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Know Your Enemy: Arizona Wildcats

Bringing back a Q&A for a game that could be one of the best of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Arizona Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue has a gigantic men’s basketball game coming up on Saturday. Purdue will head down to Indianapolis as the #3 team in the nation and will take on the #1 team in the nation in the Arizona Wildcats. With the gigantic stakes of this game, the #1 ranking is likely on the line, the folks over at Arizona Desert Swarm, part of SB Nation, reached out to see about doing a Q&A. I agreed and we swapped questions. Brian Pederson was kind enough to provide some answers for me. You can check out his questions and my answers over there as well. Just be nice in the comments.

Arizona has obviously had a great start to the year. For the Purdue fans who haven’t been able to watch them play, what separates this Arizona team from prior year’s squads?

It’s been a combination of improved depth and veteran additions that has helped Arizona rise to No. 1 for the first time since 2014. The Wildcats are only playing eight during key moments but those eight have been mostly interchangeable, with wings able to play the post and all the guards able to play 1, 2 or 3. The UA added three transfers, two of whom have played in NCAA title games: former North Carolina guard Caleb Love and former San Diego State forward Keshad Johnson. Both were huge in the late stages of wins at Duke and over Michigan State in Palm Springs.

Purdue is known for drawing fouls thanks to Zach Edey, what will be Arizona’s strategy for slowing him down, I won’t suggest you can stop him because that’s just silly?

Arizona will do its best to defend without fouling, but there will likely also be a constant rotation of 7-footers Oumar Ballo and Motiejus Krivas on him. Had another 7-footer, Henri Veesaar, not suffered an elbow injury in preseason, there would have been a third body to throw in there.

The Wildcats will also try to deny the ball to Edey as much as possible, if that’s possible, by sagging and leaving open someone who they don’t consider an offensive threat. They did that against Duke to help neutralize Kyle Filipowski down the stretch.

Arizona has 8 guys who have appeared in every game but 10 guys who average greater than 10 minutes per game. Is that 8 man rotation what you expect to see in a high profile game like this one (barring foul trouble)?

Yes, if the Duke and Michigan State games are any indication. The 9th,10th and 11th guys have benefited a lot from blowout minutes, often in the first half, and even when there was foul trouble against Michigan State it stayed that way.

Purdue has a recent history of causing opposing coaches to get technical fouls, is that something Tommy Lloyd is apt to do?

Tommy Lloyd had yet to get T-ed up as a head coach, and it would probably take something really outlandish to have that happen here. Lloyd’s approach with the officials so far has been fairly tame, and he likes to let his players figure things out themselves. As big a game as this is, it’s nonconference and I don’t see Lloyd getting so upset he’d hurt his team like that.

What worries you most about this matchup outside of how to guard Zach Edey?

Well, with so much focus on one player it’s going to open the door for another to have a big game because less attention is on them. A guard getting hot from outside may force a change in the game plan, and that could lead to Edey getting to do more of his thing.

There’s also the possibility of Arizona falling behind early, in a hostile environment, which hasn’t happened. It led at Duke at the half before trailing in the second half, and it also had a fairly sizable fan contingent at Cameron Indoor Stadium that was very audible on the broadcast. I don’t know if as much of Wildcat Nation will make the trek to Indy.

Let’s go on the record with a prediction. Does Arizona pull it out or does Purdue knock off #1 and hope to reclaim that spot?

This always looked like an Arizona loss when the schedule came out, but so did the Duke game, so anything is possible. I think this will be a very well-played and even matchup but the presence of Edey will be the deciding factor. Purdue wins 83-77.