Skip to content

No. 3 Arizona looks like a national title contender again

Mar 2, 2014, 11:31 PM EDT

Getty Images Getty Images

Aaron Gordon led five players in double-figures with 19 points and 15 boards as No. 3 Arizona won their fourth straight game, knocking off Stanford 79-66.

It was the third straight game that the Wildcats have pounded a tournament caliber Pac-12 team, which more or less asserts that whatever had been ailing this team has been figured out.

The difference?

Arizona is pushing the ball more. They are getting out in transition and opening up the floor, which is where freakish athletes like Nick Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Aaron Gordon can thrive. They’ve also gotten better defensively, as losing Brandon Ashley has forced Miller to play Gordon exclusively in the front court and give more minutes to Hollis-Jefferson, who is one of the best perimeter defenders that you’ll find.

As a result, the last three games have seen, for this first time this season, Arizona just straight beating the breaks off of opponents. They won at Colorado by 27. They beat Cal in Tucson by 28. They were up 25 on Stanford with eight minutes left.

Are the Wildcats, dare I say, better without Ashley?

Well, no.

Ashley gave them front court depth and allowed them to be capable of using a lineup that could simply overwhelm anyone in the country with their size. What made Arizona so difficult with Ashley is that they were matchup-proof. They could play bigger than the biggest team in the country and matchup with anyone that tried to play four or five perimeter players.

But what losing Ashley has done is forced Miller’s hand. The inability of his forwards to shoot from the perimeter and the corresponding struggles of Johnson turned Arizona into a horrific half court team. Miller had no choice but to open things up a bit more, which is the style that actually better suits his personnel.

Think back to the fall, when all the chatter was about Gordon’s insistence on playing the three this season? Remember when I told you that Arizona would be at their best when Gordon was at the four? It’s his more natural position at this level and this point in his development. He’s even spent time playing the five, with Hollis-Jefferson at the four and Gabe York or Elliot Pitts seeing time on the perimeter.

We’ll have more on this this week, but since the change, Gordon is averaging 18.3 points and 9.0 boards. Hollis-Jefferson has shown the nation why he was one of the most popular players in the Class of 2013. Johnson had snapped out of his slump until Sunday’s 3-for-13 performance.

The Wildcats are different than they were when they still had Ashley available. It’s difficult to call them better than they were before, but they certainly are back to being one of the nation’s most dangerous teams.

And they certainly belong back in the conversation as a National Title contender.

Latest Posts
  1. Rick Barnes lands his first commitment as Tennessee head coach

    Apr 28, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Lamonte’ Turner is a borderline top 100 recruit.

  2. Sterling Gibbs to transfer from Seton Hall, eligible immediately

    Apr 28, 2015, 2:32 PM EDT

    Sterling Gibbs (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Gibbs will be a highly sought-after transfer target

  3. How concerned should North Carolina fans be that Brandon Ingram passed on the Tar Heels?

    Apr 28, 2015, 12:04 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/Under Armour) (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

    Brandon Ingram’s decision to bypass UNC and go to Duke should worry the folks in Chapel Hill.

  4. Former Missouri guard Shane Rector headed to Utah State

    Apr 28, 2015, 9:17 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Rector was a three-star recruit coming out of high school.

  5. Rutgers lands impact junior college forward

    Apr 27, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT

    Wisconsin v Rutgers Getty Images

    Rutgers added a potential starter for next season on Monday.

  6. N.C. State lands commitment from athletic 2015 forward

    Apr 27, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT

    Temple v North Carolina State Getty Images

    N.C. State landed a surprise commitment from an athletic 2015 forward on Monday night.

  7. Report: NCAA rules committee could change men’s basketball to 30-second shot clock

    Apr 27, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT

    NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice Getty Images

    The NCAA is considering moving the shot clock to 30 seconds in men’s basketball.

  8. Duke lands five-star Class of 2015 wing Brandon Ingram

    Apr 27, 2015, 6:08 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/Getty Images) (Kelly Kline/Getty Images)

    Duke picked up its second major commitment in recent weeks with the addition of five-star wing Brandon Ingram.

  9. Seven takeaways from the AAU weekend at Nike EYBL, UAA and adidas Gauntlet

    Apr 27, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/adidas) (Kelly Kline/adidas)

    Here’s seven takeaways from a busy weekend at the three shoe company events.

  10. Top ten recruit Jayson Tatum dunks on defender (VIDEO)

    Apr 27, 2015, 3:37 PM EDT

    Nike Nike

    Tatum might be the best player in the Class of 2016.

  11. Field for the 2015 Veterans Classic announced

    Apr 27, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    It will feature a preseason top five team.

  12. College basketball’s seven biggest early entry losers for the 2015-2016 season

    Apr 27, 2015, 12:48 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Who were the biggest losers of the early entry deadline?

  13. College basketball’s six biggest early entry winners for the 2015-2016 season

    Apr 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Which potential draft picks returning to school will be the most influential in 2015-16?

  14. Austin Hatch’s inspirational basketball career has come to a close

    Apr 27, 2015, 10:17 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Hatch is one of the most inspirational people you will ever hear about

  15. UPDATED: 2015-2016 College Basketball Way-Too-Early Preseason Rankings

    Apr 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    Marcus Paige (Getty Images) Getty Images

    The return of Buddy Hield pushes previously unranked Oklahoma into our way too early rankings.

  16. 2015 College Basketball Updated Early Entry List

    Apr 27, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Who’s going pro? Who’s returning to school? Who are we still waiting to hear from?