Fantasy College Basketball Game of the Week: UNLV at Arizona
The fantasy college basketball game of the week has had some technical difficulties in the first few weeks of the season. First, I didn't realize that a full college basketball game in HD would take up nearly half of the DVR. Since I wanted to keep the peace and not erase all of the Curious Georges and Lifetime movies recorded by my daughter and wife (respectively), I found that I would have to settle for standard definition. Frankly, there isn't that much difference. I was all set to watch the Baylor-Kentucky game on Friday, but the women's game ran long - very, very long and I didn't get to see the end of the Bear win (which has several times this season). I was worried that the Kansas-Colorado game would go into overtime and I would miss half of my game of choice, but Askia Booker took care of that problem. Thank you, Askia.
Thankfully, all of the technical glitches worked out and I was able to see the majority of the Arizona-UNLV game. I had seen the majority of the Wildcats' win over Duke on Nov. 29 in the finals of the preseason NIT and it was hard not to be impressed. In that game, Arizona featured balanced scoring and nice contributions from six players. The story was no different on Saturday. While the Runnin' Rebel pair of Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch isn't as talented as the Blue Devil duo (Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood), UNLV posed a decent challenge for UA.
The main reason I was watching was to take another look at Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon. The 6-9 freshman, who is the younger brother of former New Mexico Lobo Drew Gordon, opened the season with four double-doubles in his first six games. He had 10 points and seven boards against Duke. Rather than standing out and above the rest of his team, Gordon has worked into the mix nicely. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but there isn't really anything backhanded about it. Gordon actually had his worst game of the season against the Rebs. He scored just four points on 2-of-10 shooting and took a pop in the face from the elbow of Brandon Ashley that required a few stitches to sew up. The knock on Gordon's cheek looked like it caused some swelling near his eye and likely impacted his productivity. He soldiered on and helped control the UNLV frontcourt.
At this point, Arizona looks like it has the best and most cohesive starting lineup with a solid sixth man. Gordon is paired with sophomores Ashley and center Kaleb Tarczewski, neither of whom did much as freshman. Tarczewski looks like he has packed on some muscle and is a force to be reckoned with. He took advantage of his size against the center-less Rebels and established excellent post position. The sixth man is another freshman forward, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The 6-7 Pennsylvania native is the team's second best facilitator on offense. I love forwards who can pass and Hollis-Jefferson had a season-high six dimes.
The team's best facilitator is guard T.J. McConnell who spent two productive years at Duquesne before transferring to the desert. He is not the on-ball defender like Aaron Craft (and, frankly, no one could be. Am I saying that Craft's on-ball defense is overrated? Yes, I am.), but I think he is a better passer and a more complete offensive player. High praise, I know. McConnell allows junior Nick Johnson to slide over to the two, which is by far his best position. Johnson did not have a good offensive game, just 4-of-15 from the field, 2-of-9 on 3-pointers, but he came into the game hitting better than 50 percent of his shots.
The Wildcats look like a complete team with balance between bigs and guards. The one issue may be depth, but they usually get more minutes from sophomore guard Gabe York. He only played six minutes against UNLV, but averages 18.3. As long as they stay healthy, the Wildcats should be a heavy favorite in the Pac 12 and have the early look of a Final Four team to me.
Despite the slow start for UNLV, I don't think they are a terrible team. Smith is a dominant rebounder and Birch has been a very good shot blocker. They will need some stability in the backcourt, which is currently manned by UCLA transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones, who led the team with 16 points off the bench. NCAA vagabond Jelan Kendrick (who has been on Memphis and Ole Miss at various points of his career) could be another source of points. Freshman Kendall Smith will learn as he goes as well. Coach Dave Rice may feel some heat if the team doesn't start playing better, but they are incorporating a lot of new parts. By the end of the season, this could be a tournament team, despite being vertically challenged.