December 4, 2005
(at UA 81, Virginia 51)
(at Houston 69, UA 65)
It's a popular TV show about castaways on a weird island with a weirder bald guy. It's also the 2005 Arizona football season, and how the basketball team currently looks.
First, some game notes from the past week. The Virginia game was good. After last year, I could live to be 112 years old and never stop enjoying beating a team wearing orange.
Is Bret Brielmaier the first guy in Arizona history to start a game and play in garbage time?
Now to Houston, where we had a problem.
The story of the game wasn't the ball on the court, but the 71-year-old pair Lute showed in handling a situation off the court. The Commander-in-Chief benched his two senior starters because they were reportedly late to a team meal. Coach Olson proved that long-term season goals are more important to him than some regular season ranking streak.
Chris Rodgers was clearly the guiltier of the two. He sat one minute longer than Adams in the first half, and he was noticeably absent at the end of the game as Dillon, Prince and Brielmaier all logged more minutes. It's good to see we can count on moody senior guards getting in the way of winning ballgames. At this point I don't think it's a matter of if Salim Jr gets suspended, but when, and for how many games.
Are Kirk Walters and Marcus Williams in Lute's doghouse too? He may have to add on a second story.
J.P. Prince's play seemed erratic but his final numbers were solid. Four points on two of three shooting, a team-high six assists, a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, five rebounds and four steals. But his free throws look like something off of Trevor Crowe's bat and he's not going to scare anyone from behind the arc. That's why seniors need to play (and behave) like seniors.
The good news is we have a couple home games this week. The bad news is one of them is against St. Mary's who almost beat us a couple years back. Lots of work to do for the UA b-ballers.
Now where were we? Oh, that's right: Lost. That's what most people are going to think about our recently completed football season when they see the exact same record as 2004. When we talked about turning the program around this year, I don't think anyone meant 360 degrees.
Just to draw some lines in the sand (and I'm going to ignore any waves that wash over them), you can divide college football seasons into four categories. Three wins or fewer is Bad, four to six wins is Mediocre, seven to nine wins is Good, and 10+ wins is Great.
Of course you can have seasons that blend into more than one category. It's like the weather. Partly cloudy with a chance of rain. Mostly sunny with strong winds out of the northwest. Or, in Arizona, painfully hot with a chance of death.
Last year we were Bad but everyone was quick to point out we were two executed plays away from a solid Mediocre. The plan was to be Mediocre-to-Good this year, then let loose the talk of Great. Now we're starting to wonder if there should be another category below Bad.
We're sitting on three consecutive seasons of three wins or fewer and seven straight years south of Good. It's not what anybody wanted, but we have to push all expectations and hopes back another year. Mediocre in 2006, Good in 2007, Dream in 2008. It's not what anybody wanted, but any other line of thinking will just make you angry and get you kicked out of the house.
If Windows 97 can be released in 1998 then Arizona Football 05 can be released in September of 2006. Heck, I think we're still waiting for the bug-free version of Arizona Football 99 to hit the shelves.
It doesn't take somebody from the Steward Observatory to spot Arizona's biggest problem this year. The 2005 Cats were 1-5 in games decided by seven points or fewer.
So which is it? Does Stoops have a team with little talent playing above its head and staying in games that should be blowouts? Or are the players good enough to be winning all of these games but the staff isn't good enough on game day yet to seal the deal?
Common sense says an average team will be .500 in close games. So are we playing more close games than we should because we're an overachieving bad team or are we not winning our share of close games because we're an underachieving decent team?
There's no doubt there was some improvement this year. For one, the Wildcats made great strides on the offensive side of the ball. The 2004 team scored 164 points or 14.9 points per game. This year's squad put 252 points on the board, an average of 22.9 a contest.
How do you improve your scoring by more than 50%? You get the ball in the end zone. We only scored twenty touchdowns all season last year. This year's team had 19 passing scores, eleven rushing scores, two from the defense, and Steptoe's punt return, for a grand total of 33 TDs. That's not going to burn out any scoreboards, but it's a start.
That increased point production led to a significant decrease in margin of defeat. The average UA score in '04 was just about 25 to 15. This year we only lost by an average score of about 26.5 to 23. We just need to make up four more points a game and we're in business.
As far as de-provements, you may have noticed the defense went backwards a couple steps this year. The main cause of that was a significant drop-off in forced turnovers. In fact, when you look at the overall turnover picture, it's surprising we didn't have fewer wins this year.
In 2004 we lost 13 fumbles and threw 11 interceptions, meaning we turned the ball over 24 total times. The defense recovered 19 fumbles (leading the nation) and intercepted 8 passes, for a total of 27 forced turnovers. That +3 margin was actually quite remarkable for a three-win team.
The 2005 the Cats lost 12 fumbles and threw 16 interceptions, turning the ball over 28 total times (four worse than last year). We recovered 7 fumbles and intercepted 12 passes, forcing 19 total turnovers (eight worse than last year). The resulting -9 margin was a 12 turnover swing from one year ago. Egads.
So I'm going to say, as bad as it may sound, the 2004 team overachieved to get their 3-8 record because of their ability to win the turnover battle. When looking for an overachieving win, the ASU game immediately comes to mind.
The flip side of that is the 2005 Wildcats probably underachieved by a couple wins because of their uncanny ability to lose the turnover battle. When looking for some underachieving losses, well, take your pick.
That leads to the area where 2005 was much worse than 2004: the Territorial Cup game. You can't do much worse than going from a win to a loss, especially when it comes against Those Guys. A losing season is never good, but it's better to stink and beat ASU, than to just plain stink.
Sprinkling a little perspective into the discussion, how you view the final won-loss record depends on where you're standing. Before the season started, three wins sounded very disappointing. But when we stood at 1-5 after the Stanford debacle, every single one of us would've taken three wins in a heartbeat. Then we had the glorious UCLA game, and after that no one expected anything less than four straight wins to end the year.
Now we stand at 0-0 on the (very) young 2006 season, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Hey, good news: Only 59 days till Signing Day.
Back to basketball, more good news: It's not like we don't have practice rooting for a sub-.500 team.
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