The twelfth-ranked Wildcats begin their second consecutive season among the nation’s top preseason clubs. Last year, Arizona finished its campaign out of the Top 25 and on the outside looking in for an NCAA Tournament bid. This year, Arizona’s roster overhaul and influx of an elite freshman class made even better by the transfer of graduate senior Mark Lyons has the Wildcats shooting for the stars in year four of the Sean Miller era.
Solomon Hill needs to lead by example in today's season opener against Charleston Southern.
Date: Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012
Time: 4 p.m. MST
Location: Olson Court, McKale Center (14,538), Tucson, Ariz.
Radio: IMG College/Wildcat Radio Network (Brian Jeffries/Ryan Hansen) [XM: 91]
TV: Pac-12.com Networks (Jim Watson/Matt Muehlebach)
Arizona hosts Charleston Southern this afternoon at McKale Center to tip off the 109th season in Wildcat basketball history. Each school enters the 2012-13 Season as favorites to win their conference. Arizona edged the UCLA Bruins in the Pac-12 Media Poll for the preseason top spot while Charleston Southern received the nod to win the South Division in the Big South Conference.
Miller is 8-0 as a coach in season openers, winning all five as Xavier’s head coach and continuing that streak in Tucson by emerging victorious in his first three seasons at Arizona. However, none of that matters much as today marks the first meeting between the Wildcats and Buccaneers. CSU returns four starters from a squad that went 19-12 a season ago to lead 10 returning lettermen.
Experience is always a key when facing mid-major programs. Those that have it are dangerous while those that don’t are potential blowout victims.
CSU (0-1, 0-0 Big South) opened its season on Friday night against local rival Charleston. The Bucs played competitively despite falling 68-58. Saah Nimley led the team with 20 points while Arion Harper came off the bench to score 12. Neither team shot well, but the Bucs turned in a really tough shooting performance connecting on just 29.2% of their field goals, which included a bleak 8-for-34 effort from behind the arc. Although the Bucs died by the 3-Pointer Friday night if those shots are falling Sunday the game against Arizona could get interesting. It is worth noting that Charleston suspended its top two scorers prior to the CSU game.
Arizona has looked solid in each of its two exhibitions, blowing out their opponents by averaging 103 points per contest. It’s not all good news though as those easy victories may have gone to the heads of the Wildcats as confirmed reports of not so stellar practices at the Jefferson Center have ensued since the Cats blasted Chico State last week.
KEYS TO THE GAME
One reason why Arizona was so stout in 3-Point defense shooting efficiency in recent seasons is because the Wildcats were an undersized team. Often playing with centers no taller than 6-foot-9, Arizona had a lot of athleticism on the floor, which made high post switches and pick and pops along the perimeter easier to defend because the Wildcat big could oftentimes stick with and contest a guard’s shot outside the arc. Now that Arizona’s roster looks more traditional, a concern will be how well Arizona’s big men manage the switches and are able to contest looks from beyond the arc. While Arizona’s big men showed solid effort in “hedging” screens during the exhibition season, spot up 3-Point shooters were still getting very good looks against the Wildcats.
Second, heavy favorites have to overcome the same “mistake” as heavy underdogs have a tendency to make in games such as today’s tip. In short, Arizona needs to understand that the game won’t necessarily be won in the first 10 minutes. Barring an 18-2 scoring run to open the game that virtually closes the Bucs out, Arizona needs to do nothing more than run their sets and play their game well. If they do the final scoring margin won’t be close. However, if individual Wildcats are trying to do too much then mistakes and sloppy play will result, thusly keeping CSU in the game. For CSU, the same theory applies. The Bucs need to remain patient on offense, make crisp passes, and work the basketball around the floor while setting up for the open trey. While Arizona will want to score in the first 15-20 seconds of the shot clock, CSU wants its points in the final 15 seconds of their possessions.
Third, there’s as much pressure on Wildcat senior contributors Solomon Hill, Mark Lyons and Kevin Parrom as there is on Arizona’s four freshmen. As good as Arizona is, this team is built on teamwork and operating in unison on both ends of the floor. As outlined in the previous paragraph, individualism won’t fly this season and the seniors can easily be guilty of trying to do too much as the freshmen may be. Arizona’s mantra today will be “Push with Patience and Control.” It’s a borderline oxymoron but in sports terms it’s like saying “Play Fast, but Play Smart.”
Follow me on Twitter @Gary Randazzo, and visit the WSR Chat Room during the game for live conversation with the WSR basketball staff and Wildcat fans watching from afar.