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Quick Weekend (2) Preview

Posted by naterb on November 20, 2009

There have been some surprises the first week, but for the most part the games have gone as expected. This weekend isn’t going to be a highlight weekend for the PAC-10, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to keep track of.

Don’t want to be a whipping boy

First off, let me just say that I wouldn’t want to be Cal State-Bakersfield tonight when they face of against UCLA. After coming off an embarrassing season-opening loss, the Bruins will look to make a statement. What better way than against an Independent school that just can’t muster the talent to keep up with the Bruins. Should they perform a miracle and manage to literally steal one, the Bruins will be in for a LONG season. But don’t bet on it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Arizona @ Washington

Posted by naterb on February 28, 2009

Just one week ago the Wildcats seemed to have all but locked up a NCAA Tournament bid, and seemed to be in absolute control of their post-season fates with just five games remaining. They were the winners of seven-straight games, including wins over two of the better teams in the conference, Washington and UCLA, and were eyeing another signature win against their natural Rivals, Arizona State.

 

But the Wildcats have lost their past two games and as they find themselves teetering on having their bubble burst yet again, many “fans” find themselves edging towards the bandwagon’s emergency exits. Their strangle hold on a NCAA Tournament ticket has slipped, and now the ‘Cats must win at least two of their three remaining games. Perhaps more importantly, they also have to show they can win on the road and have only one remaining chance to prove that – tonight when they visit the Washington Huskies.

 

A lot of the Cats hopes rely upon Wises ability to make the right decisions in Seattle today.

A lot of the 'Cats hopes rely upon Wise's ability to make the right decisions in Seattle today.

It’s not just that the Huskies have the best record in the conference that makes the Wildcats task so daunting, it’s how the Huskies have done it. In Seattle, behind the play of ever-reliable Jon Brockman and freshman phenom Isaiah Thomas, the Huskies have amassed an amazing 16-1 record and outscored opponents by 13.8 points per game.

 

 

 

For as great as Arizona was during their seven-game stretch, which just happened to coincide with a long home stand and the easiest road trip in the conference this year (Oregon/Oregon State). When the level of opponent picked up again on the road, the ‘Cats found themselves struggling again. Can the ‘Cats put it together for their final road game of the season? Will they be left teetering on the edge thanks to a poor showing on the road all season long?

 

Keys to the Game

 

Take Control: I know Pennell & Co. have said they only look at one game at a time now, and don’t look ahead and don’t pay attention to the long term ramifications. I can respect and appreciate that to a certain extent. But the bottom line is that the Wildcats are in a must win situation. They have to prove they can win on the road, and they need to finish the last 5 games of the season 3-2 or better.

 

Know When: The Huskies are a very quick, talented team with a deeper bench than our own. Nic Wise and Co. will have to play smart basketball taking advantage of the fast-break opportunities, but not rushing their offense or getting into a running match (Yes, I know they won 106-97 last time, but they also had 41 points at the charity stripe).

 

No Misfires: The Wildcats were spectacular during that 7-game stretch because The Big Three were all playing well. In their last two games (ASU & WSU) we have seen less-than-spectacular halves and stretches from each one of them independently. Arizona has to be firing on all cylinders if the hope to do what 16 other teams have failed to do this season – win in Seattle.

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The Rivalry: Part II

Posted by naterb on February 21, 2009

When Arizona and Arizona State met up one month ago, the game ended in one of the most controversial calls we’ve seen in this rivalry in some time. While the call ultimately sealed the deal for the Sun Devils, to claim that it cost the ‘Cats the game would be pushing it too far. The Wildcats were plagued by simple, yet costly mistakes that set them in the position for a whistle to be capable of determining so much in the game. Frankly, if the Wildcats deserved to win that game they wouldn’t have been in that position.

