Greg Hansen: Depth is UA's most impressive improvement

2010-11-19T00:00:00Z 2012-11-30T19:34:06Z Greg Hansen: Depth is UA's most impressive improvementGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 19, 2010 12:00 am  • 

A lot of guys with a computer and access to the Internet have joined the RPI brigade, ranking everything that moves in college hoops, all 345 teams, with some of the data so specific that one site gave New Mexico State a 6 percent chance to beat Arizona on Thursday night.

One RPI guy ranks Arizona No. 274 in the nation. Another has the Wildcats at 211th.

A lot of these sites are about as legitimate as some Wayne's World dudes sitting on a couch in their mother's basement.

Others, like Ken Pomeroy - that's kenpom.com - have so much pertinent statistical data that, even in the 21st century, you marvel at the science applied to a silly basketball game.

I mean, Arizona beat New Mexico State 83-57 Thursday night because Derek Williams had, what, 27 points, nine dunks and 14 rebounds? It only seemed like 27 dunks. It wasn't very complicated.

What strikes me about Pomeroy's site is that he seemed to have Arizona pegged correctly, 29th overall, even though the Wildcats are untested and are about to embark on a schedule that includes No. 144 Rice, No. 160 Robert Morris, No. 163 NAU, No. 228 Bethune-Cookman and No. 298 Cal State-Fullerton.

Sometimes common sense is more accurate than the computer printouts, and it didn't take long Thursday to see that those basement-dwelling dudes who ranked Arizona 211th and 274th need to get some sun.

No one, not even Sean Miller, is going to know how good, or not-so-good, this UA team is going to be until the Wildcats play Kansas next week in Las Vegas, and bump into BYU a few weeks from now in Salt Lake City.

But Thursday's game was the first real clue. Although kenpom.com ranks the Aggies a mere 161st nationally, they are a legitimate challenger, with NCAA tournament-type size, a game-changing stud, 6-foot-8-inch junior Troy Gillenwater, and a history as a team that can beat you if you don't have your game face in proper position.

You wouldn't want to play them in Las Cruces.

Arizona didn't simply outscore the Aggies; the Wildcats were more physical, rebounding with an atypical Arizona ferociousness, and they played hard for 40 minutes. Usually, on a night UA starting guards Kyle Fogg and MoMo Jones finish 2 for 14 from the field (they opened 0 for 12), you lose or at least labor until the final minute.

On Thursday, it didn't matter.

"Last year, missing those shots, I would've crumbled," said Fogg. But that was last year. This UA team is, as Miller said, "a little bit bigger and a little bit deeper.''

A little bit?

At halftime, Arizona's bench had played 40 of 100 total minutes, had shot 8 for 11 from the field and had scored 19 of the UA's 35 points. That's not deep - that's a tunnel from here to China.

When you can pull sophomore Kevin Parrom off the bench and get six rebounds in 17 minutes - "Kevin made two or three of the best plays we had," said Miller - and still can't find a spot for him in the starting lineup, you are not America's 274th best college basketball team.

The big change in UA basketball isn't simply that the coach stayed for more than a few months. It's that the guys on the bench can really play. You don't cover your eyes and look away when the second guy off the bench reports to the scorer's table.

Junior Brendon Lavender was at it again Thursday; he buried three long jumpers, two of them three-pointers. He looks so good you hope he gets more than 15 or 17 minutes. Lavender is shooting .700 for the year. Sure, it's just two games, in the security of McKale Center, but last season, Lavender appeared skittish and entered the season having scored in double figures just three times in 57 career games.

He is a different player.

"He could easily start for me," said Fogg, whose reputation as a team-first, me-last player is well known. "I expect to keep seeing that, because he's going to keep it up. That's what's going to make our team better."

Given the turbulence of UA basketball in recent years, it's not unthinkable that rather than Parrom and Lavender on Arizona's bench, it could be Zane Johnson (now shooting .286 afield for Hawaii), Keegan Hornbuckle (who eschewed a UA scholarship and is now at UC-Santa Barbara), Garland Judkins (averaging nine points for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi), and Laval Lucas-Perry (averaging 5.6 points for Oakland University).

"I was worried about the minutes taking a toll (on our starters)," NMSU coach Marvin Menzies said. "Our subs didn't really give me the punch they had in previous games. When Arizona subbed, they didn't miss a beat."

The Aggies had but 14 bench points in 57 minutes.

If kenpom.com is accurate, the Wildcats will have a more difficult game Sunday. That's when his No. 130 team, Northern Colorado, plays here. The Bears (2-0) have three starters returning from last year's 25-8 team.

That should mean UNC (no, not that UNC) has more than New Mexico State's 6 percent chance to win at McKale. Arizona should consider itself warned.

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