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Game Plan: Arizonaís phase two - Brennan/ESPN

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    Default Game Plan: Arizonaís phase two - Brennan/ESPN

    http://espn.go.com/blog/collegebaske...onas-phase-two

    It is a testament to how good Arizona has been for so long that today, Feb. 3, is the first in which it is appropriate to talk about what they canít do, what they donít have, what adjustments they need to make.
    It is also, of course, a testament to Brandon Ashley.
    On Saturday night, the best and most balanced team in the country lost its first game of the season. It did so at Cal in a brutal shooting performance that persisted until the final minute, when guard Nick Johnson earned a great 15-foot look at a go-ahead bucket and just plain missed. Calís Justin Cobbs took a much more difficult shot on the other end -- a 17-foot step-back baseline jumper over Kaleb Tarczewski -- and banged it. Cal fans stormed the court with time on the clock, Mike Montgomery screamed at them like a frustrated high school dean of discipline and then Cal fans stormed the court again, joyously and officially, when the clock said zero.
    [+] EnlargeAP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezNick

    Johnson and Arizona finally fell, but the Wildcats -- even with the loss of Brandon Ashley -- are still set up to be a championship contender.



    All of this was very fun. It was also no big deal to Arizona. The Wildcats shot horribly and lost a conference game on the road in the final minute; these things happen. In a vacuum, Sean Miller would have left that game feeling fine. No thinking fanís impression of Arizona would have changed. But Arizonaís loss was much greater than any single game. It lost Ashley, its starting power forward, to a broken foot that ended his season.
    Millerís immediate pessimism after the game Saturday proved prescient. Now he and the Wildcats have to figure out exactly what to do without one of their most important players. They have to find out whether a team without Ashley can be as good as one with him.
    There is some good news. If there is one position the Wildcats could afford an injury to, it is the frontcourt. Losing either point guard T.J. McConnell or All-American-level shooting guard Johnson would leave Miller with a gaping hole in his rotation. Losing Ashley still leaves the Wildcats with one of the best centers in the country (Tarczewski) and one of the most athletic, active forwards (freshman Aaron Gordon).
    But thatís also kind of the downside: Being bigger and more physical and more active in the paint is exactly the thing that has separated Arizona from most of the countryís national title contenders. And not only was Ashley great around the rim and on the glass, his ability to step outside and make spot-up shots (his second most-frequent play type, according to Synergy) kept the Wildcats from becoming too crowded and bogged down. It kept a strength from morphing into a weakness.
    On Saturday night, Miller said his staff needs to get back to the proverbial drawing board and "make sure we can move forward if Brandon is not with us." That if is now when. So what will that entail?
    It appears Miller has two options. The first is a simple insertion of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizonaís other hyper-athletic freshman, and maybe moving Gordon to the power forward spot. The problem with this is that both players do similar things, and neither spaces the floor like Ashley. (Cal all but begged Gordon to shoot Saturday night. He usually demurred.) The other option is Gabe York, the Wildcats' best 3-point shooter. York forces defenses to be honest out to the 3-point line, but heís also 6-foot-3 and offers little in the way of penetration. The latter option might make Arizonaís offense more efficient, its personnel less redundant. But it could cost the Wildcats their identity.
    The answer is not cut and dry, of course; Miller will play a combination of lineups, just as he has all season. Situation and opponent will often dictate the decision, and adjustments will be made. Still, just because Arizona lost a player at a loaded position doesnít mean the injury wonít profoundly change its season.

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    Thanks for posting. Brennan is a good writer and this was no exception. Things every Arizona fan knows but he has informed the rest of the country. Nice article.

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    Could we get Stanley Johnson to enroll early somehow?

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    can anyone post http://insider.espn.go.com/blog/jeff...n/post?id=3058 ?

    thanks in advance
    "if you're not bearin down, i dont know whatcha doin"

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    Originally Posted by jmoon View Post
    can anyone post http://insider.espn.go.com/blog/jeff...n/post?id=3058 ?

    thanks in advance
    It’s not quite the same as when Cincinnati’s Kenyon Martin broke his leg in the Conference USA tourney and was lost for the NCAA tournament, or even when North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall missed the remainder of the 2012 tourney after suffering a broken wrist in a second-round win. It won’t impact Arizona in the same manner that Robbie Hummel’s torn ACL affected Purdue four years ago.

    But Brandon Ashley’s season-ending foot injury, suffered in the opening minutes Saturday night at Cal, could derail the Wildcats' chances of winning the national title this year. Ashley’s numbers were far from gaudy, averaging just 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, but this team had won 21 consecutive games prior to his injury. Ashley was a major reason for Arizona’s effectiveness.

    This was a team that had established itself as the top team in the country. It had taken care of three top-20 teams -- San Diego State, Michigan and Duke -- and done so away from the friendly confines of the McKale Center. It had run the table through the month of January with a more challenging schedule than the other two unbeatens, Syracuse and Wichita State.