 

Ironically, that is the last time the Wildcats have found themselves in such a position this season. During the past seven games the Wildcats have outscored their opponents by 8.2 points per game, and have eclipsed an average of 82.6 points during that time. They have also found themselves on the right end of the turnover battle while forcing opponents into 15.4 per game while committing 14.6 themselves.

 

If that’s not enough, it appears as though the Big Three are finally living up to their bidding with all three averaging between 19-21 points per game. But that’s not been all their scoring. They’ve seen significant impact from Kyle Fogg and Zane Johnson on both ends of the court. This team has been clicking on all cylinders the past seven games and look to continue when they travel to Tempe today to face the Sun Devils.

 

ASU has been on a bit of a tear themselves, with an active 4-game winning streak under their belts the Sun Devils have seen continued dominance from Harden and Pendergraph, and have been getting some big games from Derek Glasser and Rihards Kuksiks.

 

The keys to the game are the same as the last time out, but it can all be summarized to say that they simply need to avoid the simple mistakes that cost them just a few short weeks ago. The Sun Devils are fighting for a better seed in the NCAA Tournament, and the ‘Cats are fighting to secure their ticket. Both teams are within reach of the PAC-10 conference lead, and face the top-ranked Washington Huskies next week. Things are getting interesting in the conference, and this game is going to have hefty consequences for both teams.

 

Keys to the Game

Harden Up: James Harden is the driving force for the Sun Devils, if you can contain or limit his play-making ability you disable ASU’s offense. Arizona doesn’t have a defender capable of face guarding him and shutting him down the way that Tim Floyd and USC did, but they should be able to slow him down.

Win the Blocks: The inside battle will be key. Neither team has much (if any) quality depth in the frontcourt. So a lot of the rebounding responsibilities fall on the guards, and the Wildcats have to be ready to box out. They’ll also need to make it a pointed effort to get Jordan Hill active and involved early in the game.

Stick ‘em Up: The Wildcats need to get their hands up on shooters, especially Kuksiks outside the 3-point line. ASU doesn’t have many players that can create their own shot, so rotating in the zone and getting a hand in the Sun Devils’ faces will be crucial. If Arizona wants to pull out the home win, they’ll need to limit the number of open looks they give the Sun Devils.

Protect the Ball: The Sun Devils have the 2nd lowest turnover average in the conference with 12.4 per game (Arizona has 12.5) to go along with 6.6 steals. In each of their losses this season the Wildcats have turned the ball over more than their opponent and been outscored in points-off-turnovers by a significant amount.

 

For more on this rivalry, see my previous post with individual position break-downs.

http://sportscapsule.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/the-rivalry/

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Pregame: Arizona @ Oregon

Posted by naterb on February 6, 2009

On Saturday night the ‘Cats hope to keep their Tournament hopes alive while the Ducks are looking to save a little dignity.

On Saturday night the ‘Cats look to keep their Tournament hopes alive while the Ducks are looking to save a little dignity.

Both the Wildcats and the Ducks will enter into Saturday’s game hoping to salvage something of their season. The Wildcats have been getting themselves back into legitimate NCAA Tournament talks again, but a loss to Oregon would almost certainly be a knock-out blow for the ‘Cats. Meanwhile, the Ducks have been horrendous in conference play this season and are looking to salvage at least their dignity during the second-half of conference play. Can the ‘Cats avoid the knock-out blow and stretch Oregon’s losing skid to 11 with their second true road win of the year? Read the rest of this entry »

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Game Preview: UA @ OSU

Posted by naterb on February 4, 2009

Roeland Schaftenaar

Roeland Schaftenaar gets around Jordan Hill for his only basket against the 'Cats in Corvallis last year.

Despite the fact that Arizona won handily (64-47) in their first match-up of the year, this game is no shoe-in. First of all since OSU’s loss in Tucson they have gone 4-2 with their only losses to Washington and Washington State. More impressive is that two of their wins are against CAL and Stanford on the road. Oregon State also seems to be piecing things together under Craig Robinson as they are looking to build upon a four game win streak – they’re longest of the year.

