It's fitting that college basketball projections guru Ken Pomeroy warned us: This 2014-15 season could very well be the slowest-paced season in the history of the sport.
The Arizona Wildcats easily can be blamed for some of this. The team's best shooters aren't its best players, and a defensive-minded outlook has made playing slow OK, so long as the Wildcats can win free throw competitions.
They did that in multiple games to win the Maui Invitational, but whether this is the M.O. moving forward or not remains to be seen. Right now, there is a Tuesday night matchup against Gardner-Webb to prep before Arizona faces a familiar Gonzaga team that it beat in last year's NCAA Tournament by pushing the pace.
Arizona has actually been quite efficient with a halfcourt offense and is shooting 47.7 percent -- even this early in the season that's a respectable number.
The problem for Arizona specifically is two-fold: If Sean Miller's team plays with reduced possessions, close games are closer. And if the Wildcats don't hit their free throws -- they're shooting 71 percent -- they can lose down the stretch. Plus, one would think getting Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson in transition would be helpful. It certainly was against Gonzaga last year.
But first, it's on to facing the small but talented enough Gardner-Webb Bulldogs.
What they've done so far
The Bulldogs roll into McKale Center with a 3-3 record and already some experience against Division I competition. Gardner-Webb opened the season with a 93-82 loss to an athletic LSU squad and managed to keep pace in the scoring department from the perimeter (their defense against the Tigers' post players was an issue that Arizona can and should expose). Coach Tim Craft's team also beat Clemson 72-70 when the those Tigers called for a timeout they didn't have in the final seconds, leading to Gardner-Webb's game-winning foul shots. But the Bulldogs have also lost to Seton Hall and Old Dominion when the shots weren't falling.
Key Gardner-Webb players
Tyler Strange, PG: Strange is one of few point guards who has better per-game assist numbers than Arizona's T.J. McConnell. Strange is averaging 7.2 assists a night to go with nearly 10 points, but like McConnell he's struggling to score the ball. The point guard is 0-for-16 in his last two games.
Jerome Hill, F: Averaging 18.5 points and eight rebounds per game at 6'5, Hill plays bigger than he is on a team that doesn't have much size. He's not a great shooter but nonetheless isn't afraid to get into the paint and take contact for the score or the foul. He's taking nearly 10 foul shots per game but only hitting 57 percent.
Jarvis Davis, G: The 6' shooting guard is grabbing six boards per game himself and is also a deadly three-point shooter who is hitting 45 percent from deep. How (or if) he gets shots off against Arizona's length will be important to note.
How the Wildcats win
Arizona should be able to clog the lane to some degree against a team that, like the Wildcats themselves, isn't fantastic at shooting, outside of a few players. Gardner-Webb, unlike Arizona, will take shots from the perimeter that maybe it shouldn't. If those shots go in, it could be a game. But if the Wildcats can contest, rebound against a team with 6'7 center Tyrell Nelson, and run, it could help develop a few points of emphasis that will serve Arizona well leading into Saturday's big showdown with the Bulldogs out of Gonzaga.
7 p.m. MST