Heading into Friday's Arizona at Washington game we thought we would have a little back-and-forth with an Arizona fan, Adam Butler from PacHoops.com and here at Pacific Takes and Jack Follman from Pacific Takes.
The rivalry between the Wildcats and Huskies isn't what it used to be, but these two still have a lot of questions about each other's respective programs.
Jack - Arizona just lost to an average at best Arizona State team. Does that mean anything, or is it just one of those unavoidable rivalry losses that occur in college basketball?
Adam - The Wildcats didn’t play their best and we could dissect it for the recurring minutiae of Brandon Ashley’s individual defense or Kaleb Tarczewski’s offensive limitations. I could dive into the ebbs and flows of Stanley Johnson’s defense or the injury to Parker Jackson-Cartwright. Ultimately, Arizona scored three fewer points than their primary rival in a game attended by 11K fans just a week after the Sun Devils played host to 6K in a home loss to Oregon. All of which is to say: sh*t happens.
Jack - Obviously, Arizona is pretty damn good this year, but homer glasses off, do you think they can win the Pac-12’s first national championship in nearly 20 years?
Adam - Yes. If the question is in fact "can" they my answer is yes. They aren’t the odds on favorite that they might’ve been a season ago. But when things are clicking on both sides of the ball, this team can beat you in a multitude of ways. They’re going to be in every game they play and with a lurking scoring threat named Stanley, I like this teams chances more often than not.
Jack - It is crazy with the kind of success and talent that Arizona has had in recent history that they have not actually made a Final Four since 2001. If the Wildcats break that streak and get back, what strength or player is most crucial in them breaking that wall?
Adam - This is one helluva question. Because if you’d poised it like it’s been asked 1000 times before, "Who’s the most important player on Arizona’s lineup," the answer is almost always T.J. McConnell. Or at least it should be. But for Arizona to crack into where it hasn’t been before, I think it has to happen because of the efforts of someone they haven’t had before: Stanley Johnson. McConnell will be wildly critical in all of that. But when push comes to Final Four, the lottery pick capabilities, the hero ball that has been a proven factor in achieving Final Fours, is held in Stanley’s arms.
Jack - On the other hand, if Arizona comes up short of the Final Four again in 2015… why is it?
Adam - Those aforementioned things I noted passively in how/why Arizona lost in Tempe? That stuff. There seems to be a button this team switches and when it’s on – well that why I think they can win a Title. But if they decide to not bring energy to their most critical side of the ball (defense), they can be vulnerable. For better or worse, Arizona is their own worst enemy.
Jack - Would like to get an outsiders perspective… how do you view Washington’s program right now? And do you think they have any hope to bounce back in the near future?
Adam - I think – on some level – I’ve been a UW apologist. I’ve long felt Romar has done a sound job in Washington. The timing of his (hopefully) brief downturn has been poor. The conference has seemingly been up for grabs as he’s trended downward. And then this season started off with 11 straight wins! Yet here we are, looking at a UW team that has to dismiss its most critical player has dropped to 14-9. There’s absolutely hope – LoRo has done well in 2015 recruiting – but that sorta stuff can only get you so far. You have got to fill the left column and Washington hasn’t been doing it.
Jack - The Pac-12 was pretty garbage last time that Arizona and Washington were competitive and at the top of the conference. Would you prefer a conference that Arizona can pretty easily dominate, but maybe isn’t that great, or a solid one like the past few seasons that is a perpetual challenge?
Adam - Another great question that I don’t think I’m going to directly answer. One of the things that I think the whole conference can benefit from is a great Arizona team. UCLA, too. Generally speaking, when these programs are peaking, they’re competing for Final Fours. They are amongst the nation’s elite. So if that’s the conference bar, then everyone must elevate. As an Arizona fan, I want the Wildcats cutting down nets at Wooden levels. And if that’s the case, well then I think the rest of the conference prospers by competitive drive.
Jack - Utah? Are they a true contender to sneak up and steal the conference from Arizona this year?
Adam - Yes and I’m not entirely sure it’d be stolen at this point. Losses to ASU and OSU, while difficult contests, don’t immediately suggest "Conference Champion." I’m very much excited for the 2/28 contest in Salt Lake and think it’d be terrific if ESPN and their Gameday crew made the trip, too.
Jack - Since there isn’t much to get excited about for Washington this year, let’s reminisce… I would say the heart of the best years of the Arizona/Washington quasi rivalry consist of 2004-2011 with a couple years off in there somewhere. So… if you have to pick a team of six players during that era to take on a team of six Washington players from the era, who do you go with to take on my team?
F Jon Brockman
F Quincy Pondexter
F Brandon Roy
G Nate Robinson
G Will Conroy
Bench – G Isaiah Thomas
Adam - I love that we have so
much to disagree about on this list. First of all, I’m starting Isaiah Thomas – he was a Wildcat assissin and
utterly COLD BLOODED (you didn’t think we’d get through a
whole UW-AZ preview without that did you?). I can’t argue your front court.
