On the eve of Sean Miller’s first NCAA tournament game as head coach of the Arizona Wildcats PGU has a very special treat for it’s members.
By Reggie Geary
Well it’s that time of year, the most exciting of times for college basketball junkies like me and even the casual fan. We follow our alma mater, the favorites, and teams some may have never heard of in the office pool hoping to pull out a bracket win. But for Arizona fans these times can also be one of anxiety, that an early departure will extinguish all the momentum the program has gained in season number two for Sean Miller and staff. Or the excitement that this could be the best chance for a deep run with Wooden Award finalist Derrick Williams potentially leaving for the NBA, taking his 19.1 ppg and 8.1 rebounds with him.
The pressure and bright lights of the NCAA tournament can play tricks on young players’ emotions. Arizona’s youth will be put to the test early and often in this tournament with the tough draw of playing Memphis, Texas (probably), and Duke in a potential Sweet 16 showdown in San Diego. Talk about tough, especially when you take into account that tomorrow will be the first NCAA experience for most of the team, except for Jamelle Horne, Kyle Fogg and Brendon Lavender. Arizona players need to resist the urge to do too much, especially Derrick Williams who’s probably looking at this opportunity to show a national audience what all the talk has been about, not to mention the multitiude of NBA scouts who will surely be watching. From first hand knowledge, when teams attempt to do too much this time of the year, combined with the ever increasing pressure a favorite feels the longer a lower seed hangs in the game, and you have the makings for an upset.
As a coach and now fan, I realize the importance of the first five minutes of every game. If Arizona comes out knocking down their first couple of shots, and Derrick is active and getting to the foul line then that will be first sigh of relief. The next one will come when Arizona establishes that they can defend Memphis’ penetration and rebound with the taller and more aggressive Tigers in the paint. Addressing this problem will fall on the entire team, but none more so then on the shoulders of Arizona power forwards Jesse Perry and Jamelle Horne. Both players share the majority of the minutes opposite Derrick Williams, and both must provide their All-American with additional muscle, experience, and help in controlling the boards.
But let’s be straight, I don’t think this Memphis team is a particularly good one – too many bad losses (Tennessee and Georgetown), followed by really bad losses (SMU, Rice, and East Carolina) in conference play. If it wasn’t for their last minute run, led by dynamic point guard Joe Jackson vs. UTEP in the conference finals, Memphis likely would be playing in the NIT. But Memphis also possesses all the things you don’t want to see in a first round opponent – good talent with Johnson, Wesley Weatherspoon, and Will Barton, excellent length; two aggressive rebounders/finishers in the paint with Tarik Black and Will Coleman, and a young fiery head coach in Pastner who is working every trick in his bag to get his players believing they can win this game and have fun at the same time.
If the Cats are successful in running their offense and can limit a poor shooting Memphis team to only one shot per possession, I feel the Cats will out-class the Memphis Tigers in the end. Tulsa, Oklahoma should be a great atmosphere, packed with fans from both sides, so let’s hope the boys can relax and get it done.