Last night was an eventful night for Mizzou Basketball. The women defeated Colorado to move to 10-0, and after some plane mechanical failures, the Tigers made their way to Tucson, Arizona and are set to take on the Wildcats tonight in a game featured on a network very few people in Missouri can get. I hope you take some time to Google "stream Pac12 network online free" or something similar if you want to watch the game tonight.
About Their Basketball Team
Arizona enters tonights matchup as 13th (13 is UNLUCKY RIGHT?!) ranked team in the polls, and the #18 team according to KenPom. They range 41st in Adj Offense and 12th in Adj Defense, so they're legit good. Arizona features Ryan Anderson, who is a graduate senior who transferred from Boston College and has just exploded this season by averaging 15 points and 9 rebounds a contest. Arizona has needed interior production as Kaleb Tarczewski has been out for four games, and will miss another 2-4 weeks, after a stress reaction and a muscle injury in his foot. Tarczewski didn't kill the Tigers last year with just 7 points and 8 rebounds, while he dealt with foul trouble. But his loss is missed. After Anderson, the Wildcats have senior Gabe York who is finally stepping into the limelight after being overshadowed by talented teammates over the last 2-3 years. Allonzo Trier is also chipping in double digits, and the 5-star freshman is a scoring machine.
Sean Miller has built the Wildcats into a powerhouse over his 7 season in Tucson. He recruits at a high level. The Wildcats play a disciplined defense and are talented enough on offense to win a L-O-T of games each season. But the fanbase is still searching for a signature win in the NCAA tournament.
Speaking of the fanbase, let's take a closer look at their basketball team and chat with somebody who knows them best...
Q&A With AZ DESERT SWARM
I'd like to thank James Schlittenhart of Az Desert Swarm for taking some time to answer our questions about the Arizona Wildcats. I answered some questions for them as well, so if you've got some time to kill, you can venture over to AzDesertSwarm.com and check them out.
RockMNation: Since missing out on the NCAA tournament in his first season, head coach Sean Miller has reached 30 wins 3 times over the last 5 seasons. What has made Miller such a success in Tucson?
James Schlittenhart: There are many things Sean Miller isn’t; an offensive mastermind, an owner of a Final Four appearance, a fashion icon. There are some things he may be, like the physical manifestation of a child’s nightmare. But one thing we know for sure about Sean Miller? He’s a recruiter.
Since joining the program in 2009, Miller has brought ten 5-star recruits to Arizona. This is second only to Kentuckyover that timeframe. We’ve seen the likes of Aaron Gordon, Rondae-Hollis Jefferson, Kaleb Tarczewski, Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Nick Johnson, Grant Jerrett, and Josiah Turner, all 5-star players, come through McKale Center.
It’s not just the big names, however. Miller has had success finding a few diamonds in the rough via transfer and bench development. T.J. McConnell turned into one of the most respected point guards in recent memory at a program known as Point Guard U, and he came in as a transfer.
Bringing in top-notch talent across the board has been pivotal to Miller’s success. Arizona has been able to win games due to sheer athleticism and raw talent, and arguably not as much due to Sean Miller’s coaching acumen. That said, Miller has the opportunity to challenge that perception in a big way this season. Arizona isn’t quite as stacked across the roster with 5 star names as they have been in previous years, so Miller will have to find creative ways to utilize his relatively unknown transfers and freshmen to continue wining big games.
RMN: How has Arizona handled Kaleb Tarczewski being out, and has it had an effect on the interior play of the Wildcats?
Schlittenhart: Losing Kaleb Tarczewski has had 7 feet, 256 pounds, and four years' worth of impact. If you looked back at the last three years of Arizona basketball, Kaleb Tarczewski probably doesn't jump out at you from the stat sheets, but don't let that fool you. Those teams had the offensive side of the ball covered with Aaron Gordon, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and T.J. McConnell in the starting lineup. Every one of those players is now in the NBA. Tarczewski may not have been a feature piece of those teams, but now that those key names are gone, he's arguably the most critical player on the current Arizona roster.
Without Zeus on the floor, Arizona turns to fellow 7-footer Dusan Ristic for size underneath. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, there’s a significant production drop-off between the two, on both sides of the court. Arizona has been forced to play much smaller, sometimes running some combination of four guards and a normal 4-man (often Ryan Anderson, and at times Chase Comanche or Mark Tollefson) playing as the 5. It’s worked well on the offensive side of the ball, but the interior defense and rebounding has clearly suffered. Getting Tarczewski back and healthy will be paramount if Arizona plans to make any noise in the NCAA Tournament.
RMN: Where did Ryan Anderson come from and how has he been able to provide some an impact in a short time?
