Time: 6:30 p.m. MST
TV: KWBA / Fox College Sports
This isn't your Jay John-coached Oregon State Beavers team. The Arizona Wildcats are lucky to have this first game against the 11-5 Beavs in McKale Center, because with a rocky start to their Pac-12 Conference schedule, Sean Miller's crew will have more than a battle on its hands.
They'll have an all-out, galactic war, and a lot of things make this is a trap game.
There are several types of trap games. A trap game can be one where all the variables (match-ups, injury, venue, luck) go in the underdogs' favor. Or, a trap game can be fan-based, where history (McKale Center helps Arizona a lot, Oregon State is generally not good at basketball, etc.) clouds judgment.
The latter is what could happen against the Beavers.
Arizona's exhibition loss to Seattle Pacific is non-qualifying for either of these, but I think it could go under the label of a "What the hell just happened?' trap game.Arguably, the Beavers have a roster as talented as Arizona's. Guard Jared Cunningham, who you all remember for a gravity-defying dunk against the Wildcats last year, is back and better than ever. If I had a ballot (I don't) and this were the end of the season (it's not), I'd have Cunningham down as the Pac-12 Player of the Year. He has support in shifty backcourt-mate Ahmad Starks, who is second on the OSU team with 13.7 points per game.
But the Beavers have size as well. 270-pounder Joe Burton mans the middle alongside Eric Moreland (6.8 rebounds per game) and Devon Collier, who are on the thin side. Burton's bruising game and the thin-yet-lanky frames of Moreland and Collier give OSU a good rebounding and hard-to-dissect defense.
Craig Robinson's team, like the 11-5 Wildcats, don't have any monumental victories on their resume, but defeating a solid California team that many believe could win the conference hints that they're for real. So too is a 100-95 win against the Texas Longhorns earlier in the season.
Maybe Arizona shouldn't be considered the favorite in this one, because something revolutionary will need to come about if they want to win. Like the UCLA Bruins that with their length essentially fenced off any interior scoring by Arizona, the Beavers have length and athleticism in the middle. Plus, they have Burton, who pushed the Wildcats around quite a bit last season before he was thrown out of the game in McKale.
There could still be bad blood between Oregon State and Arizona, and by no means will it be the what we're used to seeing, an easy victory for the Wildcats at McKale Center.
Keys to the game
- The foursome of Josiah Turner, Nick Johnson, Brendon Lavender and Jordin Mayes must give Miller something more. Kyle Fogg will be expected to expend all focus and energy on keeping Cunningham quiet, so the other guards will need to give the Wildcats a boost of offense if they want a victory. And they can't turn the ball over against Cunningham (over three steals per game) and give OSU transition opportunities.
- Solomon Hill and Jesse Perry will be tested in this game. Both struggled against the size of UCLA, and it's likely the Beavers will be fine with allowing them to stand on the perimeter. The UA forwards have to either confidently hit their jump shots or find a way to score inside. At minimum, Hill and Perry must draw fouls and again frustrate the big men of OSU.
- This might be the first time I'm writing this, but it's questionable whether or not Arizona should get caught up in the Beavers fast-paced tempo. This is especially troublesome because Arizona has been turnover-prone of late. Add in the fact that OSU is fourth in the nation in scoring, and the Wildcats could likely best be suited playing a halfcourt, slower type of game to get their defense set. Then again, perhaps UA's shooter's can find their range if this one gets fast and furious.