Scouting Report: Western Kentucky

After weeks of going against each other in practice and two exhibitions, Arizona finally gets a chance to play a game that counts. Western Kentucky is a team that has been overlooked; Just go back to last season in Rupp Arena where the Hilltoppers took out Kentucky 68-54. While Arizona is superior to that Kentucky team, it is arguable that Western Kentucky now is better than they were a year ago.

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With an All-American center and a 2002 NCAA appearance, The Hilltoppers have finally become a name in the world of college hoops. The showdown with Chris Marcus, the All-American center, may not come to pass as the senior's status won't be known until game time. Even without Marcus, Western Kentucky is a pretty good oppoent and isn't going to roll over and die at the site of the number one team in the nation. Here are the starting matchups for tomorrow's game:

PG- 6'1" 185 lbs Sophomore Patrick Sparks vs. 5'10" 185 lbs Senior Jason Gardner

This is a better matchup than people think. Sparks was a very good playmaker his freshmen year and should only improve this season. Sparks should have trouble with Gardner's quickness, but should be able to at least combat the Arizona press with his ball handling ability. Sparks was 4th among freshmen last year in three-point percentage at 43%. He won't be one of the best point guards Gardner faces this season, but he definitely won't be one of the worst. Gardner comes back for his senior year with unlimited potential. He has done essentially everything on the college level except win a national title, and this season he wants to put that last jewel into his crown. Jason can score, as he showed last year with his 20.4 PPG. He can throw great passes to cutters and he can spot up and hit the three-point shot. He is great in transition and is everything you want in a point guard in college basketball. There is no guy in the country who you'd rather have the ball at the end of the game than Gardner. Look for his quickness to trouble Sparks, but look for the reverse as well. Gardner could have a little trouble defensively with Sparks, but with Bynum ready to come off the bench, Gardner should stay fresh the whole game. The same can't be said for Sparks. At least he has the right attitude about it. "There's no better way in starting off your season than playing against the best," Sparks said. "That's how I'm going to look at it." Gardner should certainly get the best of this matchup and most matchups he has all year.
Advantage: Jason Gardner

SG- 6'3" 190 lbs Junior Mike Wells vs. Will Bynum or Hassan Adams

Mike Wells is a solid player; he averaged nine points off the bench last year and plays good defense. He is a typical Hilltopper, no star power but gritty and willing to do anything to get a win. He is experienced, however he won't put up 25 a game anytime soon. But Wells should give a consistent effort this season. Wells biggest characteristic has been his defense, which could harass either a smaller Will Bynum or an inexperienced Hassan Adams. Bynum gives the Wildcats a second point guard and his quickness will give Wells trouble. Adams is nearly as quick as Bynum and a good six inches taller. Both players can score in bunches and should see ample playing time.
Advantage: Bynum and Adams

SF- 6'4" 200 lbs Senior Filip Videnov vs. 6-8 241 lbs Senior Luke Walton

Videnov is a player that plays all out all the time. That can help him sometimes, but at other times it's actually detrimental to his team's play as he is usually in foul trouble. He is an athletic wing that at one point last year made ten three-pointers in a row. If he is on his game, he could be tough to guard, but with Walton and Igoudala following him around all day I don't see him getting very many good looks. Walton comes back as many people's pick for National Player of the Year. There isn't much one can do to neutalize Walton. He is a great passer, can post-up or slither through traffic while driving to the hoop. If his outside shot is falling, he is the complete player. Having him and Gardner on the perimeter just isn't fair, as a lot of teams will find out. A near triple-double is not out of the question.
Advantage: Luke Walton

PF- 6'8" 230 lb Senior David Boyden vs. 6-9 225 lbs Senior Rick Anderson

To all the Western Kentucky fans who think this is the one matchup where they have an advantage; they might be right. Well, maybe if this was August 23rd instead of November 23rd. Anderson has completely changed his game Hilltopper fans, and he is playing at an all-time high. He's attacking the boards and finishing around the hoop. He is finally using his height to its full advantage and is being very aggressive. His defense still isn't great, but he is playing his best basketball in his Arizona career. Boyden, the reigning Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year is very athletic. He could give Anderson problems offensively as Anderson has notoriously struggled with athletic power forwards. Boyden again has a workmanlike game with not much flair but plenty of results. He has been the beneficiary of Marcus' absence and is doing a lot of the low post scoring because of it. While this matchup could go either way, the way Anderson is playing so far he has to get the nod.
Advantage: Push

C- 6'9" 230 lbs Junior Todor Pandov vs. 6-11 235 lbs Sophomore Channing Frye or 6-9 270 lbs sophomore Isaiah Fox

Pandov has never been a starter before and is now thrust into this role because of the injury to Chris Marcus. Although there is a slight chance that Marcus could play, the likelihood is that Pandov will get the call. Pandov, like Videnov is another athletic player with a big engine. Frye has been off and on in the exhibition season, but should be ready for the season opener. He can be dominant, but can also disappear for stretches. If Frye doesn't get the call, you can bet the Fox will be ready. The more physical Fox could give Pandov big problems in the post. The same can be said in the reverse, but Fox's frame on Pandov would be big trouble for Western Kentucky. If Marcus can play (he's a game time decision), he'd get the nod, but I don't see Pandov being more effective than Frye or Fox.
Advantage: Channing Frye or Isaiah Fox

You know you have arrived when you bring a top-20 team into your building and have advantages at practically every position. Arizona's bench is also superior to Western Kentucky's but the Hilltoppers still have a good bench. This game could be close for awhile but I can see a point in the game where the press jumpstarts a 16-2 type run and puts the game away. With Marcus this game could be real interesting but I think as much as I think the Hilltoppers are a real solid basketball team, not having Marcus really hurts them.

Arizona wins going away but not in a rout. Advantage: Arizona 97-79


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