Brockman was a workhorse, that guy you kinda hated but secretly were like,
"Yeah, my team could use 10 & 10 of selfless hustle." With Quincy, we all hope that our
disappointing four-year guys turn into 20 & 7 seniors. That said, I would
like to consider including Darnell Gant
Gant just so Derrick Williams could deposit his shots into the fourth row
deposit his shots into the fourth row (puh-lease, we weren’t going to get
through this without that). B-Roy technically goes without saying so here’s
where we get weird. Burm. Brandon Burmeister
Burmeister is my guy and yeahI want him on my All-Dawg team.
I’m going to Seattle. What must I do to capture the entire University of Washington basketball experience?
Hum, tough since, Washington basketball is pretty far down the list of essential Seattle things, but you can have a pretty good overall Seattle basketball experience. Go to the Seattle Center to see the Space Needle and the ghost of the Sonics at the Key Arena. Hit up Oskar's Kitchen for a few beers since you should want to be heavily hydrated for a game that might not be that exciting. Why Oskar's? Simply because it is owned by Shawn Kemp Sr. and there is a decent chance you will see a Seattle basketball legend just hanging out before the game. Then, have some more beers near campus and check out the game and keep an eye out for Jamal Crawford. I know that it is the middle of the NBA season, but I don't think I have been to a Seattle basketball event without seeing him.
So we can be quick to note the Washington has struggled following the dismissal of Robert Upshaw. That’s kind of obvious considering he was so dynamic. But perhaps under the radar has been the fact that Jernard Jarreau has been missing as well. What’s his status?
Jarreau had surgery about a month ago and the word was that he would be out 4-6 weeks so maybe he could be back for the very end of Pac-12 play and the tournament. However, I wouldn't be shocked if they sit him for the rest of the season with how big of a lost cause it has become in hopes that he can come back 100 percent next year.
In the absence of these two bigs, how have the Huskies at least tried to adjust?
It seems to me that the Huskies have tried to play a little more small ball, take more outside shots and run a little bit more. Kind of going back more to what you would usually see in a Lorenzo Romar, guard-heavy scheme. Unfortunately, outside of Nigel Williams-Goss, I just don't know if they have the talent or depth at guard to win many games in this scheme.
Can multi-guard basketball be successful in a high-post offense?
This might be too technical of a question for me, but I think so if you have the personnel. Does Washington have the personnel they need right now? No.
Are there any plans to Ouija Board Antoine Tyler into the game?
That would be a godsend, but even with Tyler's skills I think Washington still drop the game by five, but maybe not if they can bring in Kenny Tyler, Malik Major and the 90s basketball movie cliched big Eastern European guy.
Before conference play, I said Washington basketball – the program’s progress and momentum – was one of 12 critical things to watch. Well I’ve been watching and they’re 3-8. What’s the health of this program? Are there warm seats?
Not good and while the dismissal of Upshaw officially sank the season, I think it was quietly going down the tubes anyways as the Huskies had lost five out of eight before the dismissal anyways including an embarrassing home loss to Stony Brooks, a home loss to WSU and an absolute thrashing by Utah.
It is tough with Romar right now. I see it as very similar to the Mike Riley situation at Oregon State in football or maybe Ernie Kent at the end of his run at Oregon. Romar is Washington basketball and the program was a mess before him. People really want him to be the one who gets them back going again, but the program clearly seems to be in a rut and the glory years of the Romar era are further in the past than it might seem. I think he is heading towards the hot seat, but an excellent 2015 recruiting class is helping keep him away from that seat for a little while longer.
Nigel Williams-Goss flirted with leaving for the NBA. Is this still a possibility? What’s the strength of his game?
The NBA is still a possibility, but I would not bet on it right now. I think he comes back for at least another year. He is a great pure point guard with excellent size that can distribute while also hitting mid-range shots and floaters.
I’m a huge fan of seniors and Shawn Kemp Jr. has had a great senior year. Tell me about what he’s perhaps meant to this team and program and what he’s done better this season besides just be better (career highs – by a wide margin – in basically everything)?
To me the biggest thing is that he appears to be as fully recovered as he could get from Graves Disease, which he was diagnosed with over a year ago. His health simply makes him look like a different player this season.
Now it’s time to call a Spade a Spade: This isn’t the most intriguing game. But there is history to this rivalry. I want you to pick a starting five plus a sixth man off of Arizona teams during the LoRo era (2003-present).
I love this team.
C Channing Frye
F Derrick Williams
F Stanley Johnson
G Andre Iguodala
G Jason Gadner
Bench - G Salim Stoudemire
It’s been almost 3-years to the day (Feb 18, 2012) since Washington last beat Arizona. Can Friday be the night to reverse that?
In a word. No.