I know, I know: we are a 20-4, we are a top 15 program, and despite utter collapse, we are headed to the NCAA Tournament. Don’t worry, right? But maybe that’s just the problem–the “don’t worry, we are 14-1,” “don’t worry, we are 16-2,” “don’t worry, we are 20-3,” “Don’t worry, we are 20-4″ is starting to look like an excuse to take games off later in the season rather than apply the gas heading into March. Maybe early success was not the greatest thing for this team, this year.
Because let’s admit it: we are not a top 10 team right now and haven’t really been all season (let me clarify. We have looked like we are capable of being a top 10 team during phases of single games–when we decide to rise to the occasion–but we have not brought it to a level of consistency that deserves the “top 10″ title). Our 14-0 stretch involved a handful of plays that, had they gone the other way, would have gotten us to #9 for one week and then booted us out of the top 10 for the remainder of the season so far. Instead of recognizing our flaws and some of the luck we have experienced to remain in the top 10 for so long, it is apparent we have taken our prominent rankings to imply there are games where we can simply cruise, which is clearly not the case. The early success takes some of the pressure off, and that is not a good thing.
Like many phases of the basketball season, other teams are improving. For example, Colorado is restating its claim for a spot in the Tournament and California is beginning to make a late argument for the same. Even USC is proving it can play ball with anyone in the Pac. Arizona, meanwhile, remains on a neutral plain, or may in fact be falling. The veterans (Hill, Lyons, Parrom and Johnson) are slumping while the freshman remain–after 24 games of college basketball–one dimensional. Ashley continues his inconsistency, Jerrett continues his semi-ability to shoot from the perimeter and nothing more, and Tarczewski continues to take the ball, dribble, turn, and any other double-triple-quadruple move that will ensure he turns it over or misses a three footer.Like many phases of the basketball season, other teams are evolving. There is a part of me that understands Miller’s stubborn philosophy in playing a certain type of basketball and nothing more, believing that when this type of basketball is executed well, Arizona is a tough team to beat. But what happens when it is not played well? What happens when there is no plan B? UCLA destroyed our man-to-man because they were more athletic and we simply had no answer, no zone to throw in the mix occasionally to shake things up. As illustrated by our recent losses to Cal and Colorado, when our guards cannot match outside shooting performances of their counterparts, we simply have no answer due to the fact that we have no post play by our big men to counterbalance the onslaught.
Our current inability to improve or adapt–our early success of which I give most of the blame–worries me tremendously as we head into the second half of the Pac-12 season and face teams that have already seen us. Teams like…oh I don’t know…let’s say Colorado.
I’m not saying we are a bad team. To the contrary, we are a good team capable of being a very good team if we can recognize now the reality checks we have just been given. But that means we must recognize the early success we had was based in large part on some luck and cruising is not an option. It means our players must realize there is substantial room for improvement in many areas of their game. It means Miller must loosen the reins a bit by taking some chances–throwing in some zone against more athletic teams, attacking the basket when the long shot isn’t there, replacing Tarczewski with Chol every time Tarczewski decides to do anything with the ball other than jam it and replacing Mayes with just about anyone at this point (aka York). It means that Arizona must eliminate all together the don’t-worry-we-have-twenty-wins-just-chill-out-we-can-relax-from-here-on-out mentality–and this needs to start now. If not, we will all be walking around on Monday saying, “Don’t worry, we are 20-5.”