|First loss, Ashley's injury about to test Arizona's reign atop UPS Index|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 03 February 2014 08:38|
How long it can stay there without Brandon Ashley is another question.
In conjunction with STATS LLC, UPS has created a proprietary algorithm that gauges data covering the spectrum of a team's on-court performance. Highlighted statistics include effective field-goal percentage, effective field-goal percentage against, rebounding percentage, ball-handling efficiency and miscues.
After being combined with winning percentage and strength-of-schedule metrics, the numbers are normalized and an overall index is created for all 345 NCAA Division I teams. The scores are not meant to reflect a traditional power poll, per se, but measure a broad range of excellence and overall balance.
The Wildcats had displayed both those traits, as well as a knack for pulling out close games during its school-record 21-game winning streak to open the season - a stretch that saw them record six victories by six points or fewer. But that trend ended Saturday night in the Bay Area when California's Justin Cobbs hit a step-back jumper with 0.9 seconds left to lift the Golden Bears to a 60-58 upset.
"We'd always found a way to be on the positive end of it," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "(Saturday night) in that same moment, we didn't make the shots and we didn't get the big stop."
Miller's team is hoping to quickly move on from shooting a season-low 32.3 percent and its inability to make that late stop despite ranking among the national leaders in scoring defense (56.8 points per game) and defensive field-goal percentage (37.6). However, the loss of third-leading scorer Ashley (11.5 ppg, 5.8 rebounds per game) to a season-ending foot injury will no doubt provide a serious challenge for the group the rest of the way.
"Someone once told me, the hottest heat forges the strongest steel," Miller said. "This adversity will ultimately make Brandon and our team stronger moving forward."
The 6-foot-8 forward injured his right foot grabbing a rebound in the game's opening minutes. An athletic and versatile sophomore who can guard the perimeter as well as the paint, Ashley has played a big role in Arizona's success.
"For us, we have to figure out from the bench perspective of getting a few guys who haven't played as much - some maybe not even at all - they have to start getting the opportunity," Miller said. "That opportunity doesn't have to be 20 minutes a game, but it might need to be a four-minute window or a couple of minutes here and there."
Though Arizona dropped a spot to second in the AP Poll, it holds a 6.76-point advantage over second-place Florida (19-2) in the Index. The Wildcats are third defensively and in rebounding within those rankings, and fifth in opponent quality.
The Gators, who finished third in last season's Index, have allowed an average of 55.2 points on 37.0 percent shooting during a 13-game winning streak. They held Texas A&M to just 25.9 percent from the field and 4 of 20 from 3-point range during Saturday's 69-36 home rout. In the process, the Gators tied their fewest points allowed in SEC play since 1950, matching last season's 75-36 win over South Carolina.
"It's scary because we can get a lot better defensively," said guard Michael Frazier II, who equaled a season high with 21 points and pulled down eight rebounds against the Aggies. "It's something we work on every day in practice and it's something that we're going to have to continue to keep grinding at because we can always get better."
Michigan State (19-3), Kansas (16-5) and Creighton (18-3) round out the top five.
Led by star Doug McDermott, who ranks among national leaders averaging 25.0 points while shooting 50.0 percent, the Bluejays top the Index's offensive ratings, scoring 81.3 points per contest on 49.3 percent shooting.
Villanova (19-2) and reigning national champion Louisville (18-4) are sixth and seventh, respectively.
Arizona's defeat left Wichita State (23-0) and Syracuse (21-0) as the nation's only unbeaten teams, and those two schools rank eighth and ninth in the Index. After posting a thrilling 91-89 overtime victory over Duke (17-5) before a Carrier Dome record crowd of 35,446 on Saturday, the Orange took over the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll. The Shockers remained fourth.
Syracuse shot a season-high 57.4 percent but needed to withstand a tying 3-pointer by the Blue Devils in regulation to win the much-anticipated first ACC matchup between the two winningest coaches in Division I history. The victory set the school record for consecutive wins to start a season.
"It was just a great game," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "I don't think I've ever been involved in a better game in here where both teams played at such a high level. We played the best we played all year offensively, by far."
The loss left Duke 10th in the Index.
Last season's UPS Index champion Gonzaga (20-3) is 14th after securing its 17th consecutive season with at least 20 victories. Grambling (1-16), on the other hand, sits last - a whopping 84.9 points behind Arizona and 11.7 points behind No. 344 Southern Utah.