A thrilling cover in Lexington on Friday night got the record back over .500 and hopefully sets the tone for the weekend with some decent hoops on the horizon. With a lot of the marquee programs playing the week’s bigger game earlier in the week, Saturday lacks the headline matchups that we have seen over the last three, four days. But the game we’ve got out on the West Coast might be all we need. A couple of top-10 teams tangle when Gonzaga travels to the McKale Center to meet Arizona. The #3 Wildcats open as four-point favorites on their home floor.
You might remember these teams met in the NCAA Tournament just last season in the 8 vs. 1 matchup to finish off the first weekend. And it brought the ‘Zags’ season to a screeching halt when ‘Zona romped by 23 points. The Wildcats asserted themselves early and often against Gonzaga, proving themselves as the superior physical team.
Since then, Gonzaga has pretty much just brought back everybody a year stronger and more cohesive. Arizona has lost Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, but has gained a great freshman class and retained much of the core that helped them run all the way to the Elite Eight last year. UA also has Brandon Ashley in this game after he missed the last three months of the season last year with a broken foot. The junior sort of represents a perfect fuse of the different styled big men each side possesses. While most of the Cats’ front line is big and rough, Gonzaga’s forwards space the floor a little better but don’t rebound with the same authority. Even Przemek Karnowski doesn’t move as many bodies around as you’d expect someone 7’1″ and 290 lbs. to. Ashley has that strength to play in Arizona’s frontcourt, but he can really shoot it. And that versatility will likely prove valuable in this one – as it usually does.
The guards on both sides are good. And the contrasts are similar to the big guys. Gonzaga is a little more heady in the backcourt, while U of A has the luxury of a little more athleticism. But I ultimately think that the bigs decide this one. If Gonzaga can space the floor like it can and just compete with Arizona on the glass, it has a great chance of winning this game. But the Wildcats have the strength to really take control of the paint, which would lead to another blowout. Arizona is just so, so good at home. So I expect them to get the best of Gonzaga in the middle once again.
Free Pick: Arizona -4
2014 CBB: 5-4-1 +1.60