Schu Strings: Time to Get Serious

Despite its lofty 20-2 overall record and No. 1 ranking, UA basketball has been a bit more frustrating than many anticipated. A sequence of closer games than expected against lesser competition has led to inquiries involving Arizona's rightful place atop the college basketball world. But playtime is over.

Arizona has endured a rash of inconsistencies throughout the course of the season, and that has bred uncertainty, but whether it's for boredom, disinterest, or a series of other synonyms, the time to work out the kinks is gone.

If the UA wants to be the team everyone fears come tournament time, it must make its statement now. The rest of the regular season should act as good preparation for March Madness, but if Arizona handles this stretch as it has much of the earlier portion of its schedule, then trouble could brew. The Wildcats face some tough challenges in the immediate future, so the potential for appropriate preparation is there.

For starters, there's Saturday's game at Arizona State, a team playing much better that appears to be making strides toward a spot in the NCAA tournament. But on top of its solid inside/outside game and the inspired play of freshman Ike Diogu, not to mention its physical in-your-face defensive style, ASU desperately needs to record a win at Wells Fargo Arena. Arizona State remains a bubble team that can't afford to stumble down the stretch. It's schedule mirrors that of Arizona, so despite a four-game win streak and 17-7 overall record, if it hits the skids to close out the regular season, it could find itself on the outside looking in. A triumph over Arizona would go a long way toward improving those chances.

ASU also garnered some confidence by virtue of its big rally at McKale Center. A soldout crowd will be on hand to witness the intensity. Arizona must be ready for war.

Afterward, the UA hits the road for the conference's other difficult tour of duty: the Bay Area. Cal and Stanford have played above expectations this year. Stanford, of course, handed Arizona its only conference loss. Cal is just a game behind in the race for the league's top spot. The UA could have its hands full in those encounters.

The Wildcats close out the regular season at home against the Oregon schools. Oregon State appears to be the last of the potential slacker matchups on the slate, which could make that a dangerous game if Jay John's team is overlooked. Oregon will need a strong performance to boost its uncertain tournament hopes.

After that it's Pac-10 tournament time. As a top seed, Arizona will face a team playing for its future in the opening round. If that team is currently eighth-seeded Washington, it could be a tough game. U-Dub has given the UA fits twice this season. Other confrontations in the Pac-10 tourney could play a role in determining Arizona's desire to land the No. 1 seed in the West.

And once that wraps up, the one-and-done atmosphere of the NCAA tournament is upon us.

The easy ones are a thing of the past. Arizona must play at or near the top of its game from this point on to make a run at the goal it set at the opening day in practice. And if the UA comes out a winner in its final game, we might look back at this stretch as a catalyst for that lofty accomplishment.

Moving on…

…Why does Michael Jackson have to be the poster boy for February sweeps? Watch the revealing Michael Jackson interview on ABC. Or the insightful study on Michael Jackson on NBC. See the Michael Jackson footage you weren't supposed to see in a special two-hour TV event on Fox.

I wasn't supposed to see it. I don't care if I see it. I'm not going to see it, so do what you want with your footage. Jackson's a freak, plain and simple, and not even a remotely talented one anymore at that. Like Dennis Rodman before him, if we just ignore the freak show it will go away.

Oh, but there are allegations of child misconduct, so we must pay attention. We must protect the children. Um, Jackson's been a freakazoid for decades now. I feel for the kids, but it's not like the parents should be real surprised here.

Everywhere I turn this month, it's Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson.

Plastic surgery gone horribly wrong: The ER you never thought you'd see. Michael Jackson appears as the special guest referee as Hulk Hogan and The Rock rekindle their already tired rivalry this week on Smackdown!. Emeril turns it up a notch with a special Michael Jackson recipe. A surprise to the season finale of Joe Millionaire as one of the finalists reveals she is really Michael Jackson, just like one of those Pepsi Twist commercials.

Jees, if this continues I might have to start reading again.

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