Arizona Coach Sean Miller talks to his teams best friend this season, the Pac 12 refs. - Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
This is not the game ESPN says it is.
If you are ESPN you want to hype the game at 6 pm on ESPN2 Thursday night as a classic matchup of PAC 12 powers. You want to hype the good old days of UCLA at Arizona and a struggle for supremacy in the PAC 12 among two of the best teams in the nation. Of course there are a lot of problems with that.
Oregon has the most favorable schedule left to win the PAC 12 and has to be considered the favorite now to win the PAC 12 title. They are a game ahead of UCLA and Arizona in conference standings and are done with both of them. Oregon plays neither UCLA or Arizona again this season.
This is really a battle for tournament seeding.
Referees. Perhaps no team in the country has benefited from more bad calls than #6 ranked Arizona. In their upset win against Florida, a game in which Arizona was down late and made a furious comeback, Arizona shot 21 free throws to Florida's 8. This counter intuitive logic is typical of Arizona games, arguably no teams has got more calls done the stretch in more close home games. The Colorado game everyone who watches college basketball knows about but it was more than just the
game winning overruled last shot, it was also all the calls in overtime including Mark Lyons making like a football player and caring the ball on his hip with no call.
For UCLA's sake, I hope the
referees SPTR are feeling justifiable heat for their many mistakes favoring Arizona this season and minimize the most important part of Arizona's home court advantage.
Coaches. While Sean Miller is a good coach, he has not that good. Why? Yeah, Arizona had a spectacular freshman recruiting class, one of the top 3 but for the most part those guys have not lived up to it. His team's leading scorer is a transfer, Mark Lyons, his next best players are the leader Solomon Hill and the glue guy Kevin Parrom all seniors. Howland has done a better job with the Bruins freshman. (I realize a strong counter argument can be made that Arizona's seniors are much better but still Miller should be getting more from Ashley and company.)
This is not Lute Olson and Jim Harrick, this is the overrated vs. the soon to be unemployed.
On to the matchups.
Mark Lyons is the opposite of Larry Drew. A shoot first point guard who takes half his attempts from three. He averages almost as many turnovers as assists. He has made some clutch shots but is a gunner. If, big IF, Larry pushes on Lyons hard he could have an effect.
Solomon Hill is the team MVP. From last year as an undersized four he has become the small forward. He hits an impressive 43% of his threes and even passes the ball well. Hill is a kind of player every team wants. Shabazz Muhammad has the right physical make up to play him, for Hill will not be able to overpower or out-quick Shabazz but will Shabazz step up his game on D? You have to heavily favor the veteran but hope Shabazz takes the challenge.
Although he does not start the next most important player for Arizona is the "glue guy," Kevin Parrom. He is a good defender and I have to agree with the Arizona website when it states: "There is an effortless quality to his game ... Always seems to be around the ball ... Arizona's glue guy, a jack of all trades ... Possesses the ability to play multiple positions, and more importantly, the toughness to guard multiple positions." While Parrom doesn't start he plays more minutes than the starting 4 or 5.
Brandon Ashley was one of the biggest recruits in the country and now he starts has not played even 20 minutes a game in the last four close games. Kyle Anderson will have a strange game. He will be guarded by the athletic but raw Ashley and then the not as athletic but very smart defender Parrom or even Hill. I wish UCLA started well because the UCLA freshman are far ahead of the Arizona freshman.
The other starting big for Arizona is freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski. Kaleb is a back to the basket traditional center post up type. Travis should destroy him on the other side. On the flip side, he is not that good yet (not like Oregon's Tony Woods) but there is of course a big problem.
Arizona is the best rebounding team in the conference. So the lack of skilled posts ups may not hurt because of the potentially huge rebounding advantage for Arizona.
The Ducks outrebounded UCLA 40-31, marking the sixth time in the past seven games that the Bruins have been beaten on the boards by their opponent. UCLA currently ranks No. 11 in the Pac-12 in rebounding margin at minus-3.5 per conference game. That's not good news for Thursday's matchup, as Arizona leads the conference with a plus-7.6 rebounding margin per conference game.
Arizona's last starter is Nick Johnson. Johnson is a very good defender. He is a player that really worries me for just that reason. He can leap out of the building and made a big time blocked shot to help Arizona beat San Diego State. Nick plays big time minutes and Adams will need to step up on offense and out of his slump.
Grant Jerrett plays double digit minutes and is a completely different raw freshman big. He can shoot the three and has blocked the most shots. Jordan Mayes is the backup point guard who is fast and a bit out of control, like Oregon's Loyd. His speed could give Larry Drew problems on offense.
So there you go. Oregon's five solid but not great players beat Arizona as did a Colorado team with a couple really good players but for some very questionable calls. Which brings me to the next point Arizona's home court advantage this year has not been the fans dressed all in white but rather refs that give them many calls. For the sake of the conference I hope the PAC 12 sends it best refs as, the SPTRs more than Miller or any of the players, have been a key to Arizona winning so many close games. It has at times been embarrassing to the conference. This would be a good win for UCLA but this is not for the PAC 12 title, Oregon has a big lead there.