holy shit goodness Sean Miller wasn’t happy. There’s more spice in that presser than an Indian dish. There’s more heat in Miller’s words than a dutch oven under plastic covers. There’s more flame in those eyes than under Ken Bone’s seat. Ask the Pac-12 representative Miller “didn’t” berate but rather who was the closest in proximity as he screamed innocuously down a hallway. And then Goodman’s news broke and maybe this is the true holy shit of it all? We wound up with an officiating scandal that I had to digest in phases. $5k and a trip to Cancun is some watered down Illumanati action. And now replay the presser.
Jahii Drops 40 on The Strip
Adam – Sure it was a career high and sure the Devils needed every one of his double-score scoring output from Carson. That’s undoubtedly some MVP stuff. Carson connected on 16 of his 25 shots inside the Thomas and Mack and that’s a pretty damn efficient 40 points. But wait, there’s holy shit coming. Because the 5’10” Carson made 14 of those 16 shots as layups which basically just says to me that Carson stared down the Rebels and their 7 blocked shots per game to announce to everyone that, “I AM JAHIISUS. I AM SO GREAT THAT I HAVE FORCED HERB SENDEK OF SLOTH PACED OFFENSES TO COMPLETELY BURY THE FOUNDATION OF HIS OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY AND THE STYLE IN WHICH HE BUILT HIS CAREER IN ORDER TO KEEP HIS JOB AND LOCAL TALENT. AT LEAST HE CAN NO LONGER LAMENT JAMES HARDEN’S DEPARTURE. I AM JAHIISUS.” And then he beat Marquette in Tempe to secure the first Sun Devil win over a ranked opponent since before Todd Graham was associated with other coaching jobs. Harden, who?
Askia Booker Doesn’t Give a Jayhawk
If safeties-free, all-balls performances like 17 points as a freshman in the NCAA Tournament, or a sizzling domination of a non-conference run in Charleston as a sophomore didn’t let you in on the secret, let me clue you in: Askia Booker was born to get buckets. Important buckets. Season-defining buckets.
So, when Kansas, dominator of all things Colorado Basketball for generations, makes the mistake of getting into a see-saw affair in the snake-pit-that-Tad-built, who else could CU turn to with the game on the line? Not Josh Scott. He’s too smooth, too nice. Not Spencer Dinwiddie. He’s too conventional, too ‘efficient.’
No, you need insanity. You need a player with no conscience, no understanding of the stage upon which he steps. You need, to be brash, a player who does not give a f***.
Askia Booker does not give a f***. Askia Booker gets buckets.
And so, 80-feet from the basket, with three seconds left on the clock against that team, the under-recruited dynamo from South LA – off-center goatee, and all – was the player in silver getting the ball.
One dribble, two. Still too far from the hoop. Better euro-step to cover some ground. Square up, leap, let fly.
Watch the gif. Count the fucks given by Booker. There are none to be found. After release, he just stands there, as if waiting for the oncoming train of noise. Waiting for us, the fans, to realize what he has just pulled off. He was born to hit that shot. He was born to euro-step into that shot.
Almost four years ago, Colorado was in a similar situation against the hated Jayhawk. Clock ticking down, tie game, ball in hand, CU had a shot to stun the #1 team in the land in the time-before-Tad. In that moment, it was Cory Higgins who was called upon. Higgins, the program’s co-leader in scoring, wasn’t up to the moment, and air-balled his dance with history. Looking back, it all makes sense.
Booker is everything that Higgins is not. Higgins was calm, cool, collected. Indeed, sophisticated. James Bond in shorts. Booker is the junkyard dog, barking at everything in sight. John McClane in Black and Gold. Higgins may have been more talented, but Booker has the want, the need to hoop. The balls to steal headlines from future NBA bonus babies. The grit to walk across broken glass when needed.
I could twist myself in knots talking about how the game, the win, the shot meant something for Colorado, for Booker. In the end, there’s nothing but the inbounds, the euro-step, and the pure, un-adulterated brashness of Ski and his moment.
Mike Moser Leaves Las Vegas, Does Not Suffer Nic Cage-like Departure
Matt of AddictedtoQuack.com – Given Oregon’s lack of depth in the front court this season, the addition of a quality player like Mike Moser was definitely a wanted surprise to Duck fans. Keeping him away from Washington was just an added bonus. Moser brings leadership, talent, and immediate play-ability to a position that was vacated by fan favorite, Arsalan Kazemi. Moser also fits perfectly into Dana Altman’s high-post wheel offense. His ability to stretch the floor, handle the ball, and pull bigger defenders away from the hoop compliments Oregon’s guard focused offense. To say that Moser joining the Ducks this off season was a Holy Shit moment is putting it lightly.
