The cliché Arizona Wildcats fan response during the second half (Second quarter? Second play?) of a bad football loss is to ask, “When does basketball season start?”
Losing an exhibition game to a Division II team takes the punch out of that one.
As the hoops regular season begins tonight it appears Arizona Basketball is headed for a transition year. Not like the football team transitioning from one coach to another but transitioning from a peak season while waiting for the next rapidly approaching peak.
It’s easy to forget Sean Miller is only in his third season at the UA. Last year’s run to the Pac-10 championship and Elite Eight (and coming this close to beating UConn and having a serious shot at winning the whole tournament) appeared to speed up the clock on the rebuilding project.
The temptation was there for Cat fans to think that a Lute-like run of dominance was underway. Don’t put on your Pac-12 bully hat just yet. (You will, however, want to remember where you put it.)
There’s no Derrick Williams on this year’s team. Based on the preseason games, it doesn’t look like there’s a Freshman Derrick Williams either, a guy who scored 25 points in his third college game and didn’t look back.
Don’t forget, the Wildcats’ second leading scorer from last year is gone too.
Remember the Duke game, when MoMo Jones had 16 points, six assists, no turnovers and you said to yourself, “Man, I can’t wait to give that guy’s scholarship to someone else”? Me neither.
In a perfect world Jones could have coexisted with freshman point guard Josiah Turner in a Jason Terry/Mike Bibby kind of way but it would have been a tough adjustment for MoMo after a full season as the starter and – multiple times – hero.
Another reason not to go crazy with expectations this year: Kyle Fogg took 39,000 shots over the summer. Kevin Parrom took two.
Parrom was Arizona’s fifth-leading scorer last year and, like Jones, he was an emotional leader and enforcer. The news is good on his recovery but this isn’t just a regular ol’ sports injury. He was shot. With bullets. The kind from a gun. The kid is a warrior for getting back to school and moving on after the ordeal (and his mom’s passing) but I’m not going to be mad at him if he takes a long time to get up to speed on the basketball stuff.
So that’s three key guys from last year’s 30-win team that won’t be playing against Valpo tonight. I am in no way saying this team can’t do some good things. I’m just saying Cat fans might have to wait a bit longer for the Lute-level accomplishments. And by a bit I mean 365 days.
Need to find your next superstar? Assembling the top recruiting class in the nation is a good way to do it.
Develop the young players this year, keep everyone around and add (theoretically) even better young players next year and, yeah, it looks like every dream is on the table in 2012-’13 and ’13-’14.
Enjoy the transition.
* * *
Arizona’s early-season basketball schedule (all times Arizona/Mountain):
|Mon Nov 7||Valparaiso||Tucson||7 p.m.||ESPNU/ESPN3|
|Wed Nov 9||Duquesne||Tucson||7 p.m.||ESPN2|
|Sun Nov 13||Ball State||Tucson||4 p.m.||KWBA/FSAZ|
|Thu Nov 17||St. John’s||New York||7:30 p.m.||ESPN2|
* * *
No, I’m not ignoring the football game. I was there in the south end zone shivering with the rest of Wildcat Universe.
It’s interesting how we as fans think. We tend to believe that what we’re seeing from our team today is how every game will go the rest of the season. After the Oregon State game it looked like the Cats were on their way to a 1-11 or 2-10 record (and Mike Stoops paid the price). After the UCLA win and even the close Washington loss the worst case scenario seemed to be 5-7. Now the feelings are back to 2-10.
The Utah game was a regression back to the performances we saw at the beginning of the year: false starts, dropped passes, giving up sacks, stunning special teams inadequacy, early deficit, ray of hope, too little too late.
Only three weeks left until coach-shopping season.
* * *
Saturday was homecoming at the UA and it’s always great to see the old teams honored. The 75th anniversary team wasn’t mentioned (the 1936 Border Conference champions were the last Arizona team to win an outright title) but members of the 1961 Arizona football team were there to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their 8-1-1 season.
That Wildcat squad was the first in school history to finish ranked and across ’60 and ’61 they produced a school-record 11-game unbeaten streak. The final win in that streak took place on October 21, 1961 in Tucson and it was a battle against New Mexico for the Kit Carson Rifle. The Lobos led 21-14 in the 4th quarter but fumbled on the UA 4-yard line with 2:59 left in the game.
The “Comeback Cats” then lived up to their nickname with a 96-yard drive capped by “Jackrabbit” Joe Hernandez’s third touchdown of the game with 48 seconds remaining. Not wanting to settle for a tie, the UA went for two and converted on a pass from Eddie Wilson to “The General” Bobby Lee Thompson for a 22-21 victory.
(How did the UA go 11 games without a loss and still not win a conference championship? There was no conference to win. 1961 was the year after Arizona left the Border Conference and the year before the formation of the WAC. Only Arizona Football.)
* * *
There will be no bowl trip this winter and most likely no Final Four trip in the spring. The good news is you won’t have to dip into your college sports travel fund this year.
But don’t spend that money somewhere else. With the incoming crop of hoops recruits and the right football coaching hire you might need a bunch of cash next year.
– – – – –