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Friday, November 29, 2013
Tarczewski, Ashley key for Arizona vs. Duke

By Myron Medcalf

Arizona is not the Aaron Gordon show.

The entertaining, explosive and skilled forward might be the addition that helps the Wildcats win the Pac-12 and make a run in the NCAA tournament. But his presence enhances a frontcourt that boasted two promising pieces before his arrival.

Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski will matter Friday night when Arizona faces Duke in the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden in New York City (6 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The most appealing component in that matchup is the Gordon-Jabari Parker pairing, especially since there's a chance the two will defend one another. An appearance by two of the top freshmen in America who star on nationally ranked teams makes this must-see TV.

But Ashley (10.7 PPG and 7.2 RPG) and Tarczewski (9.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG and 2.0 BPG) could be the difference for Arizona. The 7-foot Tarczewski and 6-foot-8 power forward Ashley could dominate an unproven Duke frontcourt. Amile Jefferson is the only player over 6-9 who has become a regular part of Coach Mike Krzyzewski's rotation.

That's a gap that Arizona must exploit to secure a win against one of America's best teams. The Wildcats need Tarczewksi and Ashley to be aggressive and consistent on offense and defense. With Parker on his roster, I don't think Coach K is focused on Gordon as much as he's worried about Tarczewski and Ashley, who are 42nd and 43rd respectively in Ken Pomeroy's offensive ratings of Pac-12 players.

Per KenPom.com, Arizona is ranked 26th in offensive rebounding percentage and Duke's defense is ranked 173rd in offensive rebounding percentage allowed. Arizona needs Tarczewski and Ashley to be relentless on the glass and earn extra possessions and opportunities for their squad.

But the duo also will be vital as the Wildcats attempt to stay in front of Parker and Duke's other talented wings. The new hand-checking rules have made it more challenging for perimeter defenders to contain elite players such as Parker.

So shot-blocking, shot-altering big men have become more important as teams attempt to limit penetration. Both Tarczewski and Ashley have to make Parker & Co. think twice about attacking the rim.

If those two struggle, Arizona will lose. It's that simple.

All of the buildup for Friday night's top game centers on Gordon and Parker.

But Tarczewski and Ashley might be the most significant players on the floor.