    Arizona had size, experience, quality guard play, leadership, toughness, a pure point guard and one of the elite young coaches in the country. It also had a group of players with established roles.

    Now coach Sean Miller will have to make alterations. He’ll insert talented freshman forwardRondae Hollis-Jefferson into the starting lineup. Many NBA types believe that Hollis-Jefferson, a long and athletic wing from Philadelphia who reminds some of former NBA lockdown defender Stacey Augmon, may be the best pro prospect on the team. However, Ashley was a critical piece of what made Arizona one of the prohibitive favorites to clip the nets in Arlington, Texas come April. Without him, this team just isn’t the same.

    Here are the major concerns with Arizona post-Ashley injury:

    Can they make shots with enough consistency to beat the big boys?

    This was not a great perimeter shooting team to begin with, and now the Wildcats have lost one of their better shooters. Arizona becomes far more "zoneable" to opposing teams without Ashley on the court. Ashley wasn’t a big-time scorer or shooter, but he was able to step out and make shots from midrange and even beyond the 3-point line (38 percent). He kept defenses honest. Hollis-Jefferson is more of a defender at this point in his career who gets baskets in transition and off his defense. Look for teams to play a ton of zone against the Wildcats -- especially when Hollis-Jefferson is on the floor. Aaron Gordon is not much of a shooter, and defenders will almost certainly sag, dare him to make perimeter shots -- which will clog up the paint and make it more difficult for Kaleb Tarczewski.

    Tarczewski will have to log major minutes and could wear down at the end of games, or come March.

    [+] EnlargeAl Bello/Getty ImagesAshley's ability to step out and make shots from midrange was huge for the Wildcats.


    When Tarczeswki needed a break or was in foul trouble, Ashley was able to slide into the center spot with Gordon at power forward, and that was enough size and athleticism to go up against just about anyone. Now Tarczewski, who has averaged 27 minutes per game thus far, will have to play even more because a front line of Matt Korcheck, Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson has its holes -- both on the glass and also with offensive limitations. Korcheck is considered a mid-major player, a local kid who was picked up by Arizona in case the program loses Gordon, Ashley and Tarczewski after this season to the NBA draft.

    Arizona loses arguably its most effective lineup and also its most versatile player.

    You can make a case that Arizona’s best group was with Ashley at the 5, Gordon at the 4 and Hollis-Jefferson at small forward. It was extremely difficult for opposing teams to match up with that trio. One of the primary reasons was because Ashley was able to step out and make shots from 15 to 18 feet. His presence also created space for Tarczewski to operate in the paint, and also driving lanes for Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell. The same cannot be said about Gordon or Hollis-Jefferson -- at least not with any consistency at this point. Ashley was also the team’s most versatile player and allowed Miller to play big (with Ashley at the 4) or small (with Ashley at the 5).

    Bench depth takes a major hit.

    With Hollis-Jefferson moving into the starting lineup, it leaves a gaping hole on the bench. This team wasn’t overly deep to begin with (the loss of Grant Jerrett to the NBA draft a year ago hurts now more than ever). The backcourt depth is solid with sophomore Gabe York, veteran Jordin Mayes and even freshman Elliott Pitts (a shooter who can defend), but there’s no proven big man. Korcheck isn’t considered to be "Arizona good" and the same can be said about Kansas transfer Zach Peters. That means Miller may be forced to go small at times -- with a three-guard lineup of Johnson, McConnell and York.

    The Wildcats may have issues with big, physical teams.

    This was not the case with Ashley in the lineup. Thus far, the front line was big, strong and athletic with 7-footer Tarczewski, 6-8 Ashley and 6-9 Gordon. These guys were able to overwhelm most opponents with defense, physicality and length. Hollis-Jefferson isn’t nearly as physical as Ashley. Arizona was one of the best rebounding teams in the nation and its best offense was arguably getting second shots, and now the Wildcats won’t be nearly as effective in that department without Ashley.

    Hollis-Jefferson has been effective and comfortable coming off the bench, but how will he react to moving into the starting lineup?

    There was virtually no pressure on the talented freshman, who has managed to slide under the radar all season because of the presence of Gordon -- and his teammates. Now Hollis-Jefferson becomes key for Arizona, someone who needs to make shots and also will have the microscope on him having to replace Ashley in the lineup.

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    Originally Posted by jmoon View Post
    can anyone post http://insider.espn.go.com/blog/jeff...n/post?id=3058 ?

    thanks in advance
    Itís not quite the same as when Cincinnatiís Kenyon Martin broke his leg in the Conference USA tourney and was lost for the NCAA tournament, or even when North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall missed the remainder of the 2012 tourney after suffering a broken wrist in a second-round win. It wonít impact Arizona in the same manner that Robbie Hummelís torn ACL affected Purdue four years ago.