Schlittenhart: The Arizona team that Missouri will face on Sunday will start a completely new five players from last year, having lost the entire front five to the NBA from 2014. Given this, the beginning of the season consisted of Arizona trying (and often failing) to discover an identity. It was inconsistent, scattered, and hectic. The one grounding presence on the court, particularly after Tarczewski’s injury, has been Ryan Anderson. He’s established himself as a low-post threat, with athleticism to score at the rim and fight for every rebound. His outside shot is not a strength, but he commands respect down low, which helps open up the perimeter game for Gabe York, Parker Jackson Cartwright, and Allonzo Trier. He also plays decent (not great) defense. His versatility and consistency has been huge for an Arizona team still working to come together as a unit instead of a collection of transfers and freshmen.
RMN: If there is anything you might be concerned about this (there shouldn't be), what is it?
Schlittenhart: Nothing has come easy for Arizona yet this year. I think it’s a combination of the Wildcats still understanding how to play together, and the fact that opposing teams generally bring their A game when playing a ranked, perennially competitive program. The biggest concern will be how Arizona approaches this one. Will we see the second half of the Gonzaga game, where the ‘Cats shut down the Bulldogs on the defensive end, or will we see a rehash of the Providence Friars matchup, where Arizona gave up 44 points to Jared Brownridge? Arizona is not infallible by any means; if Missouri can take advantage of a lackadaisical effort by a team that is looking ahead to conference play, then this might be a closer game than you’d think.
RMN: Last, how do you see this game playing out? And what do you think the final score will be?
Schlittenhart: McKale Center is an extremely difficult place to win as a road team. Arizona has won 43 straight home games, and hasn’t lost a non-conference game in Tucson since an NIT appearance against the Bucknell Bison in 2012. I know you say there’s nothing to worry about for Arizona, but this isn’t a team that blows people out. I think it will be closer than you’d expect, but Arizona still wins. I’ll go 79 – 68, Wildcats.
Another thank you to James and the good folks at Az Desert Swarm for answering our questions and giving us the lowdown on his Arizona Wildcats.
It's nice to hear James isn't as confident in a blow-out as many others are, maybe including myself. But if the Tigers are going to remain competitive in Tucson, or even... *GASP*... pull out a win, then here are three things they definitely need to go their way.
1) Don't get crushed by Ryan Anderson
18 & 12, 15 & 4, 8 & 15, 17 & 11, 27 & 12, 11 & 7, 13 & 6, 17 & 8. These are Anderson's points and rebounds per game, he missed the game vs Northwestern St. He's nearly averaging a double double. James Farr was the difference versus Xavier for the Tigers. His 15 points and 14 rebounds were crushing, as the Tigers inability to keep him off the glass was a huge problem. Against Kansas State, Dean Wade shot poorly (so did the rest of the Wildcats), but his control of the glass was a big factor. Mizzou has gotten hurt by big rebounders and Anderson is a big time rebounder. If Mizzou can find a way to limit Anderson's impact, they'll have a better chance of staying in the game.
2) Limit guard penetration
Kadeem Allen, Allonzo Trier, Gabe York, and Parker Jackson-Cartwright are all very good, very fast, very athletic guards who can penetrate the defense, seemingly at will. Missouri has struggled with quick guards and stopping them off the dribble. Part is because of Mizzou's struggle to figure out what they want to do defensively. They play pack-line sometimes, they play pressure sometimes, and with their lack of interior shot blockers, pack-line might work best trying to prevent the penetration from 'Zona's guards. If they can't limit the penetration, it's going to be a long night in Tucson.
3) Offensive efficiency
When you go on the road against good teams, you have to do certain things. The four factors are always important, but if you aren't patient on offense, and hit open shots you're likely to get crushed. Underdogs need three point shots to go down, and they need to take advantage of any blips in Arizona's radar. Oh, and they also need to really limit the turnovers.
With all things even, Arizona is a big favorite. Even if MIzzou gets more breaks than normal, they're still down by within the predicted point spread, maybe within 10. To win in McKale, where Arizona has won 43 consecutive games, Mizzou has to play nearly perfect to win. Honestly, that might not even be enough.
Ultimately, I think it's hard to predict how this game is going to turn out. The homer in me wants to think Mizzou has a shot to make this a game, similar to how they played against Xavier for a decent portion of the game. Yet, there's a much larger analytical side of me which looks at these rosters against each other and realizes why Arizona is slated at 94% to win. The Wildcats are a very, very good team. They have talented players stocked throughout the roster, and James is correct in saying they are close to being the Kentucky of the Pac-12. So I don't see much of a way Mizzou wins this game.
In the end, I predict a score of around 20, but not quite. I think the Tigers keep it close for a half, the same way they did versus Xavier. They'll keep the Wildcats on their toes, but in the end Arizona will overwhelm the Tigers. I think the Wildcats defense is good enough to slow the Tigers, and they don't shoot near well enough to stay in the game. I'll say 76-56. Though I'm not happy about it.