Has it really been two months since I last wrote a Friday Fizz column? Well, that’s life in the fast lane for you. Let’s get right down to business.
WR Austin Hill is one of Arizona's key players returning in 2013.
Arizona basketball now has half as many wins as the percentage increase in my 2013 healthcare plan according to a statement I received in the mail Thursday. While the federal government has conveniently pulled the wool over our eyes in erasing “affordable” from the AHA what hasn’t proven to be a falsehood is the quality of this year’s Wildcat men’s basketball team. Simply put, Arizona is loaded and thus far they have absolutely demolished the competition. The schedule will quickly ramp up in the next 15 days, which should give Wildcat hoops fans the ability to create an honest evaluation of just how much Arizona can achieve during conference play and the postseason tournaments. What’s to like is the fact that Arizona has 10 quality players on the roster, all capable of carrying the load for stretches at a time. This makes Arizona a difficult team to defend because it makes double-teaming anyone on the floor irrelevant and protects the Wildcats from having one of its stars go cold on any given night. Arizona has scored 90-plus points in each of its last two games and is now averaging over 85 points per outing. Impressively, the caliber of Arizona’s defense has not dropped off, which has served to produce three consecutive blowouts.
Looking ahead, Arizona has three critical games bunched between now and Dec. 15. The ninth-ranked Wildcats take to the road for the first time this season when they visit Texas Tech Saturday night in Lubbock. The Red Raiders (4-0, 0-0 Big 12) have literally played nobody, but they are averaging 88 points per game to go along with 42 rebounds per contest. Arizona should win, but going on the road brings with it no guarantees. Arizona has four freshmen on the roster that play, two who start, and have seven new scholarship players total. The travel itinerary, proper nutrition, and “bed time” will be critical components of this trip. Expect Sean Miller to run a spirited shootout Saturday morning at TT to let his players know that being business-like on the road is half the battle. After a home date against Southern Miss, Arizona then travels to ACC country to face Clemson (4-2). The teams have beaten a similar foe in UTEP in decisive fashion as Clemson knocked off the Miners 69-48. Again, the Tigers are a beatable opponent, but the road trip requires a longer flight, Clemson plays very hard half-court defense, and the ACC is still the ACC. Translation, Clemson’s athletes will be better than any other school’s athletes the Wildcats will have faced to this point in the season. After Clemson Arizona closes its tough stretch against No. 7 Florida (6-0, 0-0 SEC). The Gators absolutely woodsheded Marquette Thursday night, 82-49. Florida employs a 3-2 match-up zone that can get incredibly nasty at times, especially with big men Patric Young and Erik Murphy manning the painted area to protect against dribble penetration. With lightning quick guards like Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario (both seniors) running the show, any talk of an undefeated non-conference run by Arizona will be premature until this game goes final. Fortunately for the Wildcats, they’ll get a chance to avenge last year’s 78-72 overtime loss to Florida in the McKale Center.
Many Arizona football fans won’t recover from last Friday’s 41-34 loss to rival Arizona State until next year’s Territorial Cup is decided, and only then if Arizona emerges the victor. The loss was brutal, but sports can be brutally unfair. The lesson here is fans need to learn how to deal with it. The players have already moved on. Today they begin working to get better the next time they take the field and fans need to find a way to tuck away their own personal suffering and find it in their heart to be supportive while the learning curve under the new Arizona coaching staff takes effect. One thing is for certain, as difficult as the loss was as an 8-4 regular season record was clearly within Arizona’s grasp is that the loss should in no way distract from the team’s many accomplishments this season.
Sophomore running back Ka’Deem Carey turned in a Heisman-like performance this year and Arizona is now in the privileged position to market Carey on the national stage this off season with “Carey for Heisman” buttons, brochures and e-mails to voters across the country. Arizona also has a bona fide Belitnikoff Award nominee entering next season in Austin Hill. The sophomore receiver is already one of 10 finalists for the award this year, but is a surefire preseason selection come August. Why these things are positives is because they bring attention to the program, not just through press coverage but throughout the high school ranks as the Arizona coaching staff can use this recognition to lure future talents into the program. Couple Carey and Hill with Matt Scott’s 3000-plus yards passing and you’ve got an attractive offense to sell to recruits. Defensively, the good news is the defense worked for stretches, but rarely held up for the full 60 minutes. Considering the fact that Arizona was more banged up than a ’67 Dodge Dart in a Demolition Derby Marathon, it’s easy to see that a healthy and deeper Arizona defense has potential to do enough on Saturday’s to make winning a more common thing in Tucson in the years ahead.
