Schu Strings: Talkin' tourney

I have yet to meet a Wildcat fan who believes the Pac-10 Tournament is a good thing. It's sort of interesting. I suspect that fans of other conference schools, or at least the conference schools that supported the tourney's return, are completely jazzed about this whole prospect. But in Tucson, and Palo Alto, this week's games will be played with a bit or irritation.

Still, at this stage it's an issue of spilt milk. Arizona is participating in the Pac-10 Tournament, and as the No. 2 seed, I think it has an excellent chance of moving through the bracket and actually winning the thing. So since the tourney is upon us, and since Arizona is participating, the UA might as well try to get something out of it as it makes last-ditch preparations for the tourney that really matters.

And fortunately for the Wildcats, it has the opportunity to benefit from matchups one final time.

Arizona's opening round game with ASU will be a test. No question about it. But it could be a positive test in that it provides the UA with one final on-court look at a style of play that has given Arizona real problems this season.

The Wildcats have had their share of issues this year, and Arizona State has been able to exploit a couple of them during the teams' two regular-season encounters. First off, ASU is a very physical team, and will attempt to exploit that circumstance against Arizona. That could benefit the UA in terms of one final tuneup before the NCAA tournament. The scouting report against Arizona will read something like this.

1. Be physical.
Arizona State is probably the most physical team in the Pac-10, and the UA will have to find a way to counterbalance that approach to be successful in the conference tourney opener.

2. Penetrate and dish.
Sun Devil guards Curtis Millage and Jason Braxton have been very successful against Arizona twice this season by virtue of getting into the lane and kicking out to teammates for open three-pointers, or taking the perimeter jumpers themselves. Their backcourt size and general athleticism has caused problems for Arizona's shorter guards. This has been a problem area for Arizona in other matchups this season as well. So if the UA gets one more look at that style, and can make improvements, it could act as a positive impetus against certain opponents in the Big Dance.

But perhaps the most important factor is that for the third time in four games, Arizona will go head-to head with a team that believes it must win to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive. The UA was able to answer that challenge against ASU at McKale Center a couple weeks ago, and took Arizona State's best shot in the second half. However, against Stanford, Arizona looked flat. In a way, this is a rubber match. It's an absolute must-win for ASU. This is last chance time in Sun Devil land. It's win the Pac-10 tourney or pray for the NIT. And ASU knows it. Which means, as was the case at McKale, ASU will give Arizona its best shot. It will do whatever it can to win, because it must win to survive. And that is exactly the attitude Arizona needs to see, needs to understand, in preparation for the NCAA Tournament. Because Arizona must adopt that attitude itself.

Should the UA survive, there are other potentially beneficial encounters on the horizon. A matchup with UCLA in round two could be the clash of the tournament, but it would also give the UA an opportunity to attempt to negate the potential dominance of a big center like Dan Gadzuric.

If the UA were to advance to the title game, it could see a USC team that has dominated it on the glass. Arizona would have an opportunity to improve in that area. If it were to see Oregon in the final game, the UA would have one more look at a team with a definitive height advantage in the backcourt, and could gauge its ability to perform against those odds.

So while most Wildcat fans aren't big supporters of the Pac-10 Tournament, for this Arizona team, the opportunities are there for one final tuneup. And heck, as long as they have to play, and have to make the swing to LA, they might as well win the thing.

(John "Schu" Schuster is still in mourning over the fact that Tennessee Tech was upset in their conference tournament. Schu is now adopting Central Connecticut as his second team.)


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