Zona Rise. That was the moniker given to this season by those who know the Cats best - the fans (and of course the insiders like ACE and co). We all expected this team to be a title contender. A high ranking squad that brought back the high standards of Arizona basketball.
After 12 non conference contests, it's hard to debunk any of those expectations. We stand undefeated, are ranked #3 in the country, have played in two late game thrillers and won both dramatically, and we just finished playing the hard teams in our schedule.
But as fans, we will always look at the bigger picture - the team underneath the rankings and record. And when your goal is a national championship, you can't just bask in meaningless achievements.
We have one of the deepest benches in the country. So far these season, nine guys have shown they can play quality minutes every game. And we have a great 7 man core. Each day a different guy can step up, so we don't depend on any one (or two or three) guy(s).
To say he exceeded expectations would be an understatement. He's been the most improved player by far and affects every aspect of the game positively. He's made big plays consistently. He's second in minutes played to Solo. That's enough to understand his value to this team.
Hill, Parrom, and Lyons are 3 of the best 4 players on this team so their leadership and play has been invaluable. In crunch time, all 3 are on the court for good reason. Since the Freshmen are not quite there yet, it's been these guys that have taken over and won games for us. Look at the last time Arizona was ranked this high... no surprise that strong seniors were involved then too.
Ask anyone preseason what Arizona could go undefeated in, and the reply would have been rebounding. With our size inside, experience at the 3 position, and athleticism of the guards, it seemed likely we would dominate the glass in all our games.
Well that reasoning proved faulty the first game of the season when Charleston Southern (yeah that's right) out rebounded us. And it happened again. If you want to know which games, just look at the ones decided within 10 points. That's not coincidence. The future of this team's success depends on rebounding. And so far, we are nowhere near where we could be. People will argue, "Well there have been lots of threes so those are hard to rebound". Well guess what folks? They are just as easy for our guys to rebound as the other team. And don't tell me our guys don't know long shots tend to force long rebounds.
Against Florida and SDSU, we got out hustled. There's no excuse for that. We've dominated the glass on a few games. We need to do it all games.
We lead the Pac12 in almost every category, including turnovers. Miller has said that that would be the doom of this team and its true. If we lose now, it'll be because we beat ourselves. No better way to do that than by averaging over 15 turnovers a game, out of which a third to a half are unforced, boneheaded plays. Zeus has demonstrated he could never be a receiver but at least he has time to learn. Lyons and Mayes on the other hand need to do a better job now.
The Freshmen Bigs.
They are close to the good category. They are an integral part of our team and are solid contributors. Brandon Ashley in particular has stood out, already posting two double doubles. In fact I wouldn't shy from putting him in the good column. Unfortunately though, as of right now, the group as a whole haven't been as dominating as they could be. And none have proved themselves 1st round draft pick quality yet, which I think is somewhat unfortunate. But they can (and likely will) get there.
Yes he hit the game winner against Florida. And the game winning free throws against SDSU. It seems he's always hitting big shots and he is our leading scorer. But with all those moments come those head-scratching turnovers, the ill advised shots, and the attitude. It was his fearlessness that allowed us to win many of our games. But you can't help but wonder other situations where he's fiercely called out his teammates. Or after the Florida game when all the guys were celebrating together and hugging each other and he ran by himself to the stands... 'the lone star.'
Now don't get me wrong... I'm not hating. Without him, we're probably 10-2 right now. He's a critical part to our team. And he will be throughout the season. But with him, you gotta take the good with the bad. Thankfully there's been a lot of good; he's been heroic time and time again.
Our three point to inside shooting ratio
We haven't been particularly dominating inside, largely because we 'settle' for three pointers. I personally think we should attack more, especially with our size and athleticism. We all know baskets closer to the bucket are higher percentage. And no one wants to live or die by the three. But we've managed to hit our shots when they mattered and overcome shooting woes (like against SDSU), so can't complain too much
Let's be honest, our schedule wasn't amazing. But given our play so far, if it was any harder, we're probably not undefeated right now. And given the schedule upcoming... yeah it gets worse. But let's do something special here and shoot to win them all. We can.
Beardown. Zona Rise.