Schu Strings: Texas preps Cats for NCAA's

After a sequence of what amounted to little more than basketball versions of walks in the park, Arizona's encounter with Texas was a great early Christmas gift in terms of NCAA tournament preparation.

December 21, 2002. Welcome to a taste of the NCAA tournament three months early. For the first month of the season, we've read the glowing reviews in national publications. We endured Bill Walton's gloating on ESPN. We've talked about the dominance of the fullcourt press. So far, college basketball has been Arizona, Arizona, Arizona. Let the anointing process begin.

And then came Texas, which showed Arizona how it's really going to be.

This isn't the NBA. This is college basketball, and there are still a number of quality teams out there, regardless of those who think the UA is somehow so superior to every other team in the land that a national title is a foregone conclusion. Texas was proof there's a lot of work to do, and if the nation's No. 1 team takes it for granted, disappointment is in the offing.

The Texas game was tournament caliber, and it forced Arizona to win in tournament fashion. Note the lack of the fullcourt press. The UA hardly unveiled it against the Longhorns, possibly because it felt T.J. Ford was too talented to trap on a consistent basis.

But more importantly, it illustrated what to expect. Despite all the interest in Arizona's 94-foot defensive wrinkle, when the smoke clears, the halfcourt game will be the key to a new banner at McKale Center.

In the regular season, the press will be effective. Teams with less depth will wear thin as the game progresses. That won't happen as frequently in the NCAA tournament. Not with three-minute TV timeouts. What this means is that while it can be an effective weapon, ultimately Arizona is going to have to grind out some games with stellar play in the halfcourt. It must be able to move the ball around with patience and find open looks on the offensive end. And it must be able to show a tendency toward consistently gritty peskiness on defense.

To beat Texas, the UA had to do both. And it had to rebound successfully against a physical opponent.

Arizona still has a plethora of tempo-setting options on the defensive end of the floor. The great success of last year's team, in my eyes, is that it managed to win games despite never having the luxury of setting the tempo by virtue of its defense. This year, that's not the case, but it doesn't have to be done by virtue of a fullcourt press alone. Arizona can be just as successful limiting the passing lanes in halfcourt sets, much as it did during the national title game run two seasons ago. As was the case in 2001, that tactic can lead to numerous open-court opportunities. It has length at key positions, and veterans who better understand their assignments. That can make the UA a tough commodity as the season progresses.

Offensively, the healthy return of Luke Walton is critical. While Arizona can penetrate and dish without him, it has yet to really comprehend how to find people for open looks, or how to put them into a position to score consistently. Although he has struggled early, Walton remains Arizona's best weapon in a structured offense.

Upending Arizona won't be easy. The opponent will need to do a lot of things right. It will have to be able to counter Arizona's speed and depth while exerting a physical advantage on the glass. There aren't many teams that can do that, but they do exist. And to avoid an upset, the UA will need to continue to improve in key areas to weather the storm. As it weathered the storm against Texas.

If 2002 is remembered for anything cinematically, it will be the relative quality of franchise movies. It can be said on a consistent basis anymore, but the year wasn't exactly a movie milestone. Nothing stands out in terms of great Oscar fare, at least in a traditional sense. But while single-screen efforts don't stand out, some of the franchise outlets did.

What do I mean by franchise film? Spiderman, for example. This was the first, but there will be a bunch to follow. And the first Spiderman was very strong. A nice movie about teen romance angst dressed as a superhero fable. It made a lot of money, rightfully so.

But Spidey wasn't the only franchise pic that succeeded from a quality standpoint. Other strong efforts occurred from the likes of the Two Towers, which is the Schu pick to win Best Picture, largely because nothing stands out in the more traditional sense. I am told the second Harry Potter was a strong effort. I haven't seen either so I have to take the word of others on that. Die Another Day is the best James Bond movie since Living Daylights, and among the upper echelon in the series. To a lesser extent, The Bourne Identity could be considered a franchise pic in that Robert Ludlum wrote two or three follow-ups to that spy original.

While it bombed at the box office, the latest Star Trek entry is well done. Its fatal mistake was a release date just five days before Two Towers, the most anticipated movie in some time. Had Star Trek hit the box offices even a week earlier, I think it would have done much better. Naturally, it's a better watch for Trek fans, but it's a good film nonetheless, probably third or fourth best in the series.

The franchise film wasn't perfect, by any means. The most glaring example of less-than-stellar was Star Wars, Attack of the Clones. When I saw it the first time, I felt it landed solidly in the center of its four predecessors. When I watched it again on IMAX a month ago, it was less than impressive. There was a time when Star Wars was the standard. But that was a long, long time ago. Star Wars is now a cashcow. Quality is secondary. And while the whole point of creating a franchise film is for big money return, at least Hollywood did a good job of making those movies generally worthwhile. Can it expand the string next year? With two Matrix films and Charlie's Angels leading the way, call me doubtful.

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