Just this Dunk
Brad of Portland – If you were watching that dunk you were like, HOLY-SHIT-KNOCK-KNOCK-WHO’S THERE-BOOOM-SHAKALAKA-F***-
RHJ doesn’t dunk his nigiri in the soy sauce, he slams that shit down so hard he cooks the fish. He is not a role model. Just because he can dunk a basketball does not mean he should raise your kid. Anyone raisin’ that kid is laughing their way to the bank faster than Earl Woods. The rest of us are just wiping our own kid off the Christmas card and sending a photo RHJ posterizing the entire Aggies basketball team instead.
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:
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.”
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.
“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.
Got into the conversation earlier this week about the magnitude of Arizona’s win in Tempe. He called it “the biggest win of the season.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, bro,” I thought. “Don’t be a hyperbolic victim of the moment.” A rivalry game, to be certain, but Arizona was expected to win. Hell, Arizona has been expected to win nearly every game they’ve played by KenPom’s predictive analytics. So no, I was not prepared to call the ASU victory Arizona’s biggest of the season.
But maybe it was? Maybe when a team asserts itself in the manner we and they expect – defeating an inferior opponent through the imposition of its will – it is indeed the biggest. After all, it provides the tape that says, “See, look at what you can do.”
And so I began to get behind it, wrapping my head around the fact that there was an implied magnitude to that game, a knowing opponent with every reason to pounce on the opportunity to ride emotion to an unsuspecting victory. Arizona made sure that would not be the case because they are indeed the better team and perhaps set a whole new bar.
After that game, in his brief address to the team, Miller spoke glowingly of Brandon Ashley’s effort. He’d just held ASU senior, Carrick Felix, who averages 15/8, to 5 points on 1-8 shooting. Felix coughed the ball up seven times. Miller raved of Ashley’s work, telling him there was both good news and bad news surrounding his game. The good news? Brandon Ashley had just played the best defensive game of his collegiate career. The bad news? “You let the cat out of the bag. That’s now what you have to do, everyday in every game,” Miller exclaimed to collective laughter and cheers.
So Thursday night – with McKale whited out and loud and raucous and nationally televised at a reasonable national hour and hosting the most consequential UCLA-Arizona game in the Sean Miller era – the Wildcats have the opportunity to let their collective Cat out of the bag.
Because ultimately, this isn’t that big of a game. UCLA is good, not great, and certainly on the downslope by big picture standards. As both of these teams are chasing Oregon for conference supremacy, every Pac-12 game will be important. But as far as big games go, this one isn’t quite on the level of what Arizona-UCLA once was. Because what UCLA brings to the table is identity-less and joyless and uninspiring. Like in Hook where Captain Hook has the opportunity to eliminate Pan but refrains, allotting him three days to become the “great and worthy opponent” he feels Peter Banning is not. The Captain will not accept a bout unless his adversary, Pan, can pose a challenge. Where are the great and worthy Bruins?
And the exception in this case is that, big picture, Arizona is Pan and UCLA Hook. The Wildcats are spry and youthful, jubilant and crowing about Neverland. The Bruins? Well they’re curmugoned and fearful of the clock. Because the clock is ticking on Howland and the inevitable one-and-done roster turnover and Tony Parker’ seemingly impending transfer. Collectively, there are too many sideshows to sift through to view a match up with UCLA as much more than special laundry.
Now don’t get me wrong here. By no means am I being dismissive of the challenge the Bruins present. They have talented basketball players. But the importance of this game has a lot more to do with what’s happening in the red jersey than the other tank. Moving forward, Arizona’s schedule is for making statements, further asserting their agenda, letting more and more cats out of the bag.
What’s a big game? Beating your upstart and hungry arch rival on the road is big. Winning the first match up of top-10 teams on your home floor in nearly a decade is a big game. Capturing the title of a three-game, four-day Christmas in Maui tournament is big.
Big isn’t a two way street. It’s a one lane freeway with two lanes and no one knows what direction UCLA is going.
I love the momentum of sport. For all of our advanced stats and my sophomoric understanding of them, there is no way to quantify the ramifications of a fortuitous bounce, well-earned technical foul, or a botched whistle. Timeouts are used to slow it and, arguably, entire game strategies are executed to limit it. Have you watched a Bo Ryan game?
