Getting to know the Arizona Wildcats from a Wildcat

basketball_iconHere is Ted Skroback’s look at the Arizona Wildcats and what they bring to the table in Thursday’s matchup. Skroback has a weekly sports talk show on KAMP Radio at the University of Arizona, he is a camera operator for PAC-12 Network and has worked many sports TV productions throughout Arizona. He is a student at the University of Arizona, graduating in May with a degree in Journalism. You can follow him on Twitter at @Tedskro for some Buckeye- Arizona in-game banter.

THE SEASON: After a hot 20-2 start that included wins over Florida, Miami and San Diego State, the Wildcats stumbled to a 25-7 finish going 5-5 down the stretch. Arizona’s only losses came to PAC-12 teams. They dropped all three games against UCLA (lost in PAC-12 tournament semi-final), but their only loss to a non-tournament team was at USC. The Cats have bounced around the AP rankings climbing up to 3rd in the nation and never falling below 18th in the regular season. Their RPI tells the tale of the season, as they ranked 15th overall but it was the nonconference RPI which is ranked second that shows this team can play with anybody.

EIGHT DEEP: At the start of the season I called this team the deepest in the nation and I still back that theory. On Thursday they will play an eight-man rotation, but over the season they have rotated in ten men at times. The three freshmen bigs are a rotation of their own. Kaleb Tarczewski (7’-0”), Brandon Ashley (6’-8”) and Grant Jerrett (6’-10”) can pose matchup problems for smaller teams. Tarczewski (Zeus) is your typical big center, he played scared at the start of the season, but seems to have become more comfortable with using his big frame down low. Brandon Ashley has a good all around game while Jerrett is an underrated defender and will surprise teams with his shooting (40% behind the arc). These three all compliment each other perfectly with their styles of play, rarely all three will be on the court at the same time, but against the small Ohio State lineup Head Coach Sean Miller might give it a try.

The Seniors, they’ve been there before: What each of the three main seniors have been through are all stories of their own. Kevin Parrom has moved his way into the starting lineup after being considered one of the best sixth men in the country. This kid has battled mentally (loss of both his mother and grandmother) and physically (shot in the leg, once recovered from the shooting he then broke his foot upon return) that all occurred within months of each other during the 2011-2012 season.

Solomon Hill is the quiet leader for the Wildcats. Second leading scorer on the team, and the definition of consistent. He will sneak up and give this team double digit scoring per game with a handful of rebounds. Solo seems like the perfect matchup against Deshaun Thomas, but Sean Miller said Thomas will be guarded by committee.

Mark Lyons is the loud leader for the Wildcats. The Xavier transfer has been reconnected with Miller and was granted eligibility to play this season because of a loophole allowing a graduate to transfer and play right away as long as their new school has a masters program their old school did not offer. Lyons hit a slump at the end of the season, but through the first two rounds of the tournament he has scored 23 and 27 points respectively. Confidence is his greatest strength and his most glaring weakness. Miller has said he wants the ball in Lyons hands at the end of a game because he is the gutsiest player on the team. His layup/floater over manchild Patric Young in the one point win over Florida shows he can put the team on his back. The frustrations come when he chalks up deep threes in a close game 6 seconds deep into the shot clock. He was seen taunting Larry Drew II of UCLA during their second regular season matchup, which is fine I love a good taunt, but not when Larry Drew II owned Lyons. After both regular season games Lyons went 1:10 in assist to turnover ratio. This cockiness could lead to trouble against Aaron Craft. (FUN FACT: Lyons is the first ever player to appear in back to back Sweet 16’s for two different teams)

We will see a lot of this on Thursday

We will see a lot of this on Thursday

Coaching Tree: People keep saying these teams playing styles are mirror images of each other. Well, both Thad Matta and Sean Miller were assistants together at Miami (Ohio) under Herb Sendek during the ’94-’95 season. The two would eventually work together again at Xavier where Matta was the head coach and Miller became his assistant for three seasons. When Matta traveled the 100 miles up I-71 to take over the reigns at Ohio State, he let it be known that Miller should be the Musketeer’s next head coach. The only time these two coaches have squared off head to head before Thursday was when Ron Lewis hit a three to send the 2007 “round of 32” matchup between Miller’s Musketeers and Matta’s Buckeyes into overtime where OSU would eventually win and move on.

X-Factor: Mark Lyons would be the easy choice, but that’s no fun. Sophmore guard Nick Johnson is a more athletic poor mans Aaron Craft. Johnson, when he wants, can be just as good of an on ball defender as Craft. He gave fits to Jahii Carson of Arizona State who is one of the quickest guards in the country. In big games Johnson seems to always make a big defensive play down the stretch. Defensive play of the year could be Johnson’s block on what looked to be a go ahead layup in the final seconds for San Diego State, instead the Cats walked away with a one point victory. Just like Craft you have to know where Johnson is at all times when Arizona has their backs to the basket.

Bottom Line: Arizona’s Achilles heel has been defending the three all season, but they have shown improvement lately by completely shutting down Belmont in the round of 64, a team that relied heavily on threes to get to the tournament. Although the Cats don’t have a pure go-to shooter, anyone that sees playing time besides big man Tarczewski can step outside and hit an open look. They are deceivingly athletic and although a fast paced game seems to fit the smaller lineup of Ohio State, with the deep rotation and athletic big men Arizona can run with anybody. The Wildcats normally look lost against zone schemes, which won’t come into effect Thursday playing against man to man.

Prediction: Arizona plays to the skill of their opponent; this game will be close in the high sixties to low seventies. The Wildcats will out-rebound the Buckeyes, which will be the tale of the stats in this battle. Miller gets revenge against his friend in a 72-70 win.



  1. Linda Skroback says

    Nice reporting and we are looking forward to a win!

  2. Arizona 75-72

  3. Great write-up, Ted. I think it’s been popular for the talking heads to say how weak the West Bracket is, but I think there are a lot of good and underrated teams in this bracket. Iowa State scared me and now Arizona scares me.

    The Lyons/Craft match-up is going to be fun to watch. Your bigs do give me pause, but Ravenel has played guys bigger than him well all season, so it should be good match up all the way around.

    This is going to be fun!

    • Ted Skroback says

      el Kaiser- You’re right about the West bracket talk, but when the bracket came out I said the main team I’m afraid of is Ohio State. So at least the best two teams are getting to face off and whoever wins will walk into the Final Four, either team can give anyone fits.

  4. The thing that is great about this match up are that both teams have clear strengths and weaknesses that will propel their team to victory. OSU’s great perimeter D versus Arizona’s back court, then Arizona’s height advantage inside. Will be one of the best games of the tournament


  1. […] To learn more about Arizona from a Wildcat’s point of view, click here. […]

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