Wildcats vs. Jayhawks
So after folding in Vegas, Arizona turns past a rivalry that's trying to be rejuvinated - especially by a few moronic UNLV fans - to one of College Basketball's greatest non-conference rivalries. Both Arizona and Kansas have two days to prepare for the 2008 rendition of this PAC-10/Big-12 rivalry.
Arizona and Kansas have met up 8 times in the past 12 years, and four times the loser's season has ended when the final horn blew. In 1997 the fourth-seeded Wildcats upset the first-seeded Jayhawks 85-82. Two years later, Kansas returned the favor by bouncing the high-hoped 'Cats 78-75.
Currently Kansas holds a 5 game to 3 game edge over the 'Cats even though Kansas averages 80 points per contest, while Arizona averages 81. That one point differential is far more indicative as to the calibur of these games. There have been multiple games where the victor has come from behind 20+ points. Kansas' largest victory in this span has been 8, while Arizona's largest is 17. Kansas won the matchup last season 76-72 at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks are starting over again this year following a National Championship and mass exodus of seniors graduating or stars making the jump to the NBA. Even though they are a long way off from the ability to defend their crown in the Final Four, Kansas is still potent and a border-line Top 25 team, despite the "down" year.
Arizona is a year removed from the Kevin O'Neill fiasco, and the absence of Lute Olson on the sidelines alters this rivalry significantly. The 'Cats are down further than the Jayhawks are, but have a great win over the then fourth-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. Both of the teams' chemistry, makeup, and reliance upon freshmen and sophomores taking on new roles means this should be yet another great matchup.
Led by Junior Poing Guard Sherron Collins, the Jayhaks will return to Arizona for the first time since December of '01, when they won 105-97. Collins is a dynamic point guard who is leading the team in assists (4.8) and points (17.9). Kansas runs a 3 guard lineup with Tyshawn Taylor and sharp shooting Brady Morningstar on the wings. Meanwhile they have plenty of depth in the frontcourt with Cole Aldrich averaging a double-double, and Marcus Morris an Markieff Morris slammin bodies around down low.
As a unit Kansas is very good. Offensively they are averaging just over 80 points a game with good shooting and great ball movement. Their turnovers are a bit high, but have done a nice job of forcing their opponents into +2.5 topg. Kansas also holds a 9.9 rebounding edge as the team as a unit goes after missed shots. Make no mistake about it, Kansas is good, but they have a lot of inexperienced and unproven players as well.
Nic Wise and the front court are going to have their hands full again with Collins - who did not play against the 'Cats last season - and the versatility of Kansas' guards. This should be a great game, hopefully Arizona's Jekyll and Hyde season will show us Jekyll come Tuesday.
Keys to the Game:
1. Budinger's Revenge: Last year K.O failed to draw up an effective last-second play for Budinger at the end of regulation, and despite his 27 points on the night, Kansas walked away with the win.
Budinger: 25+ points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 or fewer turnovers
2. Stand Tall: Jordan Hill absolutely must stay out of foul trouble in this game. Last year he played 24 minutes and scored 5 points because of foul trouble. Kansas' front court is big and strong, Hill has to play smart.
Hill: 15+ points, 14+ rebounds, 35+ minutes
3. Key Stat - A/TO: Kansas is forcing teams into over 16 turnovers a game, whereas Arizona opponents are only turning it over around 11 times. This stat line could very well be the biggest indicator for who wins the game.
Protection Program: Tally 15+ assists while holding a -4 turnover differential.
4. Use that booty!: Kansas holds a 9.9 rebounding advantage over their opponents this season. Jordan Hill, Jamelle Horne, and everyone else is going to have to crash the boards hard and get their butt into people when the shot goes up.
Windex Men: Outrebound Kansas by 4 or more.
5. Redemption: After beating Gonzaga a week ago, Arizona looks past UNLV to the Kansas game and loses ugly. They need another big win to redeem themselves and keep on track for an at-large bid. There is no stat line to measure here, but Pennell has to have these kids focused and ready to play from tip-off to final horn. He has to make the right adjustments at the right time, and keep from making coaching mistakes against Bill Self.