So when the stripes went to the monitors two weeks ago to examine whether or not Sabatino Chen had just beat the third ranked team in the country on their home floor, the Buff’s claim to momentum laid in the balances. They’d blown a big lead but were handed the chance to garner it all back as Chen banked home the proposed game winner.
The rest will become history.
Since that moment the Buffs are 1-4 and scratching their heads as to how they got here. Two days after that moment Colorado jumped out to an explosive 17-4 lead on the host Sun Devils and looked the part of a team that prepared to take care of business. But ASU would not go quietly and wound up grinding out a victory. For arguably the second straight game, momentum was ripped right out of Buffalo hands.
Against Arizona, in regulation, Tad’s team shot 10-15 from three. Terrific. For the season these Buffs have been limiting their total number of threes (I like) despite shooting a very respectable 36%. However, since those three men waved away from the monitors, Colorado is shooting 12-65 from distance. To be clear on two fronts: 1) that includes the Arizona overtime, and 2) the math suggests that is an abysmal 18%. I don’t love a reliance on the three point bucket but regardless of dependencies, a sub 1-in-5 success rate is not good begging the question, slump or fact? By my feeble attempt to quantify momentum, the Buffs seem to have lost it since it was snatched from their hands.
And watch a Colorado game. They don’t seem to be able to grab momentum when it’s ripe for the taking. Take last night for example: The Buffs came out playing staunch defense and were chipping away at UW’s eight point lead. They had it cut to five, allowing just five shot attempts for the Huskies in the opening five minutes. Comparatively the Buffs – who we’ve noted are having shooting issues – got up ten shots connecting on just one. Alas, all things defensive clicking and momentum at their fingertips…Scott Suggs…four…point…play. Momentum.
As it were today, it appears history was written that night in Tucson. Colorado has perhaps let the magnitude of that moment best them; not necessarily the mark of a champion. But the season is young still and momentum can turn on a dime; a shot here, a block there, a whistle, a bounce, an affirming gesture. Where it comes from no one knows.
So for the Buffs, momentum remains in the balances, the coveted and inexplicable asset. I suppose for some help we could ask CJ Wilcox about it.
Someone this morning asked me if I was in “Wildcat heaven.”
Without hesitation, not a second of doubt because I have no idea how to process what transpired on the court in McKale, I replied, “No.” That was a game in which Arizona didn’t hold a lead for 41-minutes. That’s not OK. It was a game gifted to the Wildcats by three men looking at something it appeared no one else saw.
That was one of the more interesting basketball games I’ve witnessed in some time as it was equal parts defensive beauty, offensive ineptitude, and raw drama of sport. In short: a clusterbang. The Monitor Mishap in McKale.
So as I mull more and more on this game I find less and less to take away from it. I’m only certain that there’s a faction of fans in Boulder, Colorado that are really pissed off and another in Tucson, Arizona that are really relieved.
And the latter faction comes under attack for “losing” that game. To that, being an Arizona fan, I say have that game. Take it. ‘Twas ugly and frustrating and I return to the previously used clusterbang and from a procedural standpoint I see no reason to be particularly happy about it as a Wildcat beyond the fact that it’s been confirmed you’d better put that arrow squarely and deeply into Arizona’s collective achilles if you intend to beat them.
A basketball season is too short to focus on the uncontrollable. Control what you can and be good at it. Today, the Wildcats get to control their preparation for the Utah Utes.
I suggest the Buffs focus on Arizona State.
Because the stage is now set for what Colorado fans are already calling the “Valentine’s Day Massacre.” They’ve set up a countdown (I love that) and are not all too happy with Thursday’s outcome. There will be a second squaring off following this controversial outcome inducing a Coors Event Center welcoming of Sean Miller’s squad that’s ear splitting and full of vitriol and contempt.
Like any good rivalry should.
Last year, Arizona went 3-2 against the Pac’s newest members. Those two losses both came at the hooves of the Colorado Buffaloes who – per my man, James – have picked the Wildcats as their team to beat, the Red Letter Game he calls it. And oh do I dig that. I love competition. You, I’m going to play and beat YOU. That’s the sorta stuff that gets me to turn any game on. Why else do we revere Joe Namath’s guarantee, Ruth’s called shot, and Duke losing? Bravado and rivalry drives sport and I’m happy to welcome the Buffs into the realm of teams I want my ‘Cats to wallop.
