2007-2008 Arizona Wildcats
KEY WINS: Texas A&M; @ Houston; @ UNLV; swept Washington State
KEY LOSSES: swept by: Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA; @ Kansas; @ Memphis
KEY STAT: 3 Point Shooting Percentage: 39%
This team knows how to score and they are loaded with individual talent. The biggest thing about the Wildcats’ ability to score is that they have three legitimate shooters who can hit numerous three point shots in a row and take opponents totally out of their game. Those three, senior Juwann McClellan, sophomore Chase Budinger and freshman Jerryd Bayless all have the ability to score 20 points in a given contest. In a tournament where the opposition generally doesn’t know each other, the fact that any one of these three can get open and bury their shots means that IF the Wildcats make the NCAA Tournament, they can do some damage.
There are arguably four players on the Wildcat roster that should end up playing professionally; Bayless, Budinger, McClellan and sophomore post Jordan Hill. Of the four, only McClellan is a marginal NBA talent while the other three should play in “The League”. That means that Arizona has four guys who are probably better than the individuals they would be facing in the other colored jerseys. That goes a long way in a one-and-done format like the NCAAs. Added to that, these four, as well as the rest of the squad, have been through the rigors of the Pac-10 Conference, arguably the toughest in the country.
Wow, where to begin? Arizona is going through stress because of their coaching situation; they lack overall depth; they lack toughness; they have almost no backcourt depth…the list is actually pretty long for a team that has as many very good players as Arizona has got. For Tournament purposes, the biggest weakness that the Wildcats have is their lack of toughness. This isn’t a team that dives for loose balls, nor is a team that wants to take a charge. In many ways they don’t do the little things that teams need to advance far in the NCAAs. Hill plays tough in the post and interim Coach Kevin O’Neill has gotten some good contributions from frontcourt substitutes Fendi Onobun and Jamelle Horne. However, the backcourt depth leads to Bayless and McClellan in particular, getting beat up and looking more and more like defense is a foreign concept, especially in O’Neill’s man-to-man system.
Teams focus on defense in the NCAAs more so than in the regular season, and coaches have the opportunity to break close games down to possession-by-possession affairs. That is how George Mason got to the Final Four. That’s what led Florida to the last two titles; that’s what led rival UCLA, a team that hasn’t had the individual talent that Arizona does, to blowing Arizona off the floor numerous times the past three seasons. Arizona has to decide to get tough or they will go home early…from the Pac-10 Tournament.
Nic Wise has got to be healthy for the Wildcats or no amount of toughness is going to help them. Wise, who was out of shape last season, committed himself to training and getting fit and it paid off. He became the team’s point guard, allowing Bayless to slash in from the wings playing the ‘2’ guard spot. The penetration that Wise can bring, coupled with Bayless’ ability to get inside, means that defenses have to bring help, leaving shooters like McClellan and Budinger open from the perimeter.
When Wise went down the Wildcats became much easier to defend. He returned in the end of the season weekend trip to Oregon, but Wise was clearly rusty. He has to shake off the rust in a hurry or the Wildcats are in for a short run in March.
MIGHT LOSE WHEN…
…they play physical teams. The two most physical teams that Arizona has faced this season, Stanford and UCLA, swept the ‘Cats. They also had a far tougher time against a physical Texas A&M squad than they should have had and they lost to a mediocre Virginia team when the Cavs started crashing the boards.
Hill will play tough, as will Bayless. However, McClellan is too slow against many players and Budinger is simply and finesse player who gets lost in physical games. It really is up to the Wildcats as to whether they are going to truly fight back when a physical opponent “punches them in the mouth.”
MIGHT SURPRISE YOU WITH…
…senior forward Bret Brielmaier. If the ‘Cats want to get tough quickly, they need Brielmaier back on the floor. The young man from Mankato, Minnesota started as a walk-on and has earned his scholarship many times over. He’s the Wildcat that excels when the game becomes physical. He’ll dive on the floor; go leaping out of bounds and take charges until the cows come home. He plays the game with heart and fire and the team generally feeds off him. He’s not going to win games by himself, but he brings an intangible to the table that the Wildcats lack. He returned to the line-up in the last weekend of the season after being out for weeks because of injury, but, like Wise, he looked rusty, too. O’Neill and the Wildcats have several days to get Brielmaier back up to speed before the Pac-10 Tournament.
PREDICTED NCAA FINISH:
This is another team who MIGHT make the NCAA Tournament. It would help their cause out greatly if they won their first two games of the Pac-10 Tournament, (the first is against bottom-feeder Oregon State). If they don’t win the quarterfinal game they should be in then the Wildcats will be one of the two or three most interesting discussions in the committee room on Selection Sunday. They are a team that would have finished with a better record had they been in almost any other conference. That shows the strength of the Pac-10.
Assuming that they do get in, Arizona will have the benefit of not playing teams that know their tendencies, so the ability to get their shooters open will be much easier than it was in the conference season. I know that this sounds crazy, but IF they get into the Big Dance, don’t be surprised to see the Wildcats make the Sweet 16 because of their ability to hit the long range shot. After that, they’ll match-up with teams that have comparable talent and that will be the end of the line…IF they get in.