Schu Strings: Respect plays second fiddle to the W

They are winners in 20 of their last 22 games. Since the Washington State loss, they've beaten their six opponents by double figures. They have an RPI in the top-10, and an outside shot at a No. 1 seed. They have the nation's longest active streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Yet nobody seems to notice the Arizona Wildcats, and maybe that's not such a bad thing.

UA fans have seen it for some time now. This is a different team than the one that struggled last season, but that knowledge hasn't crept into the mindset of a national cast of talking heads preoccupied with Illinois' remarkable undefeated run and a lovefest with Duke and the ACC. There's nothing wrong with giving credit where credit is due. There are a lot of quality basketball teams. Arizona just doesn't seem to be included in the mix.

It's sort of like the west coast feed in reverse. Instead of us getting the show a little later, the rest of the country hasn't quite received the broadcast, and as a result they see the UA team that showed all kinds of promise, but never jelled.

The west can talk about Salim Stoudamire's amazing senior season, but the rest just see the oft-suspended moody gunslinger. To many, Arizona is that ultra-talented group that will meltdown against real competition, not the mediocre offerings it's fed on a regular basis in the struggling Pac-10.

A lot of folks tend to think the UA doesn't get the credit it deserves on a regular basis, and on that front I generally disagree. Arizona is well-known nationally by virtue of its consistent two-decade span of success. The media knows about Arizona. College basketball fans know about Arizona, and most importantly, prospective recruits know about Arizona, which is why when Arizona actually does fly under the radar, as it appears to be for the moment, it's a bit perplexing.

But none of this matters in the here and now. If the national media wants to hype Duke endlessly, let it. If it wants to build up North Carolina and Illinois and Kansas and Kentucky and Syracuse, let it. If it wants to talk about the potential dangers a team like Texas Tech could pose, let it. In the end, there is a very simple solution.

Just win games in the NCAA tournament.

It's a safe bet that while outsiders might view Arizona as a team not deserving of its lofty seed, those in the know who have to scout the UA will be well aware of the daunting task ahead. And if they aren't, that could be a fatal mistake. What they'll encounter is a team that has put itself in position for a nice tourney run. Arizona has a go-to scorer in Stoudamire who appears capable of getting his team through difficult offensive patches, not to mention his ability to score in bunches. It has a strong inside game anchored by Channing Frye and an improving Ivan Radenovic. It has balance and efficiency on offense and a defense vastly improved from last year's second-to-last-in-Division I entry. It has won games in a variety of styles, and outside of Washington State has made key defensive stops in every game in doubt in the last minute. It can shoot free throws.

Are there chinks? Of course. Arizona is probably a decent rebounding team, at best, and it can struggle against slower-tempo teams with athleticism. Penetrating point guards can cause their share of problems as well.

The prognosticators could be on the front line suggesting Arizona is ready to be had. The opposition will probably love the thought of playing in the UA's region. But be careful what you wish for. Arizona looks like a team ready for a deep run.

If that happens, the media coverage and respect it brings will take care of itself.


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