John Paul Jones Arena
Make no mistake about it teams earn their way into the NCAA Tournament by beating conference foes in league play. It's games like the one tonight, though, that will go a long way in determining a team's postseason seeding.
No one knows this better than Lute Olson who is an absolute maverick when it comes to navigating his teams through a traditionally strong non-conference schedule. Wins in November and December could earn a conference champion a one or a two seed. Losses could have that same conference champion scratching their heads on Selection Sunday when they're announced as being a four or even a five seed.
This season, neutral site games against Louisville and Ilinois, home games against North Carolina, Memphis, UNLV and Houston, and road games against San Diego State and Virginia will provide fans some insight into how successful Arizona will be during March Madness.
Tonight the Wildcats take their first step in what looks to be a promising season. They face a gritty Virginia Cavaliers team that will play hard-nosed defense. They will also face a hostile ACC crowd that should be more hyped than ever as the Cavs' 2006-2007 home opener will be played in their brand new arena.
Here's what Arizona fans can expect:
Arizona's guards are good, real good. But McClellan hasn't faced a Div-I opponent since last December and Shakur has yet to prove that he can consistently play well over long stretches. Budinger's first game as a Wildcat will be on the road in a hostile environment (not easy). Fortunately, Williams and Radenovic, and a deep bench make the Cats as well-rounded on offense as you'll find in the country.
The Cavs rely heavily on their guards to score themselves and create for others. Singletary was 1st Team All-ACC last season while Reynolds shot over .35% from the 3-pt line. Sometimes the demand to do everything is too great, though, as Singletary led the ACC with 104 turnovers last season. Mikalauskas proved he could score inside last year, but may struggle to do so against the more athletic Cats.
OFFENSIVE EDGE: ARIZONA
The Cavs must get production out of Reynolds and Singletary in order to be successful. The Cats can get production out of any combination of an eight man rotation, which will create match-up problems. Plus, the Cats have a number of shooters on the team this year so defenses can no longer pack it in and play zone.
The Cats believe in denying passing lanes and fronting the post. They rotate well and play good help defense. They are prone to backdoor cuts and have a tendency to chase passes around the perimeter because of their aggressive style. If they gamble for the steal and miss, the Cavs have guards good enough to make them pay.
The Cavs will do everything in their power to slow down Arizona. Singletary is quick enough and strong enough to limit Shakur's penetration. Radenovic will present problems for the Cavs inside, though, and may be in store for a big game. Arizona will look to run their offense from the inside-out, working through Radenovic to get the Cavs moving on defense.
DEFENSIVE EDGE: VIRGINIA
The Cavs get the edge for two reasons. First, they're at home and rabid fans have a way of energizing their team on the defensive end. Two, Walters is still not in game shape and may get limited minutes. So, Arizona may go small most of the night and this could create opportunities for the Cavs to attack the basket. Arizona will get some steals for easy baskets, but look for the Cavs to get a few easy lay-ins of their own.
Olson demands more from his guards and wings than maybe any other coach in the country. With so much depth, competition for minutes won't only be decided by who scores the most points. It'll also be determined by who is willing to attack the glass. Look for Shakur, Williams, McClellan and Budinger to help Radenovic and the other bigs secure rebounds all night long.
The Cavs will have to commit five guys to the boards on both offense and defense. Even then, Arizona is much more athletic and unlike in recent years, this version of the Cats seems ready to get down and dirty underneath. If the Cavs commit five and don't get the rebound, they will play right into the hands of Arizona who will look to kick the ball and get up the floor, quickly.
REBOUNDING EDGE: ARIZONA
ACC teams are fundamentally sound and the Cavs are no exception. They will hold their own for a while, but ultimately Arizona's athleticism will win out. Expect the Cats to get a lot of second and third chances on the offensive glass.
Shakur, Williams, Budinger, Radenovic, McClellan, Wise and Dillon have all demonstrated a willingness to make the extra pass during the exhibition season. If this continues, the Cavs will have a difficult time focusing on any one of Arizona's scorers. The Cavs will keep things close early, but eventually the deeper, more athletic Wildcats will begin to wear them down in the second half.
Arizona's balanced offensive attack and renewed commitment to out rebound opponents should be enough to get the Wildcats through this difficult road game. Expect the Wildcats to win, but don't expect the score to be very high unless they come out with all systems firing.
ARIZONA 75 VIRGINIA 61