Arizona Basketball

Utah Valley Wolverines vs. Arizona Wildcats: Three top storylines



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Top three storylines for tonight’s game:

1. Games like tonight affect a team’s strength of schedule a great deal.

Don’t laugh when I write March Madness starts now.

Arizona’s strength of schedule might be a concern come March, but as long as the Wildcats keep winning, that won’t become an overwhelming issue.

The Wildcats’ schedule is rated No. 80, which trails only No. 8 Colorado State (No. 86 SOS), among teams ranked in the RPI Top 10. Arizona is ranked No. 10 in the RPI (published by, although it is ranked No. 3 in the AP Top 25. Its schedule plays a part in that disparity.

Present RPI ranking of Arizona’s non-conference opponents. Arizona is No. 10.
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The RPI ranking will drop after tonight when the Wildcats host No. 240 Utah Valley, which is 3-4 with three consecutive losses to Cal-Davis, Sacramento State and Montana State.

Arizona has actually benefited from playing Gardner-Webb, which has the third-highest RPI (No. 29) presently among opponents the Wildcats have defeated. The Bulldogs (2-4) won’t stay that high when they start playing and losing to Big South opponents. They have a high RPI because of their No. 3 strength of schedule with games against Arizona, No. 16 (RPI) LSU, No. 21 Seton Hall and No. 31 Old Dominion.

The present RPI Top 50 includes only three future opponents for Arizona — No. 26 Utah, No. 27 UTEP and No. 32 Washington. The Wildcats get only one crack at Washington, on the road, because of the unbalanced Pac-12 schedule. The same goes for No. 122 UCLA, which plays Arizona once in Tucson.

Arizona can’t afford to slip against a team outside of the RPI Top 50. Given the strength of schedule as it is now, a loss to a team outside the Top 50 can mean the difference from a No. 1 or No. 2 seed and a favorable pod and location in the NCAA tournament. Furthermore, a No. 1 seed is a must to potentially avoid Kentucky, Duke and Wisconsin until the Final Four.


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Tip Time: 7:05 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Roxy Bernstein/Bill Walton)
Radio: Arizona IMG Sports Network (Brian Jeffries/Ryan Hansen)
Overall: Never met
Sean Miller vs. Utah Valley: 0-0


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2. How will Bill Walton fill the great amount of dead time tonight?

If both teams play to form, Arizona should win handily tonight. That means the loquacious Bill Walton will have plenty of time to fill with his anecdotes and hyperbole during the Pac-12 Networks telecast.

With the upcoming game against Michigan, Walton might bring up that Arizona Sports Hall of Fame center Bob Elliott is from Ann Arbor, Mich. You know Bill: He likes to dip into the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Walton will likely discuss the background of Utah Valley coach Dick Hunsaker with the late Rick Majerus as an assistant at Ball State and Utah.

He will inform us that Hunsaker coached in the CBA after leading Ball State to the Sweet 16 in 1990 with upsets over Oregon State and Gary Payton and Louisville.

Count how many times Walton will say Miller is the “gold standard” of Pac-12 basketball coaches. We’ll likely hear, “Throw it down big man. Throw it down!” after a Kaleb Tarczewski slam inside. And references will be made of a play being the play of the year.

The game might have its dead spaces tonight but with how Walton can entertain — good and bad (to some) — it should still be must-watch television with him on the air.

3. Does it matter that concentration on defense might affect Gabe York and Elliott Pitts on offense?

Gabe York's hustle stats are most important to get everyone involved on offense

Gabe York’s hustle stats are most important to get everyone involved on offense

Strong defense on the perimeter with steals, blocked shots and forced turnovers could lead to high-percentage shooting opportunities for everybody. Defense wins games (see Arizona shutting down Gonzaga in the last 9:05 of the game Saturday) while shooting enhances the chance.

The fact that York has almost as many blocked shots and steals (eight) as three-pointers (10) is not all that bad. In fact, in Miller’s system, it’s encouraged. The Wildcats will trade shooting an abundance of three-pointers by limiting looks at all parts of the floor at the other end.

The most glaring issue is York and especially Pitts have not become a regular part of the offensive flow in the Wildcats’ half-court execution. Pitts averages only one three-pointer a game shooting 8 of 15 from beyond the arc through the first eight games.

York’s had his opportunities with a team-high 29 three-point attempts but he has made only 10 of them for 34.5 percent. That’s symbolic of Arizona’s perimeter game with a three-point shooting percentage of 37.9, which ranks No. 71 nationally.

York is on record saying Miller wants him to be a contributor like Nick Johnson was at the shooting guard position. Johnson, a first-team All-American last year, had more steals and blocked shots (68) than three-pointers made (62) last year in a position that requires shooting from the perimeter.

By comparison, Michigan’s second-team All-American shooting guard Nick Stauskas had a combined 31 blocked shots and steals compared with 92 three-pointers made. Stauskas will not be with Michigan on Saturday at McKale against Arizona. He left to the NBA after two years in Ann Arbor, Mich.

York can stand to improve his rebounding as much as his three-point production. Rebounding is another hustle-stat staple of which Miller places a premium. Johnson averaged 3.7 rebounds in his career. York is grabbing only one a game this season (eight total, none on the offensive end).


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PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall
PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played)

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[table “” not found /] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also has published articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.


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