Schu Strings: Half-way grades

It's Midterm time for Arizona basketball. At the halfway point of the Pac-10 campaign, the UA has lived up to what many expected. Lots of ups and downs, in terms of tempo and consistency. So how does it grade?

For Wildcat fans somewhat accustomed to regular seasons where it's relatively smooth sailing, this year's version of the UA men's basketball team has been a bit harrowing. But is this really all that surprising? Frustrating perhaps, but not all that unexpected.

Through the initial nine-game Pac-10 swing, Arizona has:

Played well five times: at ASU, at home against Cal, at UCLA, at home against Oregon State and Oregon.

Played poorly twice: at USC and Washington.

Was controlled once: at home against Stanford

Played just well enough to win once: at Washington State

Not the worst report card, and really if you take out the missteps at USC and Washington, two places Arizona has often struggled, we're talking about a team still in the hunt for the conference title and a No. 1 seed. As it is, the UA is almost certain to play in another region, albeit as a top four seed.

So in specific categories, how does the UA grade?

Offense: A-

It's hard to get too critical about the nation's top scoring team. Arizona's halfcourt offense has improved quite a bit. Even in the loss at Washington, the UA shot better than 50 percent from the field in the second half. It eclipsed the 50 percent standard in the sluggish effort at Washington State as well.

That said, down the stretch in recent close games, shots have been tougher to come by. This was especially true in the Washington matchup, where the UA inexplicably couldn't trade buckets with U-Dub.

The formula seems simple, and it's something Arizona Coach Lute Olson has preached for some time. The more Arizona passes and shows patience, the more effective it will be. The UA still isn't the best passing team in the Pac-10, and there are occasions where the one-on-one mentality takes hold, but this is an area in which improvement continues.

Defense: C-

The good teams play good defense, and Arizona has been among the nation's better defensive teams for most of the last 15 years. This season appears to be an exception. There was a time when the 1-3-1 proved to be an effective zone, but it is becoming apparent that teams have figured out its weaknesses. The UA appears to play this defense largely as a way to protect Channing Frye from foul trouble, but it hinders the team's inherent strength, which should be cutting off passing lanes and converting those into easy transition buckets. When Arizona moved Salim Stoudamire to the baseline, replacing Mustafa Shakur, who played the point instead, the defense seemed more effective. But even that was short-lived. In the end, Arizona has a hard time extending this defense as far as it would like because it doesn't have a player like Michael Wright or Gene Edgerson who can clear the glass on a consistent basis.

More disturbing is Arizona's seeming inability to play effective man-to-man defense. This is a staple of the UA game plan, and one would think the length of players like Hassan Adams, Andre Iguodala and Shakur could make life hell for the opposition. That hasn't been the case. Adams gets lost behind screens on the perimeter or overpowered by larger four men while Iguodala and Shakur appear incapable of limiting penetration. During the Loren Woods era, Arizona would funnel players to the lane because Woods was a threat to block shots. Frye does not possess those abilities, so the team gets into trouble if it can't stop penetration.

In the end, this is the area that needs shoring up. The UA will not be a particularly physical team. That's just its makeup. But it has generally done a pretty good job rebounding. What it must do is improve its performance on defense in a way that leads to easy transition baskets. If that can be done, a successful tournament run could still be in the cards….

…Moving on…

…A quick word about Boobie-Gate. Here is the very definition of over-exposure. And not because Janet Jackson was the recipient of the flash job, thus taking away the reality that her face is sliding faster than Latoya's career.

The outrage is laughable. The NFL is officially bent out of shape, as is CBS and the FCC, which has called for an immediate investigation.

But the other end of the spectrum is just as bad. Every indication suggests this was planned in advance, and as such, there must have been an expected backlash. This is classic "artistic desire to push the envelope's boundaries," much in the vein as Madonna and Britney Spears with the still-discussed and painfully overhyped kiss.

But in this instance it's worse because none of the stars involved have the guts to stand behind their convictions, regardless of how misguided and absurd they might be. Instead, "passionate" artists like Justin Timberlake (who has the distinction of being so pathetic he actually makes Kid Rock look talented) cower behind excuses like "wardrobe malfunction."

If you're going to do something stupid, at least have the gumption to stand your ground once the prank backfires and the predictable backlash occurs…

…Nuff said…

…Now if someone could just explain to me this bizarre democratic fascination with John Kerry.

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