After suffering with the loss of Ndubi Ebi to the NBA, after dealing with seasons where depth was a major concern due to NBA defections and the hindering nature of the 5/8 rule, Arizona appears to have changed its philosophy somewhat. Outside of the heralded Jawann McClellan, the UA signed players who arrive with something of a project label. As a result, they'll probably be here awhile. Certainly a welcome addition to the "we barely knew ye" stopover experienced with recent Wildcats.
Mohamed Tangara, Jesus Verdejo, Daniel Dillon, Onobun and Williams are all categorized as athletes who figure to play more significant roles in the years to come, guys who can develop and contribute in important ways as seasoned upperclassmen.
Many Wildcat fans seem comfortable with this scenario. They remember the UA teams that over-achieved in the late 80s and early 90s, and there's a certain nostalgia about returning to those times. Many of those same people say Arizona coach Lute Olson is at his best as a developer of talent that doesn't possess the All-American tag.
It's a sweet gesture, but this ain't 1992. The game has changed, and so have the expectations of Arizona and its fans. As it is, the UA could be in danger of more closely mirroring Gonzaga and Stanford. There's nothing wrong with Gonzaga and Stanford, at least in terms of regular season success. Both have had a recent history of registering 25-win seasons, but of late have hit a bit of a wall come NCAA tournament time.
The reason? Well, in many ways it's the same thing that afflicted Arizona early in the 90s. Come tournament time, more athletic teams have the upper hand. Just last season Gonzaga got run off the floor by Nevada while Stanford suffered a second-round setback to SEC nemesis Alabama, which brought back visions of the Crimson Tide's dominating second-round win over Arizona 13 years ago.
When Arizona won its national title in 1997, it changed the face of the program and vaulted it from top-flight to elite status. People often mention the contributions of Miles Simon on that team, and rightfully so. Simon, a top-20 prospect, grew dramatically as an upperclassman. His on-court understanding was critical to Arizona's success. But the UA also had Mike Bibby, and Bibby, one of the nation's top five ranked players his senior year in high school, was a stud. Without Bibby, the UA doesn't win.
Being a dynamic program on the college basketball scene is a balancing act, and right now Arizona appears to be teetering in the direction of too many role players, not enough impact players. Too many of either is probably a bit detrimental. If a team has too many studs, incorporating chemistry can be problematic. But if a team has too many role players, competing consistently against opposition that does becomes a difficult task.
This year's UA team should have an opportunity to make a deep run. It has superb depth on the front line, talented performers in Salim Stoudamire and McClellan at the two, the explosive Hassan Adams returning to his natural wing position and a point guard in Mustafa Shakur who appears poised to take the reins.
But next year, the question marks could abound, especially if Shakur leaves early. By making the concerted decision to recruit for depth with the 04 class, it should have been incumbent to land an impact player in 05. While the talent committed to date is strong, there doesn't appear to be an explosive contributor set to step up.
Granted, nobody projected Gilbert Arenas to be as dynamic a scorer as he was, so perhaps one of the players given a "role" tag will surprise and answer the bell in a big-time way. But one of these prospects could just as easily bring back memories of Travis Hanour. More than likely, the players who are expected to gradually improve will do just that. Meanwhile, that player who can take over a game is nowhere to be found.
Under that formula, it's safe to say Arizona will remain very good. But is very good good enough by Arizona standards anymore?…
…But staying with sports, have you noticed that everyone in football runs the ball on second and long? Everybody. Whether it's a high-octane offense or a team with a more conservative reputation, second and long is a passing down no more. The logic is simple. If the first down play, often a pass, failed to move the football, there are still two downs available to pick up the necessary yardage. Most defenses will approach second and long as a passing down, thus if the offense can pick up five or six on the ground, it makes third down manageable.
So it seems like every offense in football has bailed on the pass on second and long. Here's what I think really happened. You know those conferences your boss attends, and when the boss comes back from said conference, boss is all excited about this new project some consultant unveiled in the talk that didn't interfere with the dinner party? And then boss comes back all jazzed and ready to implement said project, only to find out that every other boss who attended the same event feels the same way…that's what we have here.
To borrow a Brad Allis phrase, every offensive coordinator in the US drank the "run on second and long" Cool-Aid. So the next time your favorite football team runs the ball on second and long and gets stuffed in the backfield, blame it on the real culprit, not the coordinator, but the damn second and long talk he attended.