How to Watch: Thursday, 6 PM (Pacific time) Fox Sports 1
Who would have thought at the beginning of the year that it would be the Huskies sitting atop the league at 3-0 heading into Tuscon, and that it would be the Arizona Wildcats (1-2) who would be struggling to find their groove in the early season? I certainly didn't, but yet here we are. This fast start has been a pleasant surprise for Husky fans, but the Wildcats will pose the toughest test for the young Dawgs up to this point. So without further ado, let's learn a little bit more about Sean Miller's club, shall we?
The Wildcats At a Glance:
Record: 13-3 BPI: 20 RPI: 30
At 13-3, it would seem the Wildcats are off to another solid start under seventh- year head coach Sean Miller. However, the Wildcats have stumbled a bit in Pac-12 play, as they sit below .500 at 1-2 after being swept on the road by the Los Angeles schools last week. To make matters worse, it was announced this week that Freshman phenom and leading scorer Allonzo Trier will be out for four to six weeks with a broken right hand. Suddenly, the Wildcats seem vulnerable, and need to win this game against the Huskies more than their fans may seem comfortable admitting. Still, despite their slow start, it is safe to assume the Wildcats will qualify for at-large bid and go dancing for the 28th time in the last 30 years--it would take an epic collapse to keep the Wildcats out of the tournament at this point.
Three Wildcats to look out for Thursday:
I have to start this section of by saying a few words about Trier here, despite the fact that he isn't playing. He is currently the Wildcats' leading scorer at 14.8 points per game, shooting 51% percent from the field and 35% from the three-point line. He makes up for his pedestrian three-point stroke by knocking down mid-range jump shots at a high rate, and he is also a very capable finisher at the rim. The Seattle native also pulls down 3.5 rebounds per game. The most frustrating part about this injury for Trier - aside from the fact that it comes in the midst of a two-game losing streak - is that he had been settling into a nice groove over the last month, averaging 18.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in his last four games.
Lastly, Trier deserves some recognition for his toughness. He reportedly broke his hand in the first overtime period against USC, but elected to stay in the game for the final three overtime periods and scored eight points during this stretch. The kid is a warrior, and I hope he gets better soon.
Trier's injury obviously throws a bit of a wrench into Sean Miller's game plan for the Huskies Thursday. He is the third Arizona small forward to suffer an injury this season - freshman Ray Smith re-tore his ACL this off-season, and junior forward Elliot Pitts hasn't played in over a month for an undisclosed personal issue - and Miller alluded to the idea of playing a smaller lineup against the Huskies due to the injuries.
Still, the name of the game for the Wildcats is their front-court play, as it has often been during Miller's tenure in Tuscon. This year, it has been senior forward Ryan Anderson leading the way for the Wildcats' front court. He is averaging 14.4 points and 10.4 rebounds on the season and it is the offensive glass where the majority of his offensive production comes from. According to Synergy Sports, he is shooting an adjusted field goal percentage of 66.7% on offensive putbacks, and is scoring at least one point on 72% of his offensive putback attempts. Anderson also does damage by cutting around the hoop, as he has scored on 75% percent of of his cutting attempts this season. The Huskies will need to make sure they limit Anderson's ability to get to the offensive glass, and also make sure they account for him once they deploy their switching defense, as he is the type of player who could really hurt the Huskies with a variety of basket and flash cuts if they fail to account for him. He is an old school big man, one who likes to do the dirty work under the hoop, and the Huskies will need to make sure they match his motor Thursday.
One player who has gotten slightly lost in the mix this season is senior big center Kaleb Tarczewski. The seven-footer is putting together another highly productive season, averaging 9.9 points and a career high 8.1 rebounds on 55% shooting from the field, but has gotten a bit lost in the shuffle among the national media due to an ankle injury he suffered just after November. The injury kept him sidelined for nearly a month, but the big man seems to be hitting his stride of late. Tarczewksi put in two productive performances against the L.A. schools, as he scored 12 points on 62% from the field and pulled down 12 rebounds against the Bruins, and then followed that up with a 16-point, 12-rebound effort against the Trojans two days later.
