The Arizona Wildcats entered Saturday’s tilt with the Oregon Ducks with a chance to put a stranglehold on the Pac-12 race, going clear of the second place Ducks by two games and by three over UCLA. Alas, as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friends”. It was a rough afternoon for Wildcat fans.
Here are three takeaways.
IT’S STILL JUST ONE LOSS
A little perspective is helpful here. We live in a world where whatever just happened is the best/worst thing that’s ever happened. So it would be easy to draw all kinds of conclusions after Saturday’s game (including, but not limited to, “Arizona is total garbage and was utterly exposed” and “Oregon is head and shoulders better than anyone else in the Pac-12 now”).
Sean Miller seemed to address this thinking, saying after the game, “I think a perspective is what's next. We're 21-3 and we're 10-1 in the Pac-12. We've played some great basketball, and the team we just got beat by has an identical record. They're also 21-3 and 10-1, and right now the season didn't end, it's not spring."
Oregon hammered the Wildcats, leading by as many as 37 and winning by 27, true. Oregon put on a shooting clinic, hitting 65% from the field and an ungodly 64% from three. On the year, Oregon hits 48% as a team and 36% from three, ranking 50th and 128th, respectively, in Division-1. In other words, Oregon is a pretty good shooting team that caught fire and never let up.
Arizona ran into a buzzsaw on this given afternoon, nothing more and nothing less. After all, the Ducks struggled to beat sub-.500 ASU just two nights before.
I absolutely tip my hat to Oregon. That was a “take ‘em behind the woodshed” performance. But it was also just one game, and on their, um, interesting floor. A return trip to Tucson would tell us a lot more about where these two teams stack up as it would double the sample size and clarify what home court meant. This was, however the only regular season matchup for these two programs. Perhaps the Pac-12 Tournament will provide a rematch. For now, Arizona must regroup and shake this loss off.
DUCKS AND CATS BEST TWO-WAY TEAMS IN PAC-12
Oregon ranks 35th in KenPom’s offensive efficiency and 13th in defense. Arizona ranks 30th and 22nd, respectively. No other Pac-12 team is in the top 40 in both categories. The Ducks played great on both ends Saturday while the Arizona performance on both ends was, shall we say, below expectations (for now let’s call it an outlier).
UCLA, for example, is 1st in offensive efficiency -- a bonafide offensive juggernaut -- but 134th in defense. California, playing much better of late, is the exact opposite, ranking 11th in defense, best in the league. But their offensive efficiency ranks 164th. Two other league contenders, Utah and USC, rank 45th and 53rd, respectively, in offense, and 72nd and 78th in defense.
In other words, Oregon and Arizona are the two best teams in the conference in terms of what they do on both ends of the court -- how efficiently they score and how inefficient they make the opposition. Neither is elite in either category right now, but because they play well in both phases, the Ducks and Cats will both give themselves opportunities to win in March.
For example, in the last 10 years, only Connecticut in 2011 won a national championship finishing outside the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. It’s just one metric, but it can be useful.
A MISSED OPPORTUNITY FOR REVENGE
Last year, Oregon ended Arizona’s then-nation’s best 49-game home winning streak. With Iowa State's upset of Kansas at home earlier Saturday -- ending the Jayhawks’ 51-game winning streak -- Oregon became the owner of the nation’s longest winning streak at 39 in a row. Returning the favor of ending a nation-leading home court winning streak would’ve been sweet payback.
The Ducks’ streak is now 40 with two more home games on the year (Utah and Colorado).