December 14 , 2008
Line: Zags by 5
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No. 4 (AP)
No. 4 (USA Today)
NR (USA Today)
The Arizona basketball program can't wait until 2009. For the past year, the program has gone through major changes which has taken away a number of promising recruits as well as a hall of fame coach. The amount of things that have gone against Arizona has been staggering. They were supposed to have guys like Emmanuel Negedu, Jeff Withey, and Brandon Jennings this year but they all opted for different futures because of uncertainty in the coaching position. Their 2009 recruiting class was supposed to consist of Abdul Gaddy, Solomon Hill, and Mike Moser but all three have decommitted. The funny thing about Arizona, however, is that they do not appear to be phased. They are 6-2 on the season and have a trio of players that is about as good as anyone else in the nation. When these two teams take the floor in Phoenix, it is going to be a run and gun kind of game that should be very appealing to the senses.
I think that it is safe to say that we would be talking about a whole different Arizona basketball team this year if Kyle Fogg and Jamelle Horne would not have committed this season's bonehead plays of the year against UAB in the NIT Season Tip Off. The 'Cats had the game sealed until that point and would have been headed for a match up with Oklahoma, a team that they could have given a run. Instead they lost the game and lost out on a big time opportunity. Arizona is 6-2 now and features three of the best players in the nation. Chase Budinger leads the charge for Arizona, averaging nearly 20 points and 6 rebounds a game. He is going to be a match up nightmare due to his unreal athleticism and shooting range. He is a bona fide All-American candidate. Jordan Hill is making a strong case to be one of the best big men in the nation. Hill has been lights out so far this season averaging 18 points and 13 boards a game. Hill is thin at 6'10'', 235 lbs but his athleticism makes him a great inside-out threat. Hill has struggled with fouls in big games this season. In both of Arizona's losses, Hill has had 4 fouls. Rounding out the big three for the Cats is Nic Wise. Wise is a supremely talented, but inconsistent guard. He's averaging 13 points and 5 assists a game which is respectable but he sometimes lacks the restraint to stop shooting when he is cold. Against UAB he was 4-15 and was really frustrated. He loves to shoot the three and if he gets hot, watch out because he is a player that rides emotional waves. The Cats will ride these three as far as they are willing to take them. Their next best performer is Horne with 8 ppg but depth is something that Arizona does not do well.
Halfway through writing the Arizona breakdown, I kept having all these thoughts about how they look like a Gonzaga team of old. With this year's Bulldogs, that is no longer the case. This team is deep and talented. The Zags have six guys that can light it up on any given night. Five average double figures in Josh Heytvelt, Austin Daye, Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, and Micah Downs. Steven Gray is .01 ppg away from averaging 10 points a game. Looking at the names of the teams Gonzaga has beaten, you have to be impressed. Oklahoma State, Maryland, Tennessee, Indiana, and Washington State all have big time names. While the names look good, those teams are only 29-15 so far in the early season play. Arizona might just be the toughest test for the Zags on the early season, right up there with Tennessee. With all that being said, Gonzaga is still undefeated and the fourth-ranked team in the nation so they deserve respect. While they have passed their early season tests, the hardest part of the nonconference still awaits with the Wildcats, Connecticut, another game with Tennessee, and against Memphis in Spokane.
Looking at how these two teams match up you have to like what you see in some of the individual match ups. Get ready Zag fans because you are about to see the real Josh Heytvelt in the next couple games. The match up to watch tomorrow is Heytvelt and Jordan Hill. If your a Wildcat fan, you have to be excited with the development of Hill. He's been an absolute monster in the interior for Arizona and is probably the most athletic big man in the country. He can extend out to the free-throw line and hit shots and has really polished his interior game. Josh is one of the most jumpy big men in the nation who literally has no range. The caveat with this match up and something which could really kill this match up is foul trouble. Both have been foul prone so far and it would really be a crime if this was to happen tomorrow. I'm interested to see how Mark Few defends Arizona tomorrow. I'd imagine that he would mix in a great deal of zone to stop Jordan Hill but we've seen the Zags get assualted on the boards thanks to the zone. I'd assume that we would see Micah Downs focus on Chase Budinger throughout the game. Budinger has been lights out and Downs is about as good a defender as the Zags have. Budinger is going to get his, but I think Downs can negate him a bit.
There are a lot of good storylines for this game. Recruiting wise, I am hoping that Jeff Withey has a front row seat for this game. Withey, a high profile transfer in the mold of Josh Heytvelt, is considering Gonzaga. The main storyline for tomorrow's game has to be whether or not three guys can beat five guys. As I mentioned, Budinger, Wise, and Hill are great player and they are going to make plays. The key for Gonzaga is to pressure these three and make someone else beat them. If Micah can frustrate Budinger or Heytvelt can get Hill in foul trouble, I see this game being no problem. If the opposite happens and Budinger goes off and Hill dominates the interior, Arizona is fully capable of winning this game. I don't view this as a trap game because when you play Arizona, you don't overlook them. They are one of the most storied programs in the nation and unlike Indiana, they still have a lot of talent.
I don't think the Zags will take them lightly and for that reason I think they will come out victorious. I see it being an 6-8 point difference all game and then Jamelle Horne will foul alot at the end, because that is what he does, to give Gonzaga an 84-70 victory tomorrow in Phoenix.