With tonight’s Rhody hoops game obviously being a big one, we wanted to get a more in-depth look at the Arizona Wildcats. So why not ask one of their most rabid fans? We chatted with Justin Sayers, lead editor of Zona Zealots here at FanSided to try and get a little more info on tonight’s opponent. Here’s what he had to say.
Rhody Rampage: Obviously Arizona is a Top-10 team in the country right now, and should be lingering in that area for much of the season. What are the fan expectations for this team this year?
Zona Zealots: Obviously any time you have a Top-10 ranking, expectations will be high. As of right now, I feel that Arizona fans that are thinking “Final Four or Bust” need to take a little step backwards. There’s no arguing that the Wildcats are one of the more talented teams in the country, but they still have yet to develop a team-wide identity. Their 3-point shooting has been inconsistent, free throw shooting has been terrible and they’ve been in foul trouble way too much. I think they have the potential to make it to the Final Four, but I don’t think they’re quite at that level yet.
RR: A lot of big men are falling victim to the new foul rules this season, but Aaron Gordon is not one of them. How would you evaluate the play of the freshman so far?
ZZ: Aaron Gordon has already shown the country why he was such a highly-rated recruit. While he won’t get the same publicity as Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins or Kentucky’s Julius Randle, he’s put up three double-doubles and scored in double figures in each of his first four games. His shooting ability has been lauded as a weakness, but Gordon has made 4-of-6 3-pointers and is shooting 50 percent from the field. If he continues at this pace, he’ll no doubt be a top-10 pick this June.
RR: Sean Miller seems to be working with just an eight-man rotation. Is depth an issue for the Wildcats?
ZZ: The Wildcats do regularly employ an 8-man rotation, as Jordin Mayes, Gabe York and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have been great through four games. However, there is still a ton of talent on the bench past them. Kansas transfer Zach Peters and junior college transfer Matt Korcheck are two big men who can provide depth on the interior. Elliott Pitts is a freshman guard who made his season debut last night after suffering from an early-season wrist injury. I’d be surprised if Sean Miller only uses eight players in tonight’s game.
RR: Tell us a little bit about the McKale Center. What kind of atmosphere should Rhody expect?
ZZ: The Rams may struggle a bit on the road in a hostile environment. While McKale Center is in major need of renovations, it is still one of the loudest arenas in the country, as Arizona has led the Pac-10/12 in attendance every season since 1984-1985. Rhode Island players should expect McKale to be one of the loudest venues they’ve ever played in.
RR: Finally, does ‘Zona have a weakness? What will the Rams need to do to beat this team?
ZZ: The Wildcats’ biggest weakness is easily their outside shooting. Point guard T.J. McConnell is a pass-first (or pass-always) player and Gabe York has yet to develop consistency from 3-point range. Arizona will rely a lot on Nick Johnson from the perimeter, but he’s a career 36 percent 3-point shooter. The Wildcats are loaded on the interior, so it shouldn’t be too big a problem tonight if they can’t knock down perimeter shots. However, a lack of a go-to outside shooter might haunt them over the course of the rest of the season.