 

 

 

With 17.25 points per game over the course of the Beavers winning streak, Roeland Schaftenaar has established himself as a viable offensive threat. Despite his current tear, I don’t believe that he’ll continue to impress against Arizona. First of all in three of the four games the Beavers faced teams without an serviceable inside presence (CAL, STAN, and Cal State Bakersfield), so Schaftenaar had a significant advantage inside as well as spotting up against big men who were apprehensive about guarding him away from the block. Secondly, the other team in their streak, Oregon, has Josh Crittle and Michael Dunigan who are both serviceable defenders. During the Oregon game Schaftenaar was limited to only 9 points and 2 rebounds – which is only slightly better than his 9 points, 3 rebounds against Jordan Hill and Arizona last time out. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pre-Game: WAZZU@ ARizona

Posted by naterb on January 30, 2009

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).

 

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Game Preview: Washington @ Arizona

Posted by naterb on January 28, 2009

 

The Wildcats are up against the ropes desperately trying to avoid the knockout punch; which so many critics are waiting to fall. After a scare against Houston, the ‘Cats just might have the momentum and determination they need to go on an amazing second-half run to extend their current NCAA Tournament streak to 25. It will be no easy task, even at McKale Center, as they host Washington and their conference best 6-1 record.

Washington is for real, but their record may not be. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pre-Game: Houston @ Arizona

Posted by naterb on January 23, 2009

Despite their inconsistent play, the Wildcats have an air of confidence about them that they can play with and beat any team on their schedule. The unfortunate side effect from that have been a couple of quotes by Nic Wise and Zane Johnson producing bulletin board material for two of the tougher opponents they’ve faced. This time the Wildcats were given some bulletin board material of their own. “We just need to go out there and play hard,” Houston Cougar’s starting power forward Qa’rraan Calhoun told the Houston Chronicle. “We need to go out there and play our game. If everyone plays like they played tonight (vs. East Carolina) we’ll walk out of there with a victory.” Those are pretty bold words by the power forward who is yet to see a team as talented as Arizona yet this season – and on the road no less.

Kelvin Lewis goes up for a dunk. Photo from grfx.cstv.com

Kelvin Lewis goes up for a dunk. Photo from grfx.cstv.com

For the Wildcats Saturday’s game against Houston could be a warm welcome from the rigors of the PAC-10 where their troubles have continued to mount. Arizona is accustomed to playing a non-conference game this late in the season – as they have done five of the past seven years. Lute Olson scheduled these games as measuring sticks to see where the ‘Cats stand and what things they need to work on. This year however, their woes are painfully obvious, and the game will be a nice change after facing a tough three-game stretch against UCLA, USC, and ASU.

This is the fourth-straight year that Houston and Arizona will face off with Arizona winning the last two by an average of 20 points. But the Wildcats can’t jump ahead and consider this an automatic or even easy win. Houston is a very athletic team with a great inside-outside game. The bulletin board feeder (Calhoun) is a long, athletic player in a 6’8” frame that can pound inside and has a nice stroke from beyond the arc
Read the rest of this entry »

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The Rivalry

Posted by naterb on January 20, 2009

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Take it Personal: Arizona @ USC

Posted by naterb on January 17, 2009

The threat level of Arizona’s NCAA Tournament streak coming to an end has been heightened to critical after a blow-out loss to UCLA on Thursday. It’s not the single game that has put it there, it is a large accumulation of things. Ineffective defense, poor shooting and decision making, mostly non-existent bench players, points given up in transition, and a big donut in the road wins column. Arizona will get a chance to put a vertical number in the left column when limp into the Galen Center later today.

I’m going to keep this preview short, as in my mind there is really only one pressing issue for Arizona that will make or break any remaining hope for an NCAA Tournament bid. I’m sure you can figure what that is, but we’ll get there in a minute.

