Posts Tagged 'Wildcats Basketball'

2009-2010 ‘Cats Preview

Okay, so the season doesn’t actually start for a little over four months from now and there is still the possibility that significant changes could still occur… but I doubt it.  Without further adieu, here is my first glimpse into the ‘Cats this season. Continue reading ‘2009-2010 ‘Cats Preview’

Future of the Program: Part II

Recruiting

 

Despite the fact that Arizona is currently on a 5-game winning streak, I’m still taking a break from focusing on the current season to looking ahead to the intriguing possibilities that will play out during the off-season. Last week I talked about the fact that whoever Olson’s successor is, they will need to possess a program first mentality. Otherwise more than just the style of play will be transformed at Arizona.

 

 Under Lute Olson, the program has been a family organization with the focus on the players’ development and the program’s success. Olson avoided recruiting players who were out to serve their own needs, and who were going along with their own agenda before the programs. The result has been a classy program that has thrived at the top of the conference for nearly 25 years thanks to Olson’s savvy recruiting combined with only taking players who are there to play for the program.

 

If a coach fails to integrate the “team first” mentality into his recruiting, I fear that Arizona will no longer be the dominant program it has been, but will transform into an average program similar to ASU or USC. A program with more average years than down years, and more down years than great years. For that reason, I believe the second most important facet of a new coach will be their recruiting.

 

How and who the new coach recruits will be an early indicator about the long-term outlook for the program. When a coach strictly focuses on recruiting the top tier prospects, the program becomes a mere stepping stone for the NBA – as USC has become. The play of these top-tier recruits almost ensures that the team will be competitive within their conference, and perhaps even on a national level, but landing a top tier recruit and building a team around them year-in and year-out is a sure ticket towards inconsistency.

 

That isn’t to say that signing the big-name recruit doesn’t have its place – they certainly have their impact and place within the scheme of the program. Afterall, if a coach strictly recruited mid-level prospects, they would find themselves in a position like Washington State – too heavily reliant upon exploiting opponents’ mistakes. 

 

Successful recruiting is a mix of mid-level talent and top-tier prospects.

Successful recruiting is a mix of mid-level talent and top-tier prospects.

Clearly the better recruiters in the nation have found a solid mix of top-tier and middle-tier players which has led to perpetual success with no “rebuilding” years like the one Oregon is currently suffering through. This mix of mid-level and top tier recruits is an absolute must-have to building a consistent, competitive team – a tradition at Arizona that I hope to see continued. Finding the appropriate mix has more to do with the needs of the team and the personality of the players than it does how many of the top tier vs. middle-tier players which are recruited.

 

 

 

I, for one, firmly believe that the most vital aspect of recruiting is finding the mid-level players with a lot of potential or that have been undervalued. Some of the more notable players at Arizona – Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr, Gilbert Arenas, and Jordan Hill – have come from this group of prospects. There have also been solid role players – A.J. Bramlett, Bennett Davison to name two of the more prominent ones – that simply got the job done and made an impact for the team.

 

By focusing on these mid-level prospects the coach will have recruited at the worst a solid bench and group of role players, and at the best a few surprise players who develop into future stars. Best-case scenario and worst-case scenario aside one thing is certain, drawing out the best talent in the middle tier of prospects while signing a top tier recruit or two every few years will lead to consistency within the program.

 

In direct regards to the situation at Arizona, the right coach will be capable of staving off a rebuilding effort and accomplish a transition period instead. With a rebuilding effort the entire program will essentially be scrapped and in the basement before it is restored. Considering Arizona’s consecutive NCAA Tournament streak is still active, the ’08-’09 ‘Cats are making a strong second half push, and Arizona has some surprise players, I don’t think this will be the route we take. A transition, will simply change the style and pinache’ of the team. There will be a down year or two as the new coach recruits the players to fit their game plan and builds the new traditions, but it will be more about building upon than rebuilding. 

Pre-Game: WAZZU@ ARizona

After defeating the Washington Huskies with a deluge of free throws, the Wildcats turn their sights on the Washington State Cougars as they covet more momentum heading into the second half of conference play. A win against the Cougars would place them one-game behind their longest winning streak of the season (four) with a road trip to face the Oregon schools on the horizon. It’s irrefutable that for the Wildcats to extend their consecutive NCAA Tournament streak they must continue their winning streak for at least three more games.

 

On paper, the Cougars are a very misleading team to behold. They only have three players averaging double-digits in scoring, and score a conference low 58.9 points per contest. The Cougars, however, are much better than basic stats can foretell – any seasoned PAC-10 fan can tell you as much. “Bennett Ball” is a very methodical, pain-stakingly slow offense that thrives on defensive mistakes of their opponents.

 

On the other hand, defensively they only allow 52.6 points per game – first in the conference. This figure is also misleading, and neither the Cougar’s offensive or defensive stats should be taken at face value. But no matter how you look at it, the key to defeating Washington State is limiting lost possessions and forcing the tempo of the game. Arizona State failed to do that and lost by 10, while Gonzaga managed to reach the 70-point plateau and won decisively.

