I could note that Steve Kerr first mentioned Lute Olson on the NBA Champion’s podium or that Adam Silver handed Andre Iguodala the Finals MVP Trophy. Could note that Luke Walton is tracking to be the greatest coach in NBA history or that TJ McConnell is the only player in League history to – it’s pretty ridiculous stat and godbless the kid who researched it – record 12 or more assists in 2 or more of his first 4 games. As Nike would have you know, Arizona basketball doesn’t stop (except for Adidas schools from the 30th State). And it doesn’t project to be taking this year off. Sure they’re out of the AP Top-10 for the first time since before Cuonzo Martin knew who Ivan Rabb was (and now they’re teammates!). But this is a notably new team. For starters, there isn’t a projectable lottery pick on the roster. There isn’t a 6’8″ freak that’s soon to be bullying in a West Coast arena near you. This team isn’t going to be the defensive stalwart you watched for the past two seasons. For Tucsonans, it’s going to be a season of change and they’re going to be uncomfortable with that. Embrace it. This is a year in which we’ll see Sean Miller flexing his coaching acumen. I’ll get into his roster options later, but this Arizona team, while not as sexy as years past, just might be the most fun.
Why I love them
As a rule, I said we shouldn’t look too much into scrimmages. Similarly, we probably shouldn’t read too much in to exhibition games. But I couldn’t help myself from watching Arizona’s exhibition against Cal State Chico on Sunday. I saw a fine team but then there was Gabe York driving a lane with but one defender to beat, an unsuspecting and defenseless CSU Wildcat. It was the exact situation York had seen before:
But he didn’t. He pulled up, hit the soft floater, the McKale bluehairs applauded and two points were awarded the home Wildcats.
We love senior guards here at Pachoops and Gabe York is a senior guard exacting maturity, poise, and experience on a roster with a lot of question marks (despite starting all upperclassmen in Sunday’s scrimmage). And how about Ryan Anderson? He is a senior, a former All-ACC performer, California Mr. Basketball, and has won Arizona’s gold jersey (best performer in practice) for seven consecutive weeks. No player has ever done that for Sean Miller. Ever. And think of the lineup variance Sean Miller has. Consider this five:
That’s Arizona’s second five. This is easily the deepest team Miller has ever had at Arizona. It’s uniquely not his most talented squad but he has the weapons to beat you however he’d like. They aren’t the bullies they’ve been, but believe that this team will be playing its best basketball in February and March.
Why I hate them
I don’t. But in the interest of maintaining my thinly veiled neutrality, here are reasons to hate Arizona basketball in 2015-16:
- Mark Tollefsen’s t-shirt
- Replacing 3 guys on NBA Rosters and Brandon Ashley
- The best small forward at Small Forward U (Solomon Hill, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Luke Walton, Chase Budinger, Aaron Gordon) on this roster is arguably its most raw talent (Justin Simon). Tollefsen likely can’t guard the High Major 3 and Elliott Pitts is a formidable back up. Allonzo Trier should not be pushed to the 3.
- You didn’t know who Ray Smith was and Arizona was still the preseason’s 12th team in the nation. Scouts were saying the young man was Arizona’s best player before tearing the ACL he didn’t tear prior to his senior season, the reason you didn’t know who he was.
- Kaleb Tarczewski’s 25th ranked in-conference defensive rebounding rate.
- I’ll note the key points from this article. With TJ McConnell on the floor:
- Jahlil Okafor shoots 73% (39% when off)
- Nerlens Noel shoots 47% (26% when off)
What could that mean for Kaleb Tarczewski’s offense? Arizona’s bigs?
- They won’t defend the way they have in the past, will they adjust to letting offense make up the margins? Will they be allowed to?
Stat you must know: 38
Consecutive home wins inside the McKale Center. Arizona has also led the Pac-12 in attendance for 30 straight seasons. Consider that College Basketball sports the worst home court advantage in sports and we’re on to something. But for the first time in a bit, the Wildcats seem home-vulnerable. Could your team be the first? I recommend you go to McKale for the experience.
What I learned at Media Day:
Not what I wanted to. I had neither the gumption nor time to confirm whether or not Kaleb Tarczewski’s mother indeed hand built the family’s New Hampshire home.
Rock top (best case scenario)
What if I told you that he’d beat Bo? That Frank Kaminski was stoppable…F*CK THAT KEEP THE BADGERS AWAY! The obvious would be to note that in a season he’s not necessarily expected to get to the Final Four, Sean Miller gets to the Final Four. That’s pretty much any team’s Rock Top. So sure, there you have it because that’s where Arizona basketball is and its a down year in College Basketball so why not see you in Houston?
Rock bottom (worst case scenario)
The collective fears and message board meltdown surrounding a lack of 2016 recruits becomes what everyone feared: Miller’s lost it and the cupboard is bare deep into the spring period. Parker Jackson-Cartwright becomes what everyone feared: a 5’8” D1 point guard. Kaleb Tarczewski remains what everyone has feared: Kaleb Tarczewski. Miller’s coveted scoring guard (Allonzo Trier) is what what everyone fears: Katin Reinhardt. Ryan Anderson is so beloved by Miller he starts playing games in the gold jersey, creating Anderson Island and a fractured locker room. In a last ditch effort, Athletic Director Greg Byrne calls in a favor, brings Colin Kaepernick (a la Stanford and Ray Lewis) into the locker room before the team’s opening round NIT game. The Wildcats never take the court.