Good Wins: San Diego State, Gonzaga, Kansas, Washington, UCLA
Bad Losses: at Stanford
1. Athleticism. Even without expatriate recruit Brandon Jennings, Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger, and Nic Wise form the most athletic trio on the est Coast. All three possess a dynamite slashing ability and attack the basket with ferocity. Hill and Budginger in particular have tremendous springs, though Budinger’s lateral movement on defense leaves something to be desired. But the ‘Cats as a whole can get up and down the floor with anyone in the country.
2. Chemistry. The adversity this team has been through thanks to the turmoil caused by Lute Olson’s on-again, off-again status as coach in the last 18 months has helped them grow as a unit. So did the well-publicized boot to throat incident that Chase Budinger suffered in a game against the Houston Cougars in late January. Wise has done a fantastic job as floor general in regulating Zona’s pace and flow, feeding the ball to the post with a deft touch. If Hill or Budinger is double-teamed, neither is shy about kicking the rock out to Zane Johnson, who more often than not has drilled open threes down the stretch.
1. Defense. Perhaps the only thing last year’s team did better than this one is defend–a fact which reflects a change in mindset from interim coach Kevin O’Neill to interim coach Russ Pennell. O’Neill’s grind-it-out style clearly conflicted with both the mindset and skill set of the players Lute Olson had recruited, and without the hyper-intense attention to D emphasized by O’Neill, these ‘Cats can sometimes get lackadaisical on the defensive end.
2. Depth. Arizona is really only six deep. It’s been a game of musical chairs between Jamelle Horne, Zane Johnson, and Kyle Fogg for the remaining two slots in Arizona’s starting five, and more often than not lately it’s been Johnson and Fogg. Alex Jacobson and Fendi Onobun provide some nice beef inside, though it must be said Onobun’s career at Arizona has been a little disappointing. This puts tremendous pressure on Hill to avoid foul trouble.
Bench: See above.
The Departing: Arizona will likely be starting with a fresh slate next year, both on the bench and and on the floor. Both Hill and Budinger are expected to enter the NBA Draft at the end of this season. Wise should still be around to run the team but this remains his best chance to make a deep Tournament run.
Arizona has been a terrible road team all season (just 2-7 in the Pac-10, with both wins coming at the Oregon schools). Against the right team they could pull a first-round upset but it’s hard to see them going any further than that.