As the football team is practicing this week, and using the bye week to heal up, (Get well soon, Matt Scott, we need you.), the attention of Wildcat fans shifts to the Arizona men's basketball team. Excitement is high after the Wildcats decimated the Idaho State Bengals, 42-90. While some of that excitement obviously needs to be tempered moving forward, just how much remains to be seen. I, personally, am very happy to see the level of defense being played by the Wildcats. My biggest pet peeve with basketball is when a team expects to win by simply out-scoring their opponents in a shoot-out. Defense, ladies and gentlemen, is what will ultimately be the deciding factor in whether or not Arizona starts a new streak of NCAA tournament appearances this season.
The first real test of the season will be tomorrow, when the New Mexico State Aggies come to Tucson. The Aggies are 2-0 this season, and were 22-12 in the regular season in the 2009-2010 season. This will be the first real test of the Arizona defensive game. While New Mexico State is not a ranked team, they certainly are a team that will compete for a tournament berth this season, and will be a good barometer for how Arizona will fare against top-tier opponents moving forward.
Coach Sean Miller certainly doesn't seem to be taking this game lightly. "We're playing a number of quality opponents, but New Mexico State doesn't take a back seat, really, to any of them." "Those guys expect to win. They don't have as hard of a time playing on the road, and that confidence makes them a consistent and very dangerous team."
I'm taking Arizona to win this one, but I'm not sure by how much. The deciding factor in this game will certainly be how well Arizona plays defense. The Aggies are averaging 93.5 points per game off of their 3 pointers alone. While those numbers are skewed by less-than-stellar opponents, Arizona will still need to take away that aspect of the Aggies game. Once again, I have absolute faith in the Wildcats to pull out the win at McKale. The margin of victory, not coincidentally, will heavily influence my opinion of the Arizona defensive game. A single digit win, and I'll be concerned. A ten-point win, and I'll be cautiously optimistic. A win by eleven or more points, and I'll be excited about Arizona's chances in the Pac-10 and beyond.
I don't know about anybody else, but I'm pretty amped up to watch this game, and get a better idea of just how good the Arizona defense really is.
(Correction: I mistakenly listed Arizona's first opponent as Iowa State. It was Idaho State, and I have corrected the mistake. Thanks to AZ Desert Swarm member trailsprinter for pointing it out.)