But I’m also really enjoying watching their program evolve. Tad’s done tremendous work in short order and this is indeed a program being built to contend. And contend they will.
Leading up to Thursday’s showdown in Tucson, I asked some of my favorite and most trusted and wise CU pals their thoughts on…well, lots.
Jason (JG) is another AllBuffs contributor to whom I owe lots. He’s the man who convinced me into the world of KenPom and we have great discussions concerning the balance of advanced stats and the romanticized story of sport. I look forward to discussing Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise with him. Join us? He also crunches numbers – namely win shares – that have encouraged me to be a more holistic observer of the game.
And Ben (BB). This dude runs a dedicated blog to CU athletics – The Rumblings of a Deranged Buffalo at Rumblin Buff – and I really like his work. He’s the sort of fan that keeps enough perspective to know that a 1-11 football season calls for game previews surrounding new beers. My man.
Converse with these men in basketball dialogue as it will be worth your while. And…without further ado: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS!
You gentlemen know your Buffs inside and out, something sparked that interest in sports: What’s your greatest athletic achievement?
JL: Probably getting two different players thrown out of a game for throwing punches at me in an AAU game. Apparently my opponents weren’t fans of my tactics (because when you lack talent, you have to find little things to make up the difference).
JG: I used to be able to play a little golf, when I was 15 I set the course record on a 9 hole course. I shot 29 (par 36); I was 8 under through 7 holes and limped in with a bogey, par finish. While I was never as good at basketball as golf, I can’t get enough hoops.
BB: I was co-captain on my high school’s scholastic bowl team. We won the conference title my senior year, does that count? No? You’re probably right. My life is generally light on athletic “achievement.” I usually played the “Ben Mills” role on teams growing up, leading me to expand my talents in other areas, i.e. playing the tuba. More recently, I’ve become more than decent at beer-league softball, and my solid play at first base helped my team to 11-straight championship game appearances. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
Greatest sporting event ever witnessed?
JL: In person it’d probably be the Nugs home playoff game in Melo’s rookie season. The team had been out of the playoffs for almost a decade and the fans were delirious. We curb-stomped the #1 seed Timberwolves that game in what was probably the loudest sporting event I’ve ever been at in my life.
JG: This is a good question, one I waffled on and my answer may be an odd one. I have lots of memorable sports watching moments (Tyson ear bite fight, Jordan crossover/push-off on Byron Russell, the OJ car chase but one stands above the rest. Under a month after September 11th I was in Vegas on Fall break when Bonds hit his 71st home run. I was in the sports book at the Mirage (a month away from my 21st birthday) when he hit it. I have never been a Bonds fan, but the shear pandemonium in the sports book at that time in US History I will never forget. Steroids be damned, that was a good moment.
BB: All-time would probably be the 2007 National League play-in game between the Rockies and the Padres. Incredible atmosphere, incredible game, and a night I’ll never forget (even though the Rox aren’t my #1 team). If you want something CU-ish, the 2003 upset of KU in Boulder is up there. Somewhere Kirk Hinrich is still missing layups. Another fun one is the Big XII tournament win over K-State from that same year. It was one of the more bizarre finishes in the history of college basketball, with CU wining on a buzzer-beater to essentially send us into the Tournament. (*cough* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFItSuuy3dU *cough*). That win got those of us in the band another free night in Dallas, and $115 cash in per diem. K-BOOSH!
Whether you have a commute or cube, I know you’ve got headphones droning something out: Favorite song of the moment?
JL: I hate admitting this, but I begrudgingly like the Lumineer’s “Ho Hey“. I’m a sucker for songs that have random yelling of “hey” in it. This is why Cake might be the greatest band of all time. (PacHoops endorsed!)
JG: I am a sucker for the Lumineers “Ho Hey” song that is incessantly on the radio right now. I can’t get enough of those 2 minutes and 42 seconds. (PacHoops endorsed!)
BB: Childish Gambino, “You See Me.” (NSFW) (PacHoops endorsed!)
Onto the hoops. Ten-and-two. That’s where your Buffs stand. So, in a word, are you: happy, disappointed, ecstatic, sorrowful, [insert your own word]? Why?
JL: Underwhelmed. Had you asked me pre-season, I would have said 8-4/9-3 would be a successful non-conference schedule. However, for some reason, the 10-2 record has left a little to be desired. I’m probably nit-picking because we’re light years ahead of last year, but I question whether the team can peak like they did last year. That said, I never rule out Tad.