    But Brandon Ashleyís season-ending foot injury, suffered in the opening minutes Saturday night at Cal, could derail the Wildcats' chances of winning the national title this year. Ashleyís numbers were far from gaudy, averaging just 11.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, but this team had won 21 consecutive games prior to his injury. Ashley was a major reason for Arizonaís effectiveness.

    This was a team that had established itself as the top team in the country. It had taken care of three top-20 teams -- San Diego State, Michigan and Duke -- and done so away from the friendly confines of the McKale Center. It had run the table through the month of January with a more challenging schedule than the other two unbeatens, Syracuse and Wichita State.

    Arizona had size, experience, quality guard play, leadership, toughness, a pure point guard and one of the elite young coaches in the country. It also had a group of players with established roles.

    Now coach Sean Miller will have to make alterations. Heíll insert talented freshman forwardRondae Hollis-Jefferson into the starting lineup. Many NBA types believe that Hollis-Jefferson, a long and athletic wing from Philadelphia who reminds some of former NBA lockdown defender Stacey Augmon, may be the best pro prospect on the team. However, Ashley was a critical piece of what made Arizona one of the prohibitive favorites to clip the nets in Arlington, Texas come April. Without him, this team just isnít the same.

    Here are the major concerns with Arizona post-Ashley injury:

    Can they make shots with enough consistency to beat the big boys?

    This was not a great perimeter shooting team to begin with, and now the Wildcats have lost one of their better shooters. Arizona becomes far more "zoneable" to opposing teams without Ashley on the court. Ashley wasnít a big-time scorer or shooter, but he was able to step out and make shots from midrange and even beyond the 3-point line (38 percent). He kept defenses honest. Hollis-Jefferson is more of a defender at this point in his career who gets baskets in transition and off his defense. Look for teams to play a ton of zone against the Wildcats -- especially when Hollis-Jefferson is on the floor. Aaron Gordon is not much of a shooter, and defenders will almost certainly sag, dare him to make perimeter shots -- which will clog up the paint and make it more difficult for Kaleb Tarczewski.

    Tarczewski will have to log major minutes and could wear down at the end of games, or come March.

    [+] EnlargeAl Bello/Getty ImagesAshley's ability to step out and make shots from midrange was huge for the Wildcats.


    When Tarczeswki needed a break or was in foul trouble, Ashley was able to slide into the center spot with Gordon at power forward, and that was enough size and athleticism to go up against just about anyone. Now Tarczewski, who has averaged 27 minutes per game thus far, will have to play even more because a front line of Matt Korcheck, Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson has its holes -- both on the glass and also with offensive limitations. Korcheck is considered a mid-major player, a local kid who was picked up by Arizona in case the program loses Gordon, Ashley and Tarczewski after this season to the NBA draft.

    Arizona loses arguably its most effective lineup and also its most versatile player.

    You can make a case that Arizonaís best group was with Ashley at the 5, Gordon at the 4 and Hollis-Jefferson at small forward. It was extremely difficult for opposing teams to match up with that trio. One of the primary reasons was because Ashley was able to step out and make shots from 15 to 18 feet. His presence also created space for Tarczewski to operate in the paint, and also driving lanes for Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell. The same cannot be said about Gordon or Hollis-Jefferson -- at least not with any consistency at this point. Ashley was also the teamís most versatile player and allowed Miller to play big (with Ashley at the 4) or small (with Ashley at the 5).

    Bench depth takes a major hit.

    With Hollis-Jefferson moving into the starting lineup, it leaves a gaping hole on the bench. This team wasnít overly deep to begin with (the loss of Grant Jerrett to the NBA draft a year ago hurts now more than ever). The backcourt depth is solid with sophomore Gabe York, veteran Jordin Mayes and even freshman Elliott Pitts (a shooter who can defend), but thereís no proven big man. Korcheck isnít considered to be "Arizona good" and the same can be said about Kansas transfer Zach Peters. That means Miller may be forced to go small at times -- with a three-guard lineup of Johnson, McConnell and York.

    The Wildcats may have issues with big, physical teams.

    This was not the case with Ashley in the lineup. Thus far, the front line was big, strong and athletic with 7-footer Tarczewski, 6-8 Ashley and 6-9 Gordon. These guys were able to overwhelm most opponents with defense, physicality and length. Hollis-Jefferson isnít nearly as physical as Ashley. Arizona was one of the best rebounding teams in the nation and its best offense was arguably getting second shots, and now the Wildcats wonít be nearly as effective in that department without Ashley.

    Hollis-Jefferson has been effective and comfortable coming off the bench, but how will he react to moving into the starting lineup?

    There was virtually no pressure on the talented freshman, who has managed to slide under the radar all season because of the presence of Gordon -- and his teammates. Now Hollis-Jefferson becomes key for Arizona, someone who needs to make shots and also will have the microscope on him having to replace Ashley in the lineup.

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