 

 

The Cougars have also received solid contributions for Aron Baynes and freshman Klay Thompson this year. Thompson has the makings of fitting Bennett’s system much the way that Derrick Lowe did in previous years, though Thompson is more athletic but has less experience. He is still a volatile element for the Cougars, but is a year or two away from consistently being a threat the way that Lowe was in previous years.

 

Keys to the Game

  •  Force the Tempo: Arizona needs to get out and run on the Cougars a bit – it’s not that they can’t handle the up-tempo game, but anytime you can take a team out of their game plan you gain an advantage over them. If this game finishes with the winner sitting in the low 60’s it will likely be Washington State. On the other hand if it sits in the upper 60’s or low 70’s the probability will be Arizona coming out on top.
  • Protect the Ball: The Wildcats’ turnover woes continued against Washington on Thursday night, though they did improve from their previous game – though that’s not saying much. The Cougars have a conference best 11.8 turnovers per game, so Arizona really needs to buckle down and do a better job of ball control on Saturday.
  • Exploit the Athleticism: Bennett ball has an emphasis on smart players, not athletic ones. Because of this if Arizona can play smart (limit turnovers, grab rebounds, stay focused defensively) then their athleticism will be a huge advantage for them. They need to use their speed to attack the rim and the paint, and to apply pressure on the perimeter.
Rochestie celebrates a win over host James Harden & the ASU Sun Devils
Rochestie celebrates a win over host James Harden & the ASU Sun Devils

You have to give credit to this squad for performing how they have in games and consistently holding to their game plan – even when down by double-digits under five-minutes remaining. For that you have to give credit to their floor general, Taylor Rochestie, for keeping his head and tapping into the experience he has as a senior. Rochestie is a sure-handed guard who averages 4.7 (Conference rank: 6th in total assists) assists and only 2.4 turnovers per game (third in a/to ratio in guards with 90 assists or more on the season).

 

Looking Ahead to April

 

Even though the remaining 6 weeks of conference play are uncertain and any guess as to what will happen would be as good as any other, I’m taking a few moments to look ahead to the future and the job ahead for the Arizona Wildcats starting in fall of 2009. Things will become quickly more clear the moment that Lute Olson’s successor has been named. Whoever this coach is will inherit a solid foundation and a great program that has fallen into a bit of disrepair over the past couple of years. For that they will be blessed, but while the name “Arizona” has a bit of clout to it and can help pull in recruits Arizona’s 2009 recruiting class will fall heavily on the coach who is selected. The Successor will also have the foundation laid for a good supporting cast, provided no unexpected departures occur, and the fires of the recruiting trail will already be kindling thanks to Reggie Geary.

With the NCAA Tournament finishing on April 6th and the spring signing period starting at noon two days later, the Wildcats have a small window to make a huge impact in the recruiting field. Continue reading ‘Looking Ahead to April’

Die-Hards Rewarded

Budinger - You wont like me when Im angry.

Budinger - "You won't like me when I'm angry."

Die hard Arizona fans were given the biggest reward of the season and perhaps the past three years as they witnessed the ‘Cats overcome a 9 point deficit with 54 seconds remaining to force overtime en route to a 96-90 overtime win on Saturday. After dropping three-straight the Wildcats showed more heart and determination than they’ve displayed perhaps all season long. Plagued by turnover woes all season long, the Wildcats have suffered 8 losses a direct result from them Saturday against Houston was no difference as the Wildcats had nearly three-times as many (24-9) as the Cougars, but were able to force four Houston turnovers in the final nine minutes which left the door open for the come-back win.

The Wildcats have seen several bad calls go against them the past few games and have been incapable of overcoming them. This time, however, that was not the case. Aubrey Coleman literally bowled over Chase Budinger with 9:51 remaining and then proceeded to maliciously step on his head. The McKale crowd grew restless and angry chanting “Throw him out! Throw him out!” while the officials reviewed the play before granting the crowd’s wish – and deservingly so. That decision was perhaps the turning point of the game for the ‘Cats as Coleman had dissected the ‘Cats perimeter defense and Houston wasn’t the same without him on the floor. The door was left open by late missed free throws and turnovers on the Cougars behalf, and for the first time all season it was the Wildcats taking advantage of late-game mistakes rather than being victimized by them.

Continue reading ‘Die-Hards Rewarded’

The Rivalry

the-rivalryThere hasn’t been this much drama in the Arizona/Arizona State Rivalry since some audacious ASU fans’ horrendous chants towards Steve Kerr back in 1984. Yes, even more drama than last year when Arizona State seemed to turn the tables by sweeping the ‘Cats. More drama than in 1998 when Arizona left Tempe with a 1-point victory. More dramatic than when ASU won three straight between 1994 and 1995 – their longest during the Lute Olson era in Tucson – to which Arizona responded with 11-straight wins over the Sun Devils.
There have been some great match-ups, Ike Diogu vs. Channing Frye and Eddie House vs. Gilbert Arenas to name a couple. But something is different this year. Arizona State fans are ready to declare that the tables have turned in this rivalry and that they are now the premier team in the state. They’re nationally ranked, have a better record, an impressive road win at Pauley Pavilion and many other arguments to support their case.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats are in the midst of their rockiest two season with Lute Olson first taking a leave of absence followed by being forced to retire due to medical conditions. The ‘Cats had a fall-out with their 2008 recruiting class and have turned to searching for hidden talent to produce big performances.