JG: Can I be happy and disappointed? It’s impossible not to be happy with the overall record but I am certainly disappointed about the way those two losses came. The Kansas loss was just a poor effort from the tip and the Buffs never really seemed to get into it in Laramie. There is a lot to be happy and disappointed about in individual players as well. Obviously I am happy with Dinwidddie, Dre and Scott but disappointed in SHT’s lack of pretty much everything and XJ’s inability to get anything going this year.
BB: They’ve beaten my preseason expectations, so I’ll go with “impressed.” Despite six freshmen and only one senior, and saddled with the sixth toughest non-conference schedule in the nation, they emerge with only two understandable road losses? I’ll take that.
My Wildcats are sans loss and deep like Lake Tahoe, what, if anything, scares you about them?
JL: Their size. There’s a lot to terrify there, but I like how our guards & forwards match up. The question is, can the Buffs keep Zeus/Ashley/Jerrett off of the boards and out of the low post? Scott & Roberson are good, but can Simba step up?
JG: You said it, but it isn’t just their deepness it is the overall talent that resides in that deepness. They have a handful of guys that can beat you on any given night. CU doesn’t have enough horses to bounce back if things go south early.
BB: Senior leadership. The additions of Tarczewski and Ashley are nice, and Nick Johnson is obviously a stud, but the inside-outside combo of Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons will win you the games in March. My Buffs just don’t have that experienced foundation to lean on in crunch time.
Does Spencer Dinwiddie’s mustache make him better?
JL: Damn right. Just wait until next year when Chris Jenkins is out there rocking the stache too.
JG: It has too right? Anybody that rocks the stache has to have some swagger; I think Dinwiddie feeds off that. You can’t be some chump on the court rocking it; you have to have some skill to not look like an idiot with it.
BB: Of course. Based on absolutely nothing, I figure it’s worth an extra 2.3 points per game.
Can the Buffs win this game in Tucson? If so, how or what gives them their best shot?
JL: Can? Yes. Will they? No. Best chance is if they play the D that won the Charleston Classic and kicked CSU around in the first half of that game. If the Buffs can play that type of lock-down D, they’re dangerous.
JG: Can they win? Sure they can, but a lot has to go right. Dinwiddie has to come out in first half CSU beast mode fashion, Booker has to take good shots within the offense, Dre has to grab boards like he can, Scott is going to have to battle on both ends of the court and the bench has to show up. So it can theoretically happen, but I have to agree with my friend Ken Pomeroy in giving CU a about a 1 in 5 chance to win. Too much has to go right to win a road conference game and that just doesn’t happen in college basketball very often.
BB: No. Road games are still an issue. As awesome and praise-worthy as he is, the Tad Boyle era has been peculiarly devoid of solid wins in true road games (9-18 on the road since his start in 2010). After shocking K-State in Manhattan in 2011, our best true road victory is probably the win over Fresno St from this year. Even that took a 17/20 night from ‘Dre to secure. Nothing is easy when the Buffs go on the road. Is this going to be a disaster on the level of Kansas? God I hope not, but if you guys want to move this to a neutral site (12-6 in the Boyle era), we’d be more than happy to oblige.
I’m allotting you 140 characters (a Tweet in modern vernacular) to glow about Josh Scott and/or Andre Roberson…GO!
JL: Josh Scott is already good, but will be All-Pac-12 next year and possible All-American. Get in the weight room!
JG: I don’t need 140 characters: Every possession Josh Scott doesn’t touch the ball in the post is a wasted possession.
BB: ‘Dre recently learned how to pull off the Euro-step. Your move, Rodman. Josh Scott? The Big Fundamental v 2.0. Duncan is Jealous.
Who is your favorite Wildcat, present, past, or future?
JL: The one that Tad kills with his bare hands a la the Bear from last year.
JG: This is an easy one, Damon Stoudamire. I always stayed up late as a kid and subsequently I became a West Coast basketball fan and Arizona was my team. I owned not only a #20 Arizona jersey but also his Toronto Raptors jersey as well.
BB: As a Bulls fan, Steve Kerr is an obvious #1. As for someone I actually think of as a Wildcat, Miles Simon, and the “Simon says: Championship” run in 1997, happened at the right time in my youth. His play in the title game still rattles around in my head.
The prediction question, not brought to your by Nate Silver. Tell me what happens Thursday night?
JL: I think Arizona has too many weapons, and it’ll be a little too much for the freshman to deal with, as Zona wins this one and CU starts planning to get their revenge in the Valentine’s Day Massacre.
