The Cats roll in to Eugene tonight to face the Oregon Ducks. The Ducks are 8-7 in the Pac-12 and 18-10 overall. They are coming off a home win against ASU and 2 tough road losses to USC and UCLA. Arizona beat Oregon 90-83 in Tucson earlier this year.
#3 Peyton Pritchard 6’2″ G (So)
#5 Elijah Brown 6’4″ G (Jr.)
#0 Troy Brown 6’7″ F (Fr.)
#13 Paul White 6’8″ F (Jr.)
#22 MiKyle McIntosh 6’7″ F (Sr.)
Off the bench: #1 Kenny Wooten 6’9″ F (Fr.), #10 Victor Bailey Jr. 6’4″ G (Fr.), #11 Keith Smith 6’7″ F (So.)
Offense: The Ducks run a pretty standard college offense with a lot of perimeter ball screens and dribble penetration. Pritchard is the main ball handler in this offense and is a very skilled all around player. McIntosh, Wooten, and Troy Brown are very solid interior/wing players who will pose match-up problems for the Cats, especially if Ayton does not play. The Ducks shoot a mediocre 32% from 3 in conference play and look more for shots inside the arc and in transition.
Defense: Oregon will mix up their defensive looks quite a bit. A full court trap, a 3/4 court trap, a 1-2-2 zone and man. The zone is much like USC’s in that it is a “floating” zone that at times takes on the appearance of man-to-man. They have given up the least amount of points in Pac-12 play, including holding Washington to only 40 points a few weeks ago.
Strengths: Good depth and versatility. They are 2nd in the Pac-12 (behind the Cats) in FG%. They are not a great perimeter shooting team overall but Pritchard and Elijah Brown are their two perimeter threats who shoot consistently from 3 and can heat up quickly. They are very well balanced both offensively and defensively. They are 1st in the Pac-12 at the free throw line, shooting 78%.
Weaknesses: Rebounding. The Ducks–in Pac-12 play–are 1-5 in games where they are out-rebounded and are 10th in defensive boards and 11th in offensive boards.
Summary: What a year this has been for Arizona. They were one of the preseason favorites to win the championship. The wheels fell off early with the arrest of assistant coach Richardson and then 3 losses in 3 days in the Bahamas. Then, mid-season, just when it seemed like this team was beginning to roll smoothly the entire vehicle caught fire. Trier was declared ineligible for a tainted drug test and now Miller appears to be finished as head coach. Ayton’s presence for the Cats is in question and it looks as though they will be barred from participating in March Madness. Shaq’s son Shareef O’Neal, amid all these charges, has decided not to attend Arizona next year. There is suspicion everywhere and few high profile programs seem safe. It is much like highway patrol where just about every vehicle is speeding but the authorities can’t pull everyone over at once. So they focus on pulling over the Cadillacs. (At this point any program that has had continued success without breaking rules or laws gets nothing but respect. To achieve at a high level when the deck is stacked against you like this says a lot about such schools and athletic programs.)
It’s hard to believe it could end like this and many of us still hope it won’t end up being as bad as it currently seems. But the games shall continue. There will be some house cleaning and possibly years of transition for certain programs but college basketball will be fine overall. We who love hoops can hope that this will improve the game in the long run and lead to some much needed changes in the current system. Allowing players to go pro out of high school would be an obvious deterrent to such corruption. But where the dollar sings, the dollar shines; and there will always be those who will continue to manipulate and follow the dollar signs.
Such turmoil can bring a team closer together. Let’s hope it does just that for the Cats. This will be an extraordinarily tough game for them. Oregon will be poised to make a statement and we can only hope that Oregon fans won’t be too merciless on these young men as they try to play through this adversity. Without Miller, Ayton, and Trier (if it comes to that) I can’t imagine the Cats coming away with a win. Oregon is good enough to beat the Cats even if those 3 were part of this game.
We’ll have to wait and see what all this leads to, but for now the Cats who will finish out this season on the court will have to do so with as much pride and character as they can summon. I certainly don’t envy them right now but there are some really great young men on this team, as there are on all these teams. We can hope that they finish out this season knowing they were part of a golden era of great college basketball. Arizona basketball fans need now more than ever to support these young men who are going to finish out this season. We don’t know what the future has in store, so let’s go be Wildcats today.