Rothstein Files | Arizona proved it can win in the mud

Texas rothstein

1. Arizona proved it can win in the mud

Sean Miller is apparently getting his message across.

Just three days after his team outscored UNLV in a 91-88 overtime victory in Las Vegas, the Wildcats won a 67-64 grinder over previously undefeated Texas A&M in Phoenix. The Aggies were ranked fifth in the FanRag Sports Top 25.

Why is this win so significant?

First off, after losing three straight games in the Bahamas two weeks ago, this triumph gives Arizona a win on a neutral court that will augment its resume when it comes to a potential seed in the NCAA Tournament.

In addition to that, winning a game 67-64 over a team as talented as Texas A&M with Allonzo Trier only scoring seven points is tangible proof that Miller is getting his message across defensively.

The veteran coach spoke in disgust about his team’s effort and willingness to compete following what happened at the Battle 4 Atlantis and even though the Wildcats were victorious last Saturday at UNLV, it didn’t defend the way that this program has defended under Miller in year’s past.

That wasn’t the case on Tuesday night.

The Wildcats aren’t where America thought they would be, but they’re getting a little bit closer each time they take the floor.

Arizona is 6-3 and next hosts Alabama on Saturday in Tucson.

2. Jamie Dixon is getting offensive

The days of this guy beating teams 64-59 like he used to at Pitt appear to be over.

TCU is 9-0 following Tuesday night’s win over crosstown rival SMU and while the Horned Frogs are fundamentally sound and balanced just like most of Dixon’s teams, there’s something that’s unique about this group; how well it scores the basketball.

In its last four games against solid competition (St. Bonaventure, Belmont, Yale, and SMU), the Horned Frogs are averaging 90.5 points. They only averaged 75.0 points a year ago.

If TCU can get past Mountain West favorite Nevada on Friday in Los Angeles, it should enter Big 12 play at 12-0 overall.

Jamie Dixon with a team that can really score the basketball?

No, we have not reached the apocalypse.

3. Redshirting has been a major key to Villanova’s success

It was a business like performance for the Wildcats on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, earning an 88-72 win over a really good Gonzaga team that’s already earned several quality wins this season.

Villanova was its normal crisp self, winning 50-50 balls, and getting early separation in the first half while never looking back.

Mikal Bridges scored a career-high 28 points and Phil Booth regained his old form, tallying 20 and proving a notion that’s quietly understated within the Wildcats’ program: redshirting players has been a major key to Villanova’s recent success.

For the past five years, Jay Wright has won a national title as well as multiple Big East championships thanks to putting together a team that’s been older and more experienced than its opponents; redshirting guys has a been a big part of that success.

In addition Bridges and Booth, three other players that were a part of this team’s rotation against Gonzaga — Eric Paschall, Omari Spellman, and Donte DiVincenzo — all have already had a red shirt year during their college career, something that’s a rarity in today’s college game.

“You learn so much from that year you sit out,” said Booth, who sat out last year due to a knee injury. “The ability to go out and go through practice and continue to work on your game — it’s invaluable to your growth as a player.”

All of the players listed above didn’t necessarily red shirt based on their own choice, but it speaks volumes about the type of experience that this program now takes the floor with on a nightly basis.

Villanova is now 9-0 and will next host La Salle on Sunday.

This and That:

– Florida State’s upset of Florida on Monday night shouldn’t come as a massive surprise. The Seminoles may have lost Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon, and Jonathan Isaac from last year’s team that was a three seed in the NCAA Tournament, but this team’s perimeter nucleus — Trent Forrest, Terrance Mann, C.J. Walker, and M.J. Walker — were all high-level recruits coming out of high school. There’s still more than enough capable pieces to work with in Tallahassee.

— If Trae Young had opted to play at Kentucky or Kansas instead of staying home at Oklahoma, would he be mentioned as one of the top freshmen in the country? I’d have to say yes without hesitation. It’s not an oversight, but rather an insult that this kid isn’t immediately identified when people talk about the best players in the sport. The Norman native is averaging 28.7 points and 8.7 assists through seven games.

— One non-conference game to put in bold print for the next few weeks: North Carolina at Tennessee on Dec. 17th. This will be Tar Heels’ second true game of the season and the upstart Vols have already proven that they can knock off high caliber competition, as evidenced by their upset of Purdue at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Roy Williams’ squad is 8-1 heading into tonight’s game against Western Carolina and has still yet to get a minute out of Pitt grad transfer Cameron Johnson due to a knee injury.

— It may be time to officially cool on labeling USC an elite team without De’Anthony Melton. The Trojans have played two Top-25 caliber teams — Texas A&M and SMU — during the past two weeks and lost to both of them by a combined 33 points. Andy Enfield’s squad really misses Melton’s intangibles and ability to have an impact on the game without demanding shots. The Trojans next face Oklahoma on Friday night at the Staples Center.

— Temple can officially be labeled as a mercurial team. The Owls looked like a challenger in the American during their three-game trip to Charleston and also blew out South Carolina last week at Madison Square Garden, but a pair of losses to La Salle and George Washington during each of the past two Sundays are head scratchers. Kudos to those two teams for earning the victory, but Fran Dunphy’s squad is going to have to seize every opportunity if it wants to ultimately return to the NCAA Tournament. Temple is 4-2 and hosts Wisconsin on Wednesday night in North Philadelphia.

— It’s early, but it feels like Oregon is in for a bridge year. The Ducks lost four starters — Tyler Dorsey, Dylan Ennis, Dillon Brooks, and Jordan Bell — from last year’s Final Four team along with an invaluable reserve in Chris Boucher. Dana Altman’s squad is 5-3 overall and still has to travel to Fresno State before the start of Pac-12 play. Oregon has one of the nation’s top recruiting classes in tow for next season, headlined by 5 star prospect Bol Bol, the son of Manute Bol. It doesn’t make sense to count out Altman, but it’s feels like this group is going to be scratching and clawing for every inch it earns this season.

— Donte Grantham has been a different player for Clemson since he switched to power forward. The 6-8 senior is averaging 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 68.5 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three-point range. Grantham averaged 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds last season while shooting 38.3 percent from the floor and 32.5 percent from long distance last season when he spent more time primarily on the perimeter.

— One thing I’d never thought I’d write during the first week of December: Stanford and Iowa — two teams that looked destined for an NCAA Tournament run during the preseason — are a combined 8-11.

— Alabama’s Braxton Key (knee) will go through practice on Friday and be a game-time decision for Saturday’s game at Arizona, Avery Johnson told FanRag Sports. Key has yet to play this season. The 6-8 sophomore averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 rebounds last season and is expected to be the Crimson Tide’s starting power forward when he returns to full health.

— Why are so many people bullish on UT-Arlington as a mid-major to watch for March? Erick Neal. The veteran point guard is leading the nation in assists (10.3) and has posted double-doubles in six of his team’s first eight games.

Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.

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