These are all circumstances that perhaps won’t play out beyond this year after Harden departs from ASU and the Wildcats start to rebuild beginning in just a few months when they look to hire a premier head coach to replace Olson on a permanent basis. The Sun Devils will lose a majority of their talent (ie James Harden) after this year and will need to put together some solid recruiting classes if they truly want to turn the tables rather than just repeating their 3-rivalry-game win streak. The Wildcats future is more uncertain and will likely contain a few years of bumps and bruises, but with the right hire they should be able to keep history on their side and continue to dominate this rivalry again down the road. Continue reading ‘The Rivalry’

There Are NO Goats Here

 

Don't make him your scape goat.
Don’t make him your scape goat.

Despite USC constantly chipping away at Arizona’s lead, the Wildcats looked as if they were headed for their first road win of the season – until Nic Wise was called for an intentional foul away from the ball with 3:50 left on the clock. From that moment on 7 of USC’s final 11 points came from the free throw line – including the game winner with 1.2 seconds remaining. It would be easy to find a scape goat to pin another one-point loss onto, but in reality that’s ridiculous.

Yes, the officiating was terrible with blown calls left and right, the worst of which the intentional foul on Wise, but Arizona still controlled the game despite the officiating. Sure, Jordan Hill missed a late-game free throw, but he never should’ve received the inbounds pass, and Budinger shouldn’t have been in-bounding the ball. Nic Wise definitely shouldn’t have thrown the ball away on the Wildcats final possession, but he shouldn’t have even had the ball in that situation. Not a single one of these things should have happened, but they did. That’s just the misfortune the ‘Cats have had on the road this year.

This was the best performance on the road the ‘Cats have had all season long. They controlled most of the game and held the lead for almost all of it. I commend the ‘Cats for that, but it all came unraveled in the final 3:50 putting the ‘Cats in a position they never ought to have been in. So blame Budinger, Hill, Wise, Horne, Johnson, Fogg, the officials and everyone else if you want, but to pin it on one play or one player is bogus.

The Wildcats did a nice job making adjustments throughout the game. When Budinger was face guarded, they ran him off staggered double-screens to get him open looks. When Jordan Hill picked up his second foul with 9 minutes remaining in the first half, the ‘Cats continued to fight by scoring 19 more points before halftime. After giving up 11 first-half offensive rebounds, they cranked down and only allowed four more in the second half. I was very impressed by the overall effort of the Wildcats tonight, but it’s the worst way for a great game to end – with a one-point loss.

The Good:

Chase Budinger – Budinger was aggressive tonight, and the ‘Cats looked to get him the ball for most of the night. While facing an intense defense designed with him as the focal point Budinger came up big for the ‘Cats with 19 points on 60% shooting. A game like that against the nations 5th best defense is what reminds us that despite his slumps, he has the talent to become a solid player in the NBA.

Jamelle Horne: Horne was a major contributor and a big reason why Arizona had a shot at pulling off their first road win tonight. I’m sure you’re probably mad that I didn’t put him down in the “Ugly” section because of his last second foul that led to the game-winning free throw by Hackett. To judge Horne’s performance based on a ticky-tack foul is an injustice to what he did. Horne is a major reason why USC only got 4 offensive rebounds in the second half. He was aggressive going after the ball even leapt higher than Taj Gibson for rebounds on consecutive plays. Horne did exactly what we needed him to, scored (8 points), was active defensively (2 steals), and was crashing the boards (7 rebounds). One mistake doesn’t change the fact that he was a major contributor and a big reason why Arizona was in a position to win this game.

The Bad:

Simple Mistakes: I’ve already listed them above. Budinger in-bounding the ball, Hill missing a crunch-time free throw, Wise turning the ball over, as well as a shot clock violation. These were signs that this team is struggling and has youth and an interim coach at the helm. They are all easily correctable. Not one of these plays single-handedly lost the game for the ‘Cats (nor did Horne’s foul) – but a culmination of them and the refs was enough to shoot the Wildcats in the paw.

The Ugly:

Many fans’ reaction to Jamelle Horne following his late-game foul. He was in a good defensive position, staying in front of Hackett, and was called for a tacky foul. Yes, it was heart-breaking. But if I’m Horne, I’m not embarrassed or upset with myself for that play. He was where he was supposed to be, doing what he was supposed to do and got called for a cheap foul when the ref should’ve swallowed his whistle. Horne wasn’t chasing Hackett down and going Superman-style on him. He didn’t clobber him, and he didn’t foul him in the act of shooting. He was playing defense!


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