Despite what some local reporters may think, the Cats are in the NCAA Tournament. The Cats are in, but their seeding is still up for debate. I honestly believed they started Thursday as a six or seven, with a chance to move up with each win.
Now I think they are likely a seven, but could be anywhere between a 7-10. The Cats still have a very good RPI (around 12) and a top-5 strength of schedule depending on which poll you look at. Even their record over their last 10 games is not terrible at 6-4.
The Oregon game went about as bad as it could. Had the Cats lost a close one I don't think it would have hurt their seeding. A one-sided loss, particularly one in which their offense was so bad, could stick out to the selection committee.
This was truly one of the worst offensive performances by the Wildcats that I can remember. It would be one thing if they took bad shots or faced a great defense, but the Cats missed numerous open shots. How many times did Williams' shot go in and out? How many lay-ins and put-backs were missed? The easy answer is 'too many'.
Arizona is not good enough to beat teams on the defensive end and they certainly can't win games when they miss make-able shots. Oregon wasn't exactly UCLA on the defensive end, but the Cats just could not hit their shots.
If you had told me the Ducks would shoot 46.4%, score less than 70 points and that Aaron Brooks would not score the entire second half, I would think we would be talking about an Arizona win, not a one-sided loss.
Follow the leader?
It is apparent that Cats lack a great leader. They don't have that one guy who can motivate and rally the troops. They don't have a player who can whip the other guys into shape either with his words or his expressions. All too often when things start to go wrong the Cats rush shots and almost seem to panic.
They don't have a guy who can calm them down and get them through the rough patches.
The bright spot
Once again Jordan Hill was the bright spot for the Wildcats. The freshman big man had a double-double and was the only Wildcats to shoot better than 50%. Without his 5-7 from the field the Cats shot just 28%.
Setting the tone
On Oregon's second possession they got four offensive rebounds. That possession seemed to set the tone. The Ducks played more aggressive, more confident and just plain better than the Wildcats. They also looked noticeably quicker. Although the Wildcats are more athletic than about 80% of college basketball, there was a time when they were in the top 5% in terms of quickness and athleticism.
In my opinion, the Cats were not terrible on the defensive end. They certainly were not good, but they probably did enough on the defensive end to win the game. Brooks had the one great stretch where he scored 13 of the team's 16 points, but after that he had just three more points. Tajuan Porter was fantastic from the outside, but no other Duck had more than 10.
Oregon's 55% shooting from behind the arc was not good, but their 44% overall was reasonable. In the end the Cats' biggest problems were all offensive.
Changing my tone:
I've said on many occasions that the Cats are not as good as their 12-game win streak, nor as bad as their January play. Unfortunately, I think they are closer to the January team than they are the December version.
There are a number of reasons for it. One of the biggest is Jawann McClellan. With his knees and other injuries, he is simply not the same player that we saw early in the season. Without him the Cats are missing a key component of what made the 12-1 start so effective. Back then McClellan was the mortar between the bricks. He filled whatever gap the Cats had. Needed boards? McClellan was the man. Need a hard nosed defender? He could do that too. Need some points? McClellan could even do that.
Now he is a very limited player, who actually looked like he was having trouble running the floor. Add his struggles to injuries to Bret Brielmaier, Marcus Williams and Mustafa Shakur, plus what looked like some mid-season fatigue by Chase Budinger and Ivan Radenovic and you get the team we see today.
So how far can the Cats go? It all depends. If they are matched up with teams that are not accustomed to athleticism, I think they can give some teams trouble. Ideally they'd meet a team that also lacks a balanced perimeter game. The Cats have struggled with teams like USC and UCLA that have three or four guys who can score from the outside, but also play physical defense.