USC has shown significant strides over the more recent portion of the season. They hung tough against UCLA, and beat ASU – which should be no surprise to anyone that really pays attention to PAC-10 basketball. Sure they lost to OSU, but teams have bad games, mental lapses, or get caught looking ahead – don’t expect that to happen tonight at the Galen Center. You can expect Tim Floyd to have a defensive scheme to throw at Budinger, Hill, and Wise. Most likely a triangle and two with Hill and Budinger receiving heightened attention throughout the game.

Tim Floyd is known for catering his defensive schemes to individual schools based upon their strengths and weaknesses. Because of it the Trojans are ranked the ninth best defense according to pomeroy.com. They have built that ranking by being the 5th best team in the nation in blocked shots with 5.2 per game, and hold teams to 39% shooting from the field. DeMar DeRozan is being a very tough defender for the Trojans, but his inexperience may cause him problems against Budinger.

Offensively the Trojans are led by Dwight Lewis, Taj Gibson, and Daniel Hackett. Hackett is a tough-as-nails player who gets in opponents faces, dives for loose balls, and leaves it all on the court. But despite shooting over 51% as a team the Trojans have shown signs of inconsistency due to selfish play. The Trojans average 15.6 turnovers per game, only Oregon with 15.7 turns the ball over more in the conference, and have a 0.87 a/to! Their lack of cohesiveness as a team has led to some late game problems when the game is on the line. The Trojans’ turnover problems bring me to the pressing issue I alluded to earlier and my keys to the game.

Keys to the Game:

  1. Defense, Defense, Defense (Part 1)- USC, as I mentioned is the 5th best defense in the nation. Arizona… well… 111 before the thumping by UCLA on Tuesday. Arizona’s “Claw” defense is so ineffective the Wildcats may as well be sitting in lawn chairs while on the defensive end. Arizona needs to crank up the pressure and make some changes. I don’t care if it is going to a man defense, a 3-2 zone, or a 1-3-1. Just find something that works and do it!
    Projected Need: Force USC to shoot less than 40% on the night, and less than 35% from beyond the arc.
  2. Defense, Defense, Defense (Part 2) – Not only do they need to find a defense that works, they need to find one that can give them more opportunities to get out and run. The ‘Cats have been drastically outscored in points off turnovers during their three of their five conference games, and in five of their six losses of the season.
    Projected Need: Force USC into 15 turnovers, and limit their transition points to fewer than 8.
  3. Defense, Defense, Defense (Part 3) – It’s not just Arizona’s lack of perimeter defense that has been appalling, it’s how easily teams are able to break the zone defense and get the ball for wide-open jumpers around the free throw line. If that isn’t bad enough, they are allowing opponents to dribble penetrate past them which leads to offensive rebounds as Hill is forced to defend the ball leaving the weak-side rebound up for grabs.
    Projected Needs: Hill 6 defensive rebounds, Limit Gibson to 3 or fewer offense rebounds
  4. Battle on the Blocks: Jordan Hill and Taj Gibson, the conferences best two big men, will be going head to head. Gibson leads the conference in blocked shots (3.1 per game), and is second in rebounding (10.3 per game). Meanwhile, Hill is second in the conference in blocked shots (2.3 per game) and first in rebounding (11.8 per game). The Wildcats have gone away from Hill when he had a significant advantage over each team in conference play this year, they better not do the same tonight.
    Projected Need: Hill 16 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocked shots, 35 minutes
  5. Take it Personal: The Wildcats have seemed to have a ho-hum attitude ever since conference play began. I know they haven’t given up on Pennell & Co., but they certainly aren’t firing on all cylinders and aren’t playing with emotion. Arizona needs to take it personal if they want to keep their slipping chances for an NCAA Tournament bid within grasp. Defensively they need to be more aggressive. They need to take the shots they are given, and they need to play with a fire in their eyes as if this were the game that could burst their bubble.

 

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