Tonight, the Arizona Wildcats take on the Texas Southern Tigers in Tucson. Tonight’s game gives Arizona an opportunity to play the sort of plucky small conference team that they could face early in the NCAA Tournament. Let’s take a look at some of the things to watch for in tonight’s game.
Can Arizona shoot better from 3?
Three point shooting has been a struggle for the Wildcats so far this season. Lauri Markkanen is the teams best shooter (leading the team in attempts at 26 and in 3PT% at 38.5%), but the guards have been disappointing. Parker Jackson-Cartwright has been particularly disappointing, shooting only 26.3% from deep. The sample sizes we’re dealing with here are pretty small, but it’s still concerning that the team is only averaging 33.7% from three.
Texas Southern does a good job closing out - its opponents are shooting only 30.2% from three so far this season - but it hasn’t played anyone with nearly as much talent as Arizona. This game presents a nice opportunity for the Wildcats to get their shooting back on track.
Will the experience of Texas Southern help them stay in the game?
Fun fact: only one team the Wildcats have played so far this season is as experienced as Texas Southern. That team is Cal State Bakersfield, which gave the Wildcats a surprisingly amount of trouble a couple of weeks ago.
The Tigers are led by junior guard Zach Lofton and senior guard Dulani Robinson. Key contributors Kevin Scott, Lamont Walker, and Marvin Jones are all upperclassmen. In fact, the only underclassman who significantly contributes is sophomore forward Derrick Griffin.
The trouble for Texas Southern is that these guys are mostly transfers - Lofton came from Illinois State, Robinson from Pacific, Jones from Kent State, and so forth. So while Texas Southern has a lot of experience in big games (the Tigers made the NCAA Tournament each of the last two years and upset Michigan State in December 2014), these particular players don’t have that pedigree. The question is whether that experience, even if gleaned at other institutions, will pay off in a big game like this.
Can the Wildcats pull off a decisive win?
That’s where the trouble is for the Wildcats. If Texas Southern can hang around late and threaten to pull off an upset, there’s a ripple effect for the Wildcats. The bench is already short, as Allonzo Trier is still unavailable, so a close game late means more minutes for Arizona’s scholarship players. More minutes for scholarship players means more risk for injury, but also more mileage generally. And given that the Wildcats have to go play Gonzaga in Los Angeles on Saturday, that’s bad.
This is the first of many difficult games for Texas Southern. Coach Mike Davis makes it a point to put together a murderous non-conference schedule every season, and the Tigers still have to play Louisville, Cincinnati, LSU, TCU, and Baylor, all on the road and all before the end of the year. If the Wildcats can shoot a little better and stay composed against an older, more experienced team, they might be able to put this game to rest early and begin preparing for the Zags.