Heavy thoughts as we watch other people play massive gamesÖ
With Kansas Self-destructing yet again, Ben Howland has now taken UCLA to two Final Fours in his four years in Westwood. For comparisonís sake, Arizona didnít go to its second Final Four until Lute Olsonís 11th year. Iím not saying this to discredit the legend of Lute, Iím just pointing out that back-to-back Final Fours is hard to do, and Howland has UCLA all the way back. (But, for the record, eight of Howlandís nine tournament wins the past two years have come within the state of California. Can we get Marana and Casa Grande to start hosting games?)
As for the rest of the tournament, letís seeÖ I really like Jo and Kim Noah. Are they twins? Maybe they know Rob and Bro Lopez.
(Yeah, thatís all Iíve got. You donít get to sling a lot of smack when you get smoked by the fifth best team in the Big Ten.)
Any Wildcat worth his whiskers knows Arizona has been to the NCAA tournament 23 consecutive times. Itís the stat weíre the most proud of, and itís the only thing thatís kept us sane these last four confusing years. But as I was watching the first round of this yearís Dance they flashed a stat on the screen that may be even more impressive.
Did you know Kentucky has won its first round game 16 straight years? Prior to that UK missed the tournament for three years, and went to the Sweet 16 in 1988, which means fans of The Other Wildcats havenít seen their team lose in the first round for a full two decades.
This made the announcement that head coach Tubby Smith had taken the Minnesota job even more puzzling. He won a first round game in each of his ten seasons, he won a second round game six times, a third round game four times, and the 1998 national championship. Yet the Lexington natives were so restless he volunteered to coach a winter sport in Minneapolis.
I think we can all learn a few things from the Tub. Donít win the championship your first year unless youíre going to do it again. No one remembers Elite Eights. And if you think Arizona fans are spoiled, imagine what weíd be like if we had two championships, three straight national finals, four Final Fours, five straight Elite Eights, all in a seven-year span.
Now, before this next section you have to believe me when I say I didnít go digging for some unflattering Lute stats. I expressed my support for Coach O last week and I still feel the same way. I was just intrigued by Kentuckyís first-round-win success and this is what jumped out at me when I compared our streak with theirs.
It is very interesting to note that since our most recent Final Four in 2001, Lute and Tubby have almost identical tournament records. Both went to the Sweet 16 in 2002. Both advanced to the Elite Eight in 2003 and 2005. Both felt first weekend heartache the three other years. The only difference is the UK Cats won a single game in í04 and í07 while the UA Cats went one-and-done. And Kentucky just ran their coach out of town.
No one wanted to be moving into the spring sports this early, but we did turn the page from basketball to baseball just in time for the Pac-10 season. In fact, the first conference games were played this past weekend with ASU taking the early lead in the standings by winning two of three at USC, and Washington State got a head start in the race for the cellar by losing all three games at home to Washington.
Our dudes of the diamond tried to build some momentum with five consecutive home wins, but it was a bit like watching the basketball team as the Wildcats struggled to put away inferior opponents. Neither Morehead State nor Northern Colorado came into town with a winning record yet four of the five games were close to the end. Ivan Radenovicís game-winner against Stanford was recreated by Kevin Rodlandís walk-off single against MSU and T.J. Steeleís game-ending homerun in the bottom of the twelfth versus UNC.
Next up is our second game of the year with ASU as we do battle Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Chase Field in Phoenix. It doesnít count in the league standings, but because the first game didnít go so well, if we want a realistic chance at winning the season series for the third straight year, we need to win this game.
After that the Cats play host to the two-time defending Pac-10 champion Oregon State Beavers (it sure is strange typing that about any sport). OSU went on to win the College World Series last year and in doing so joined Arizona, Stanford, USC and ten other schools who have won a national baseball championship more recently than Arizona State. Just thought you should know.
The Beaversí march through Omaha modeled the truth that runs through every level of baseball: Good starting pitching wins a lot of games. Oregon State used four starters in their eight games. They got at least five innings from their starter in seven of those games, and at least six innings six times. OSU won the six games necessary to bring home the trophy while only scoring more than five runs twice.
Knowing this, the Wildcats appear to be halfway to a championship level team. Thus far in 2007 Arizona is a perfect 7-0 when sophomore ace Preston Guilmet takes the mound, and 5-2 when #2 man Brad Mills starts the game. But that third game has been an adventure every weekend and the Cats only have a 4-3 record to show for it.
If thereís one thing you know youíre going to get from an Andy Lopez-coached team itís action on the base paths. Of the 12 players who have started more than five games, ten of them have at least one stolen base. The team collectively has 50 steals in 63 attempts, a robust 79% success rate. The most damage has been done by freshmen Robert Abel and Diallo Fon who have teamed up to swipe 21 bases in 23 attempts (91%), highlighted by a combined 7-for-7 in one game this past week.
The 2007 BatCats are young but an upper-division Pac-10 finish appears to be a reasonable goal. Eight of the nine league teams currently sport winning records, but if you whittle it down to just the games against the current USA Today Top 25 the Pac standings would look like this:
As you can see, nobodyís dominating the strong competition, which may be good news for a year-away like Arizona. Head on over to Sancet Stadium and letís find out.
Another rivalry game on Wednesday and the defending national champs on Friday. Add the first open-to-the-public spring football scrimmage (this Saturday at Arizona Stadium from 9 to 11 a.m.) and itís quite the exciting week for Arizona Athletics.
No one should feel tubby around here.
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