Photo: James Snook/USA Today Sports
Arizona at Oregon
Arizona has had a remarkable run to 14-0, with a lot of luck thrown in. I don’t see that lasting much longer, and most will see that while this team is good, they aren’t among the country’s best. Mark Lyons isn’t the point guard the team had hoped, but he is one of their leaders, and he is the guy you want with the ball in a close game. The tough part is he isn’t getting the looks he needs to score consistently when he is looking to distribute as well. Solomon Hill is starting to find his groove, playing with the grit and strength that marked the first few years of his career. His ability to score inside and out, as well as guard multiple positions, allows Sean Miller flexibility with his lineup. Nick Johnson may be the best playmaker the team has on the floor for long periods of time, and long-term, he may turn into a solid point guard. Kevin Parrom may not log a ton of minutes, but he gets the job done on both ends when he is on the floor. I’ve mentioned it before here, but Arizona’s freshmen bigs, Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, and Brandon Ashley, just aren’t ready for the minutes they get. Unfortunately, without a good point guard to get them the ball where they need to, their development will continue to be stunted.
Oregon has gotten off to a quick start based on a fairly easy non-conference schedule, and had trouble for most of the game against Oregon State in their PAC-12 opener. Dana Altman’s team is fairly balanced, but they also really don’t have anyone capable of taking over a game. The freshman backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson has been a nice surprise, doing a good job pushing the pace and getting into the lane and creating openings. Dotson has a lot of potential, but he really needs to become a better shooter. Tony Woods has made the most of his second chance in Eugene, and along with Waverly Austin, gives the Ducks some legitimate size and strength on the interior. Arsalan Kazemi doesn’t offer much on offense, but his focus on the defensive end has paid off. He piles up rebounding numbers against weak interior teams, but his willingness to do it, frees up the team to get out on offense. EJ Singler has yet to find his groove, but when he does, the Ducks’ offense becomes much more reliable.
Saint Mary’s at Gonzaga
Randy Bennett’s St. Mary’s squad has become a consistent threat over the years, and this year isn’t much different. Matthew Dellavedova is the best point guard in the country no one is talking about. Dellavedova isn’t quick, but he is smart, and his ability to make reads off the pick-and-roll makes him dangerous all over the floor. Plus, he has good size, and can easily hit the spot-up 3. Stephen Holt and James Walker III provide a nice compliment of spot-up shooters who can also hit openings quickly, plus they are both very good on-ball defenders. Brad Waldow and Mitchell Young do a good job defending the interior at their size, and they have both shown that they can score off the pick and roll.
Mark Few’s Gonzaga squad may be the best team out west and a legitimate national threat. Kelly Olynyk has been on a tear that has placed him among the best big men in the country. Olynyk isn’t strong, but he uses his long frame to create space, and his improved shooting touch lets him score from a variety of spots. Elias Harris has used a good combination of slashing and post-play to be the consistent scorer Few had hoped. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. are both deep threats on the floor, and both are capable of pushing the ball in transition. Pangos isn’t a strong point guard, but the Zags keep the ball moving until they find open spots, and look to push the pace as much as possible. They may have some issues if Dellavedova gets them in the pick-and-roll – none of the Zags are very competent at defending it.
Others to Watch Tonight
Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado vs. USC – After a strong start to his season, Dinwiddie has been average over the last month. His biggest asset is his size, and he will need to use it well against a USC defense that can take away passing lanes and pressure the ball. He should get good looks over the top of the USC defense if he is patient.
Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky at Vanderbilt– This is one SEC game where the Kentucky freshmen bigs should be able to show off how far they have come in half a season. Vanderbilt will look to stretch the defense with perimeter shooting, which could open the floor up, leaving the big men alone in the middle. Also, there is no real interior defensive presence for the Commodores, so there is no excuse for them not to get good looks.
Kenny Kadji, Miami at North Carolina– With the loss of their only real post presence in Reggie Johnson, Kadji will need to spend more time around the basket, though this doesn’t mean he can’t work the perimeter when the matchup is right. North Carolina did a solid job against the UNLV bigs with a variety of defensive looks and a few different players. Kadji will need to show his versatility to get his points tonight.