College basketball: Arizona heating up again with big win, Washington looks like Pac-12 contender and more
Here are some news and notes from around the college basketball world on Thursday afternoon:
1. Arizona didn’t just win three random games in a row. The Wildcats held Long Beach State to 56 points while scoring 91. They won an overtime game at UNLV and beat Texas A&M in the final few possessions in Phoenix. Are the Wildcats back? Should they now be considered a Final Four contender again? Are they the team to beat in the Pac-12 yet again? Let’s slow down. This team hasn’t been 100 percent healthy (see: Rawle Alkins out). Still, there is a difference the past two weeks after going 0 for 3 at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. “We have learned the importance of high effort and concentration in all that we do,’’ Arizona coach Sean Miller told NCAA.com. “Whether that be in practice, shootaround and a buy-in throughout the entire game. We still have a long way to go with all of this but we are much further along than we were three weeks ago.’’ Miller said playing freshmen Ira Lee, Alex Barcello, Deandre Ayton, Brandon Randolph, Emmanuel Akot and (sophomore) Dylan Smith without Alkins “makes us very inexperienced now. I believe we have have an upside to be much better if we can remain healthy.’’ The schedule will continue to be a chore with Alabama and Collin Sexton coming in this weekend and the Pac-12 opener against Arizona State on Dec. 30.
2. Washington has a win not many will get this season — over Kansas in front of a majority of Kansas fans. The game was technically on a neutral court since it was in Kansas City, but look at the map and this was as close to a road game as you can get without being in Lawrence. The Huskies, under new coach Mike Hopkins, have been defending. But the main reason for the renewed optimism in Seattle is this: “They have bought into the new system, the coaching staff and most importantly the team,’’ Hopkins told NCAA.com Thursday. “I am so happy for them.’’ Hopkins was an out-of-the-box hire for the job. Sure, he’s from California. But he has lived his whole adult life in Syracuse, coaching under Jim Boeheim. He was the head coach in waiting but it was clear he was going to wait too long had he stayed under Boeheim. It was a bold move to leave the comfort of Syracuse and venture off on his own. This couldn’t be working out any better at this juncture, especially when he couldn’t have gone any further, unless he had taken the Hawaii job. The Huskies could do wonders for the impression of this team in the Seattle area if it takes down Gonzaga Sunday at home. Regardless, UW now has hope that the turnaround could be much quicker. Due to the unbalanced schedule, Washington only has to play Arizona and Arizona State once — and it’s at home. It’s not crazy to think UW can now be a top-four contender in the league and in the hunt for an at-large berth.
3. Florida’s sudden losing streak can be seen through the prism of its poor shooting. Losing the lead and to Duke in the PK80 final in Portland was completely understandable and to some expect predicted based on preseason expectations. But scoring just 66 points against Florida State and only 59 against Loyola (Ill.) is cause for concern. This comes after scoring over 100 in games against Stanford and Gonzaga. The Gators haven’t been able to get out and run lately and use their speed to their advantage if they’re not getting stops. The most glaring stat right now is on 3-pointers. Florida shot 51.3 percent on 3s at the PK80 but is just 8 of 44 (18.2 percent) in the past two games. Not having a dump down post threat ends up hurting the Gators when the shots don’t fall. The Gators will have to be sharp on 3s if they are to get back on track. Florida meets Cincinnati Saturday in Newark, N.J. in the Never Forget Tribute Classic. Meanwhile, Porter Moser should be given oodles of credit here for what he has done with Loyola. Moser, a former assistant to the late Rick Majerus at Saint Louis, has the Ramblers at 9-1. The Valley, sans Wichita State, is shaping up to be quite a race among relative newcomer Loyola, first-year Valparaiso and staples Northern Iowa, Missouri State, Bradley and Evansville (and still wouldn’t dismiss Drake or Indiana State).