Arizona basketball is looking pretty good right now. With wins over the Stanford Cardinal and their hated in-state rivals the Arizona St. Sun Devils, there seems to be real hope that the Arizona Wildcats can not only make it into the NCAA tournament, but perhaps make it past the first round or two. But hold on, Wildcat fans. Arizona is exactly where they were predicted to finish. Second in the Pac-10 behind Washington.
While Arizona is one of those elite programs that can weather a few bad seasons and recover elite status, nobody will be willing to give any respect to the 'Cats until they earn it the hard way. So, it is clear what Arizona needs to do. Start beating the teams that are perceived to be better than they are, win the Pac-10, and make some serious noise in the NCAA tournament.
This will not be easy, and it may not happen this season. It is entirely possible that Arizona will hit a losing streak, and miss the NCAA tournament. Close wins could become close losses in a heartbeat if Arizona doesn't find some more consistent play from players not named Derrick Williams. I'm looking at you, Momo Jones.
Positives, negatives, and my pick for the game after the jump.
-Arizona will have the best player on the court. I don't want to hear any talk about Isaiah Thomas. It is my opinion that Derrick Williams is a better player than him, and not by a small margin. This is not a slight to Thomas, it is a statement of how impressed I am with Williams.
-Washington will be without Abdul Gaddy. While you never want to see an athlete get injured, no matter what color jersey they wear, this will clearly have a positive effect for Arizona. Before going down for the season with an ACL injury, Abdul Gaddy's field throw percentage was a gaudy 81.8%. I can assure you, this upcoming game would be much more difficult if Gaddy was healthy.
-Isaiah Thomas may have motivated the Arizona players. When asked if he had circled the upcoming Arizona game on the calendar, Thomas seemed very cocky. "I haven't," He said. "They probably have." Now, maybe he was just spouting off at the mouth. However, the appearance is that he is a cocky player that doesn't see much of a challenge ahead. If that is true, he is in for a rude awakening. Those comments have undoubtedly made their way into the ears of the Arizona players, and will certainly motivate them to practice a little harder heading into the game. If Thomas is unprepared, and plays cocky against 'Zona, Washington will lose.
-Isaiah Thomas. While I maintain that Derrick Williams will be the best player on the court tomorrow, Thomas is an elite talent that can take over a game. Even more dangerous, he makes his teammates better. Just ask Arizona coach Sean Miller. "It goes back to Isaiah Thomas. One of the reasons they are shooting so well, is he gets those guys shots constantly."
-Isaiah Thomas, again. According to Arizona F Solomon Hill, Thomas is quite the talented flopper. "He gets out there, he talks a lot of trash to people. He does certain things that other players don't do..." Asked what Thomas does that others don't. "He'll come off a screen, and he'll act like somebody socked him the face when he come off a screen and he'll flop all out. And he'll get the foul. He kind of did that last year with Derrick, and Derrick ended up fouling out quick."
In fact, Derrick Williams fouled out after less than 8 minutes of game time. It will be disastrous if Williams fouls out early tomorrow. Clearly, Williams is better at avoiding that kind of thing this season, but it has already happened once this year, against the Kansas Jayhawks, so it's not unforeseeable.
Based on the fact that Washington primarily runs a man defense, which has been easier for Arizona to work with than the zone this season, I'm giving Arizona the slight edge. While Isaiah Thomas may be too confident to circle this game on the calendar, the Wildcats aren't. They will be playing with a huge chip on their collective shoulders, and will absolutely be focused on this game.
I'm taking the Arizona Wildcats to pull out a gutty win in a hotly contested battle, 83-80.