Off the Cuff

Even though the summer approaches and the more noteworthy Arizona athletic endeavors are in a sort of hibernation, it doesn't mean the opinions are put in the deep freezer. Welcome to Off the Cuff, the occasional feature that will capture conversations between Cat Tracks Editor Brad Allis and faithful sidekick John Schuster, and any straggler who might be in the general vicinity. Today it's just Schu. The topic: St. Joe's and its parallels to Arizona 10 years ago.

As St. Joseph's continues its trek through the NCAA tournament, its presence hearkens memories of Arizona a decade before.

Along with Stanford and Gonzaga, St. Joseph's was the nation's most maligned good basketball team, and of those three the one has not disappointed in the NCAA tournament.

Since the opening tip, St. Joe's has garnered a great deal of success by virtue of the play of two key backcourt performers, Jameer Nelson and Delonte West. Both deadly scorers, both the reason the Hawks have put together such a magical campaign.

Both should remind Arizona fans a lot of Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire. Responsible for the rebirth of Wildcat basketball, Reeves and Stoudamire were a dynamite backcourt that guided the UA into the Final Four in 1994.

Further comparisons: With St. Joe's dynamic duo, one's a lefty, the other a right-hander, one a senior, the other a junior, just as was the case with the UA during its second appearance in the Final Four.

For St. Joe's to match the Wildcat run, it must upend Oklahoma State, a No. 2 seed that rolled through the Big 12. When Arizona advanced to the Final Four 10 years ago, it eliminated Missouri, the No. 1 seed that had cruised through Big 12 competition.

Given his history with Arizona Coach Lute Olson and occasional enjoyment in bringing up the game the UA canceled due to weather concerns years ago, I suspect St. Joe's mentor Phil Martelli probably wouldn't be real thrilled with the parallels, but then again, if this backcourt gets him to San Antonio, he could probably deal with worse…

…Speaking of the St. Joe's game, there was some controversy over the CBS announcing team. Jim Nantz and Billy Packer were courtside, this after Packer disagreed with the NCAA selection committee for giving St. Joseph's a No. 1 seed, which in turn raised the ire of Martelli. In the broadcast, Packer, a Wake Forest alum, lost nearly all professionalism, but not in the direction one might think.

Instead, he overcompensated and went out of his way to praise St. Joseph's at every turn, more often than not at the expense of Wake Forest, which led for most of the first half and rallied late to keep the game in doubt into the final minute. But listening to Packer, you'd think it was UConn and Vandy where one team simply outclassed the other. It was not Packer's shining moment, but Nantz, as usual, did an admirable job covering for his partner.


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