by Cub Buenning
The University of Arizona put the finishing touches on an embarrassing “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” game with the Blazers of University of Alabama-Birmingham on Tues. An upsetting defeat not because of the talent of the opponent–the Blazers of UAB are legitimate threats to anyone, on any night–but more for how the Wildcats’ concluding seconds concluded ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon. Two immature intentional fouls were somehow allowed to happen and Arizona, again, loss an out-of-conference game in Tucson. These home loses have become an issue over the past few years, but the UAB loss seemed to spell early concern for at least one of the Pac-10’s top teams (Most of you know, I think that they are).
That new coach (as I will refer to him from here on out, or the guy that should be named, Mike Dunlap) got great performances from his stars, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill—CB: 27 and 6 with four threes, JH: 13 and 22–but again it was the unknown role players that not only failed to deliver on the offensive end but made the young mistakes in the game’s waning moments, which I will still blame on “the guy that should be named Mike Dunlap.” Robert Vaden showed his talent for UAB, but the guard actually has a lot more to give, as he that ability to go “unconscious” and kill a team single-handedly.
Fast forward a couple days to last night.
The Pac-10’s Tinsel-town tandem was in action, as both USC and UCLA had runs against inferior teams from other top (BCS) conferences. The island of Puerto Rico was where USC was facing a massively depleted Seton Hall team, whose coach Bobby Gonzales came in with a seat that made it hot all the way down from North Jersey. With only seven dressed players, the Pirates made the Caribbean their own private palace of plundering as they stole a victory from Tim Flood’s team. The Trojans suddenly joined U of A as an early season Pac-10 favorite saddled with a disappointing early season loss.
Fifteen minutes later, the ball is tipped at MSG, as the highly ranked (y’all know I don’t like numerical rankings) UCLA Bruins were meeting Michigan in the semis of one of the seemingly million preseason tournaments (all of which seem to play at MSG at some point.) Michigan was coming in with a nice Detroit pairing of guard Manny Harris and forward DeShawn Sims. Both are talents for sure, but last year’s first season under former-West Virginia boss John Beilein was more individually successful than that of the team variety. UCLA played tough defense (minus one costly sleep-walking moment by Alfred Aboya) and the backcourt of Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday played nicely and with patience (a bit too much for my liking.) UCLA’s lack of frontcourt punch was obviously missing (where have you gone Real-Mata?) and the Wolverines struck late and snuck out a three-point win to set up a match-up with Duke (which by the way, did anyone see our boy, Nolan Smith cram it on that kid from S. Illinois?)
(On a scouting note, I am curious to the limited playing time and production for Demar DeRozan. Is there an injury? He was supposed to be more than what he has delivered in his first few games. I haven’t seen him play yet, though, so I shall watch what I say. My guys like him, a lot. Taj Gibson did his thing, as usual, getting 19 and 18. I like the look of UCLA’s Holiday. He is much bigger than I expected and has great “control” of his body and game. Janet (Miss) Jackson’s word is one that I have used a lot lately (Blake Griffin has phenomenal control) and something that shows maturity and readiness in a player).
So, three of the top four teams in the Pac-10 all have early season losses. With the multitude of professional defections from a year ago, the drop in play in the Pac-10 was inevitable. Fortunately, unlike basketball’s pigskin pals, these defeats won’t eliminate them from battling for a national championship come the season’s end. But do these teams even have what it takes to be in the conversation anymore?
Check Cub Buenning’s scouting website for weekly player reports. Many players highlighted in Cub Scouts are thoroughly covered on the site.