If anyone tries to tell you they know what's going to happen tonight in Tucson, do us all favor and punch them in the brain. Nobody likes a liar. Least of all an arrogant one. And no one knows what to expect this evening. After all, how could they given what we've seen from each of these teams?
First off, our Jayhawks: winners against Washington and Temple, who themselves have quality wins over Oklahoma State and Tennessee, respectively. And though ultimately losers, they also controlled a good Syracuse team for 38+ minutes. As we all know, the loss should not be discounted, but it was something to build on for a young team. And then came the inexplicable loss to UMass in which the young Jayhawks played (hopefully) as poorly as they possibly can. So quite obviously, while we've seen more good than bad thus far we really don't know what to expect - especially given this is the first real road game for everyone not named Sherron Collins. Could they come out and play their best game of the year? Sure. But it seems far more likely that the opposite could happen. We'll know in twelve hours.
As many mixed signals as the Jayhawks have given us this year, Arizona is even more bewildering. They have a match-up nightmare and possible lottery pick in Budinger to go along with fellow first-rounder Jordan Hill and a very talented PG in Nic Wise. Yet they've played well approximately one time this year. By now you all know that they beat fourth ranked Gonzaga in Tucson nine moons ago. An impressive win to say the least as Gonzaga has proven to be a very legitimate top ten team. But aside from that game, there's little to suggest that the Wildcats are anything more than a mid-tier team with some top tier talent.
At 7-3, Arizona has a win over Gonzaga and pretty much no one else. Their second best win to date is probably over Santa Clara – and that one came by the wide margin of 3 points after trailing the entire second half. And they've been no better in the loss column with one inexplicably coming at home to UAB. Robert Vaden's a solid player, but a loss like this is inexcusable. After winning a few throwaways they went to College Station, led A&M the whole way before collapsing late and losing to the Aggies. I'm not sure what to make of this loss as A&M (10-1) does have two other quality wins (Alabama & LSU), but there's also a loss to Tulsa mixed in there and little else to speak of. And lastly, after their confidence building win over Gonzaga, they went to Vegas and were basically dominated by UNLV as the Rebels took a 13-10 lead halfway through the 1st half and never let it go. From the tournament we know UNLV to be a solid team and Wink Adams a tough guy to contain, but dominant they are not. And yet they controlled this game throughout.
A long story short, they're pretty much the same team they were a year ago – loaded with talent and potential, but horribly unorganized without any discernible direction and completely incapable of developing consistency of any kind. The last two losses are plenty excusable, but more telling to me is that they seemingly haven't played well against anyone other than Gonzaga the entire year. But as we all know, that KANSAS across our chests tonight will likely bring out a similar focus and intensity in them, as tends to happen. And to think, all of this turmoil could have been avoided had Miles Simon and the former Mrs. Lute Olson just been a little more discrete with their infidelities.
As I said above, I don't have a clue what's going to happen tonight. Just like everybody else. But I'm leaning towards a Jayhawk loss and hoping I'm wrong. And since I don't like predicting those and our colleague GingerBalls is on a roll lately, we'll defer to him for a prediction down below. But for now, you'll have to live with three quick keys to a Kansas victory.
1. Patience. This will come from Sherron, but must be exercised by everyone. We have a tendency to get hurried up and turn the ball over or force bad shots (which are de facto turnovers) when we get on our heels. Arizona's bound to make a run or two tonight and how we respond will determine if we're in this one for 40 minutes.
2. Crash the glass. For some reason, when I watch this team it feels like they let a lot of rebounds get away, but we always end up with more the opponent with that margin currently at 10/game. Aside from Jordan Hill (and Budinger, to an extent), Arizona is not a great rebounding team so we have a chance to steal some possessions/points and limit their second chances by focusing here. In what should be a close game, easy points could be the difference.
3. Defend (the right way). Budinger is a match-up nightmare for anyone – most of all, us, as we'll likely have 6'3" Brady Morningstar on him the majority of the time. So he's going to get his points. What we need to really concentrate on is taking Wise out of his game and playing solid defense on Hill without getting in foul trouble. I think Bill will start with Tyshawn on Wise and Morris on Hill, but who knows if that will last. If it does, then I think we're in this game for the long haul with a chance to get one back after the UMass debacle.
Hawks 78 - Ghost of Lute Olson Past 74