Much like Anderson, Tarczewski is an effective scorer on offensive putbacks. The senior scores at least one point on 72% percent of his offensive putbacks. However, unlike Anderson, Tarczewski likes to do the majority of his damage in the post, as nearly 40% of his offense comes via post-ups. Tarczewki's stats are a little harder to draw conclusions from, due to the extended time he missed with injury, but i'll try my best. When he catches on the left block, the Huskies should be looking for him to finish with a hook shot if he turns over his left shoulder, as he prefers to go to the hook an astounding 80% of the time when he turns over his left shoulder on the left block. If turns over his right shoulder on the left block, look for the senior to either finish going towards the basket or to drop step, as he prefers the latter 40% of the time, and the former 60% of the time.
Tarczewski seems to be much more comfortable on the left block as opposed to the right block. On the left block, he is shooting an average but respectable 40.7% adjusted field goal percentage. However, that percentage plummets all the way to a porous 28.7% on the right block. I think it would be wise of the Huskies to dig on Tarczewski when he puts the ball on the floor and to send an occasional double-team if Noah Dickerson finds himself matched up with him on the left block. However, I say let Malik Dime guard the senior center one on one, as I think he can bother him with his length and shot-blocking ability.
Gabe York rounds out the top three here, and the senior guard hasn't disappointed so far. It has been a year of career highs for York this season, as he is averaging 13.8 points per game on 43.6% from the field, pulling down 3.3 rebounds, dishing out 2.6 assists, and knocking 44.3% of his attempts from behind the arc, all of which are career bests. He is also averaging a career-best 32.5 minutes per game, which explains why York's productivity has increased so drastically this season. Due to injuries, York has had to play point guard, shooting guard, and small forward for the Wildcats this season. Expect to see him log more minutes at the small forward position because of Trier's injury; however, York has been mainly asked to play shooitng guard for the Wildcats.
York likes to attack off a pick and roll to score, and he is quite good at it. He is shooting an adjusted field goal percentage of 44.7% off the pick and roll, and 29.5% of his offensive production comes via the pick and roll. However, he's no Andrew Andrews in the sense of using the pick and roll to draw fouls, as he only gets to the charity stripe out of the pick and roll 4.7% of the time. York's bread and butter though is the spot-up jump shot, where he is shooting a superb 68.3% adjusted field goal percentage, which is good for a stellar 1.143 points per possession. Finally, while the Wildcats aren't much of a transition team, York will look for his spots and attack in transition at times and is rather good at it, scoring 52.2% of the time he attacks in the full court.
A few other 'Cats to keep your eye on:
Dusan Ristic, center, sophomore, averages 8.6 points, 4.8 rebounds per game, shoots 59% from the field.
Mark Tollefsen, forward, senior, averages 8.5 points, 3.5 rebounds per game, shoots 52% from the field.
Kadeem Allen, guard, junior, averages 8.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game, shoots 47% from the field.
This is undoubtedly the Huskies' biggest test of the season so far, as they will be looking for their second win over a ranked opponent and their first road victory over a ranked opponent. A victory tonight - or a highly competitive game - would serve as statement to the rest of the league, that their 3-0 start is not a fluke, and that anyone eyeing a Pac-12 league title will have to go through Montlake to get it.
Unfortunately, i'm not quite sure the Huskies are ready yet to take this next step. I believe the Wildcats will be able to pound the ball inside through Tarczewski and Ristic (who is probably their most skilled big man) and that Anderson will also wreak havoc on the offensive glass. I expect Marquese Chriss to get into foul trouble early - which is hard to bet against at this point - as well as Noah Dickerson, which will eventually be too much for the Huskies to overcome in the end. However, I believe that this game will be much closer than Vegas does (the line is currently at Arizona -13.5) and see the Huskies falling in the final two minutes of the game. I really, really, hope I am wrong on this one. Arizona 87, Washington 82.