Can the Cats Beat a Zone Defense?
PGU Staff Writer CATS9701
As we approach the college hoops season, there is a buzz around the Arizona Wildcats that quite simply hasn’t been there in recent years. The program is finally stable, we’re familiar with most of the players on the roster, and it seems that Tucson can finally get back to good old Arizona Basketball.
But with all those things comes the burden of expectations – which the program will have to live up to whether they are fair or not.
So what are people expecting out of this bunch? A quick waltz through the various Wildcat sports communities on the web would lead you to believe that college basketball’s third youngest team last year should be expecting an NCAA tournament bid, 20+ wins, and a conference finish no worse than fourth.
Of course, most fans have a tendency towards hyperbole and myopia. But there are still some burning questions that will need to be answered if we can all realistically expect a season as good as the one described above. Sitting atop that list of questions is one that probably makes Sean Miller’s stomach turn: can the Wildcats beat a zone defense?
Last year, the answer to that question was a resounding ‘no.’ In five games against opponents that ran zone defenses, Arizona went 1-4 overall and 0-2 at McKale Center. The Wildcats were swept by Oregon St, split with ASU, and lost to UCLA in the opening game of the Pac-10 tournament (Ben Howland uncharacteristically switched his defensive scheme to a zone defense late in the season).
Sure, every team has it’s weaknesses. But when a team’s weakness results in losses to opponents that have considerably less talent, that’s a major red flag. Go ahead and say that Lute spoiled an entire generation of fans, but Arizona should not be getting swept by a program like Oregon St, ever.
Arizona simply could not find a way to beat Oregon St and UCLA’s zone defenses, and had just marginal success against ASU’s matchup zone. In losses against the zone defense, the Wildcats shot just 41% from the field and scored just 64 points per game. But the most troubling part of the losses, as noted earlier, is that they came at the hands of inferior teams.
If Arizona is to satisfy the lofty expectations that await them this season, it will have to figure out the zone defense, that is not debatable. Last year the Wildcats would have found themselves legitimately on the bubble if they hadn’t suffered the RPI death blow of losing to Oregon St (twice). Two wins against Oregon St and another against ASU could have actually put them on the good side of the bubble conversation.
The bottom line is that if fans want to see Arizona dancing in March, the Wildcats are going to have to figure out a way to dance through the zone defense first.