Bumped. GO BRUINS. - BN Eds.
The #25 Bruins tip off against the #1, and undefeated, Arizona Wildcats at 6:05 PM PT tomorrow night at Pauley Pavilion. Guess What? The game will be televised on ESPN, and our favorite, Bill Walton will be doing the color. Let’s hope the Bruins give us something to tune in for besides Bill’s hilarious, but true, attacks on the regime.
Weird scheduling by the PAC 12, again. We play our biggest rival exactly once this year, and like the JustSC game, it comes early in the league schedule. What are they thinking? Normally, I’d say this is the biggest game of the year, but there’s just so much season left. However, we don’t have a real statement win, and this would do it. We did beat them three times last year. In that first 83-74 win at Tucson, David Wear had 15 points and 8 rebounds (I feel like I must have the twins mixed up here). In the PAC 12 tournament, Jordan Adams was the best player on the court.
I mention that for a reason. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that in order to win, we have to keep their bigs off the boards, and stop an Arizona dunk fest from ever starting. If we get some offensive production as well from our bigs, so much the better, although, as I will discuss later, it’s our guards, Jordan, Kyle and Zach, who I expect and hope will go off, and put us in a position to win. But make no mistake, these bigs are athletic and physical. They will push our "softer" bigs around...or at least try.
We did hear a similar story going into that first game last, year, and although Sean Miller still isn’t going to win the John Wooden Genius Coach Award, he doesn’t have to. They’re better, and mainly because they added T.J. McConnell, a transfer from Duquense, the PG and 6’9", athletic freshman combo forward Aaron Gordon. Meanwhile, trading Lyons for McConnell made the other three starters, Johnson, Ashley and Tarczewski all step it up since last year.
By the numbers, Arizona ranks #2 in the nation in defensive efficiency, allowing less than 55 ppg. They rank 31st in rebounds with 37 per game. Add in to those stats, 5.7 steals and 5.1 blocks. The other side of the picture is, however, on paper, they don’t seem like much on offense. At 75 ppg, they rank 125th in the country, while we’re 8th at 87 ppg. Individually, the scoring is fairly balance, with 2 guard Nick Johnson averaging 16.0, Gordon 12.4, 6'8' Ashley 11.9, 7'0" Tarczewski 9.9, and seventh down the list is McConnell at 6.4.
So what are the weaknesses on the #1 team? Well, let’s start with free throws. They’re OK as a team at 68%, but Gordon, who plays 30 mpg, is at 45%. They basically go 7 deep, if that many. McConnell is a solid, pass-first PG, but you don’t have to worry about him shooting the rock at all, and finally, while their team defense is great, the guards are solid, but you won’t write home to mom about them.
So how do we win this game? I’ll tell you what I would do, but let me preface by saying that Coach Alford had not shown a propensity for change. The minutes adjust around the edges, and there may be a few more or less possessions in zone and press from game to game, but generally speaking, the patterns are the same.
With that said, the first thing I’m going look for at the opening tip-off is our defensive match-ups. This game does scream zone because their FG% is a pedestrian 48% and only 37% from 3. All the dunks inflate their stats. The is risk is the weakness of the zone is, particularly with this team, not rebounding well. Nevertheless, knowing that they will certainly spend the first 5-6 minutes in M2M, I’d like to see Norman Powell covering Nick Johnson-why waste him on the slow-footed, non-shooting McConnell. Kyle can play off him, and help down low. Alford will probably have Jordan on Johnson, but I might try something outside of the box, and put him on Gordon. Sounds weird, especially with Gordon’s 3 inch height advantage and athleticism around the bucket, but Gordon also thinks of himself as a 3 and loves to hang around the perimeter. Further, he’s post moves are not that good. I can really see Jordan smacking away at Gordon, going for the steal.
I would also want to foul them, particularly Gordon. Alford, in his presser, already said he doesn’t expect to do that. I question this-it’s a legitimate and obvious strategy. Alford said he didn’t have the manpower at the big. Interesting statement. Recall after Travis came back, how relieved Alford was to be able to go "9 deep." Well we now that option never materialized. Alford has Bail MIA, Travis never recovered, and Tony has been inconsistent. Though I wouldn’t want Bail in during the deciding minutes in a tight game, I most certainly would put Wannah in there to spell Jordan for 3 minutes in each half to hack away at Gordon.
BTW, Washington played them close for 30 minutes. They battled the bigs to a draw, and the guard Wilcox, went off for 20 points. Then 6'9" Shawn Kemp Jr, fouled out, and Arizona wore Washington down to win by 9. The playbook worked, but not for a whole game.
Arizona beat Drexel 66-62, and Duke, who slaughtered us in the second half, 72-66 in MSG. They are favored by 4 points tomorrow night. Basketball is about winning the matchups. We’re not going to win five matchup-probably not even three. I do expect and hope that we will win the two guard matchups by a big margin. We are playing 4 guards to their 2 (OK 2.5 including York). We need Kyle and Jordan (do not miss layups tonight!) to combine for 45, and Zach and Bryce to combine for 30. If I’m the coach, based on my vast experience with 8th graders, I tell the bigs not to worry about points, just keep their three bigs off the boards. I give them goals-I want to see you grab 8 rebounds and limit your man to 15 points. And finally, as a team, play hard for 40 GD minutes-two full halves, and play fast because Arizona slows it down. It’s a tall order for this group.