Cal Men's Basketball vs. Arizona 2014: A 891-word Q & A with AZ Desert Swarm

Arizona's Nick Johnson allegedly was suffering through a wrist injury in the previous Arizona-Cal game. - Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Our sturdy Bears head down to No.3 Arizona tonight in search of the 3rd straight win over the Wildcats. Kevin Zimmerman of AZ Desert Swarm, SBNation's Arizona Wildcats community, is kind enough to answer some of our questions.

1. Since the loss to Cal (and the loss of Brandon Ashley), Arizona has struggled a bit, losing at ASU and barely beating Oregon and Utah. Can the struggles be attributed solely to losing Ashley or are there other factors at play?

Kevin Zimmerman: I think most of the struggles can be attributed to losing Ashley. Obviously, it's hard to say if the offense would start looking lethargic and rigid considering the undefeated streak was building had Ashley remained. I think Syracuse showed that the offensive flow is the first thing to go once the inevitable pressure builds.

Roles had to be re-defined after the loss of Ashley, and the starting unit with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson replacing Ashley certainly had its obvious offensive deficiencies from the perimeter. After a few games, Sean Miller inserted guard Gabe York into the starting unit and it's paid dividends. york adds another shooting and it's not as if Hollis-Jefferson won't get minutes off the bench. The rotations smoothed over this past week, and it seems Arizona has found itself, for at least a game.

2. Who have been the offensive and defensive MVP's so far this season?

Kevin Zimmerman: Defensive MVP would probably be Nick Johnson, if only because he's been playing great defense most of his career and really is the face of the team. Offensively, it's tough and I might have said Ashley now that we've seen how much improvement he's made since last year. But point guard T.J. McConnell really is the engine to this team. Seven of his 10 assists on Saturday against Colorado were to center Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon, and most of those were at the rim. When he's giving the frontcourt players the ball, the Wildcats are hard to stop.

3. Last time these teams met, Arizona had a hard time containing Justin Cobbs. Do you see them making any major adjustments?

Kevin Zimmerman: I don't know if Arizona can afford to make any adjustments on Cobbs. Nick Johnson probably should see some time on Cobbs, but then it's possible the Cal freshmen swingmen get going. Johnson I think could lock him down, so if Arizona thinks it can get away with McConnell shadowing some bigger shoot guards for a few plays here or there, maybe Johnson can get Cobbs out of rhythm if he gets going. I suspect they continue playing him straight up.


4. After a great start to the season, Nick Johnson has cooled off significantly in the second half. What's going on?

Kevin Zimmerman: Johnson was supposedly suffering through a wrist injury a few weeks back against the Golden Bears, and that came during his worst shooting stretch of the year. He seems to be better off now, so whether that was just a slump or an injury, it might be a thing of the past. At the least, Miller is playing it off as not a big deal.

5. Who's one player who was quiet in the first matchup who you expect to play much better the second time around?

Kevin Zimmerman: I think Johnson will obviously do better than his 1-for-14 shooting performance against Cal, but the bigger issue is McConnell. He scored 13 against Cal last time out but had no assists, and like I said, that's a big deal when considering the impact of the big men, who can't exactly create shots for themselves. He's coming off a 10-dime performance and will probably make a bigger impact making it easier for his teammates.


6. Arizona's down to #4 in the country and at risk at losing the #1 seed for the tourney. How far do they need to get into the Pac-12 tournament to secure that #1 seed?

Kevin Zimmerman: Let's say Arizona loses one of its final four games. If they enter the Pac-12 Tournament with three losses, then I think making it to the final round will be necessary to secure a No. 1 seed. Maybe that's asking too much, but I have a weird feeling people still don't respect the Pac-12.

7. How far do you expect Arizona to advance in the tournament?

Kevin Zimmerman: I think this team is very good and from this weekend, I can say their offense won't crap out completely come tournament time. I think anything less than a Elite Eight would be disappointing, but of course that depends on seeding, opponents, etc. But yeah, I think the Wildcats could still be title contenders if they keep up what happened this week.

8. Looking past the tournament, beyond Aaron Gordon, it looks like most of the roster will return intact. How's the recruiting pipeline looking to replace Gordon, and do you think Arizona will be top 5-10 for most of next year as well?

Kevin Zimmerman: Gordon is probably gone, even though I think he has a lot to work on. Nick Johnson could be gone too, but the Wildcats still have McConnell returning at the points an Rondae Hollis-Jefferson sliding into the small forward or even power forward slot. Gabe York and Elliott Pitts seem like they're continuing to improve, and a recruiting class headlined by small forward Stanley Johnson will make up for the Gordon loss. There's a very good chance this team will be in the top-10 next year assuming there aren't any surprise NBA declarations or transfers.

GO BEARS!

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