And back to the Arizona players for a beat. The next time I fan wants to unload, consider senior receiver Dan Buckner’s reaction at halftime of the ASU game when the Arizona medical staff informed him that his ankle was in too bad a condition to play in the second half. Buckner cried. Also consider that the same Buckner did actually take to the field with 1:59 remaining as the Wildcats attempted a desperately needed onside kick. Buckner was nearest the football as it shot out of bounds and as Buckner was slowing down he could be scene clearly hopping on his lone healthy foot. For these players winning is important in the present, but heart is what helps humans persevere.
Speaking of stars, what Nick Johnson is accomplishing on the hardwood has been impressive. The sophomore guard who I aptly dubbed “Limelight” since his first game as a Wildcat last season is boasting an eye-popping 5:1 assist to turnover ratio through Arizona’s first four games. That’s elite point guard material, yet Johnson mans the shooting guard position. Meanwhile, Arizona’s starting point guard Mark Lyons has 12 assists and 11 turnovers. Do I smell controversy? The answer is no. Miller doesn’t want to disrupt Johnson’s rhythm at the 2-guard and that’s smart, saying as much following Wednesday’s 93-50 win over NAU. Besides, Arizona’s offense isn’t predicated on having the point guard play traditional roles in high school-style “Flex” offenses. Further, having two point guards on the floor to start games is a bonus, particularly in Miller’s offense where dribble penetration off of kick out passes is a recipe for success.
It was reported Thursday that USC defensive coordinator Monty Kiffin will resign after the Trojans play their bowl game. In other words, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden can’t fire Lane Kiffin just yet so instead the Trojans will make it look like they are being accountable for the team’s losses this season by scrapping the Tampa 2. Smart move considering the last thing USC needs right now is a new head coach smack dab in the middle of NCAA sanctions. If Lane Kiffin has proven anything at USC it’s that he can recruit. The Trojans can’t make any mistakes with only 15 scholarship players to dole out so let Kiffin do his thing on the trail, cope with the losses on the field (more will follow next season guaranteed) and then make the big coaching change during the off season when USC’s scholarship allotment jumps back to 25.
As I get older I find myself delving deeper and deeper into college sports while moving further away from the professional stuff. Making the transition easier is the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers have no offensive line, the Boston Celtics are borderline unrecognizable, the trader Ray Allen is hitting clutch shots for the Miami Heat, and my beloved Montreal Expos are now playing in sin city, and no I’m not referring to Las Vegas.
USC coach Lane Kiffin gives his dad Monty a pat on the back while exiting him stage right.
On a happier note, the Kentucky Wildcats fell to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 64-50 Thursday proving once again that there is a God. Puns aside, I was growing tired of hearing how great Kentucky is from the usual spoke holes. This isn’t to say that Kentucky won’t be great by season’s end, but for once let’s just step back and recognize how good last year’s Kentucky team was, realize that the starting five from that club is all but gone, and understand that last season’s success doesn’t automatically translate into a preseason Top 10 ranking following a major roster overhaul. If there’s one good thing about the BCS Rankings in football, and believe me when I say there is only one good thing, it’s that the BCS rankings don’t come out until the near midpoint of the football season. Perhaps basketball can borrow a similar page and at least hold off any “real” rankings until after the Thanksgiving basketball tournaments have been played. Already, several preseason teams have been dropped from the rankings with the biggest fall being that of the overhyped UCLA Bruins who went from No. 11 to the outside looking in following a 5-2 start that included losses to Georgetown (very respectable) and Cal Ply (very unrespectable), as well as a 80-79 overtime nail biter at home to UC Irvine.
If I could have my pick of only three teams that Arizona “must” play in basketball by 2016 I’d go with the Indiana Hoosiers, Michigan State Spartans and Kansas Jayhawks. Tom Crean is the perfect fit for Indiana and has the Hoosiers rolling right now. Tom Izzo is my favorite coach not named Sean Miller, and has been for more than a decade. The guy can flat-out coach, and ironically Miller is very similar to Izzo in his approach to the game in that deep down he wants to run, but wants his defense to ignite the break instead of out-of-control offense and poor shot selection. As for Kansas, Arizona has played the Jayhawks plenty of times, but that’s the point. I can’t remember a “bad” Arizona-Kansas basketball game. Further, many have served to produce some incredible moments, comeback victories and heartbreaking losses for both programs throughout the years. After all, isn’t that the point of big-time college hoops; playing in great games that fans and alumni talk about for decades. Hopefully Arizona will borrow a page of Lute Olson’s book of playing anyone, anywhere, anytime.
I could go on and on, but the cough medication is starting to kick in.
Bear Down, Everyone! And Bear Down, Arizona!
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