JG: I expect Arizona to come out tough, go up early before giving a few back before the half and up end by 5. Stretch the lead to 10 in the first 5 minutes of the second half and the score to stay right about there for the rest of the game. At home and having a battle tested pre-conference schedule Arizona is going to be too much for CU to handle.
BB: An Arizona win. CU keeps their heads afloat for the first 25 minutes, mostly because Dinwiddie has a big game. As Carlon Brown revealed last year, Spencer grew up an Arizona fan, and he lights it up to spite them. ‘Dre drops a ‘Dre-esque 13/12, but is limited in the 2nd half with foul trouble. Hill and Johnson blow it open between the 16-min and 12-min timeouts, and CU struggles to get back into the game the rest of the way. ‘Zona 72 – CU 65
So there you have it, insight from the faithful. I appreciate their time and their program and their efforts for the greater good of Pac-12 hoops. Additionally, I’m really hoping to make it out to Boulder on Valentine’s Day for Arizona’s visit but time will tell. Who’s got airline miles?
When Florida enters the McKale Center Saturday, they’ll be the first ranked opponent on Lute and Bobbi Olson court since the 2010-11 #21 BYU Cougars, uhhh, beat Arizona. I was at that game and vomited four times. Literally.
Alright so I had food poisoning and that shall not be the premise of my Florida-Arizona commentary. No, I’d like to revisit the upset surrounding scheduling. How the departed Jim Livengood, knowing full well the program was in moderate shambles could arrange for such a home-and-home to happen. To allow a mid-major to embarrass the Wildcats in McKale – then a year later on the road.
I’m not pointing a finger at Livengood. He wasn’t dribbling or shooting or letting Jimmer to the rack at will. No, it was a strategic lapse, on to the next. And what’s next has been the Sean Miller show with guest appearances from Derrick Williams, Josiah Turner, Kyryl Natyazkho and Lamont Jones. With special contributions from Tim Floyd.
But this Saturday marks the end of guests and special contributors. This is year four and Miller hand picked this team. He’s built them and developed them and, if we’re to believe he’s as good a coach as we want to, he knew what he was doing. And that’s why he has Florida coming to town. That’s why next year marks the beginning of a home and home with Michigan followed by a home and home with Missouri with rumors of Gonzaga sprinkled in and visits to NYC (preseason NIT) and Maui. It’s the model Lute followed and if you’ll recall his twenty-five seasons in Tucson, it worked pretty well, right?
So what of these Gators? The first top-10 showdown in McKale in eight years? With respect to the aforementioned build up to this crowning season of the Sean Miller era, this is the marquee game. This is the coming out party. This is the how you like me now moment. For all of the cupcakes and walkover games previously scheduled and played, the ones built to set these developing Wildcats up for success, this is the one built to lead them to success. The kind that puts tiny numbers next to your name and the kind that puts you in the national conversation. The kind that makes programs not seasons and the kind that puts rings on your finger and banners in your rafters.
For all the talk of SOS, RPI, etc. this is Miller’s first flash of SOP – Strength of Program. And that’s not to say this is a must win. Arizona could very well lose this game and carry on to have tremendous success; win a billion games and twelve titles. But for the first time, by program design, Arizona will work to assert itself nationally, not just the best amongst a meddling Pac-12.
Now when discussing this stance I’ve put forth, my buddy Jamie (who once unofficially procured a triple-double in HS) was quick to cite my hyperbole. And he’s got a point. This is a scheduled contest, part of a contract signed maybe two years ago. How could anyone have known Florida would be a sultry 7-0 in 2012? I see his point. Big schools schedule big schools. This is just another in a series of games that will be added to the schedule.
But just ask Tom Crean about the three years of beatings he took from Kentucky before finally dropping them last year. Think that meant something to him? Think that meant something to Hoosier faithful? How about this year’s team? WE ARE INDIANA HEAR US ROAR!
Maybe I get a little carried away in the magnitude of this game, swept up in the romanticism of perhaps getting to witness a catapulting victory. But you can’t tell me there isn’t something bigger than Gators at Wildcats here because it’s been a spell since Tucson could taste it. There was that moment in Anaheim but it never quite felt real, lasting. Don’t get me wrong, taking Duke to task was remarkable but deep down there it was all too unexpected. Special to be sure, but this is the time. This is why players come to Arizona. It’s why Sean said yes and it’s why there will 15,000 people inside that arena just off Campbell Ave.
So yeah, Jamie, I’m swept up in it. But I just think we’re supposed to be.