January 21, 2009

Ask the expert: Arizona

The Sun Devils travel to Tucson Wednesday evening to take on the Wildcats in a critical Pac-10 matchup. We asked Jason Scheer of GOAZCATS.com some questions leading into the game.

1. How has the early part of this season measured up to expectations given all that has taken place in the UA program over the last several years?

Lute Olson built Arizona to be one of the better programs in the country and because of that, UA fans' expectations are among the highest. The early part of the season has been a disappointment because, despite what the program has become, getting blown out in three games in the early part of the season is a huge disappointment.

Simply put, fans are not happy with the start of the season. Even though expectations were lowered a bit, fans still are not happy because many feel that the trio of Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, and Nic Wise would have been enough to make the tournament. At this point, it certainly does not seem that way.

2. What are the most obvious differences on the court under Russ Pennell versus what ASU saw from the UA teams last year?

The biggest difference is the complete lack of talent. If Jerryd Bayless was on this team, it would obviously be much better and much of the defensive focus would be on the perimeter. Now, Hill seems to be the best player on the team and Pennell tries to not shy away from that fact.

In addition, Arizona is strictly a zone team now. Whether it is a press, or what some describe as a press, or the halfcourt defense, the UA likes to zone the opposition. There have not been many times this season where Arizona gets off it, instead challenging the opponent to shoot over it or get around it when it is failing, which it has done too many times this season.

Lastly, Arizona likes to get out in the open court a bit more. Kevin O'Neill was pretty against it and Pennell does not seem to mind it. The offense may be deliberate at times, but certainly not at the level that it was last season.

3. What type of record/finish to the season would lead to this being considered a successful season for UA?

As stated earlier, Olson's success led to major expectations for the program as a whole. You have to assume that anything less than the tournament would be a disappointment because of past seasons. Many Arizona fans want the Wildcats to be competitive but competitiveness for those fans is likely defined by a tournament appearance.

4. How does UA attempt to defend James Harden and the Sun Devils in general? Does it take the USC approach, where it just face guards Harden and denies the basketball, or will it double team him along the perimeter, or play a zone or let him get his points and focus on shutting down the other players?

Considering Arizona plays zone defense, it will likely play ASU as it has every other team. There might be a chance for a gimmick defense, but past games tell us that the mentality that Harden will get his is the most likely scenario.

5. What are UA's biggest keys to success in general and then specifically in this game against ASU?

The Wildcats struggled when they try to press things too much. As evidenced by Wise's turnover at the end of the USC game, the UA tends to push things a bit too much. Instead, Arizona needs to think a bit more and work it inside. No offense to Jeff Pendergraph, but Hill is the better player and, ideally, Arizona takes advantage of that.

In addition, the play of Budinger will be huge. It is hard to imagine Arizona winning many games when Budinger is off. Whether it is the ASU game or any game this season, Arizona needs consistency from Budinger. In order to do that, the coaching staff needs to make sure to get him involved early and often.

6. UA wins if...

It executes on offense. Defensively, Arizona has not been too bad. However, the offense has been borderline awful. While efficient, Arizona State is not the type of offense that scores a lot of points. If Arizona can make this a high scoring game, the chances are in the Wildcats favor. In addition, the offense needs to revolve around Hill in order for it to be its most effective and possibly get Pendergraph in foul trouble. Lastly, if Arizona can keep Harden in check, its chances go up dramatically.

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