2012 Diamond Head Classic: Arizona Wildcats will be tested

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Hurricanes, Ole Miss Rebels and San Diego State Aztecs will give the Arizona Wildcats an experience in Hawaii.

Arizona vs. East Tennessee State

Time: Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MST

TV: ESPNU

Arizona opens against East Tennessee State (2-7) on Saturday night. The Buccaneers have struggled this year, and a good measuring stick might be their two-point loss earlier in the season to the same Charleston Southern team the Wildcats opened their season against. They played a rematch on Tuesday and fell 72-51 to the other Bucs.

At the same time, their schedule has been arguably as tough as the Wildcats' own. They have losses to then No. 20 North Carolina, the Georgia Bulldogs and Virginia Tech. However, those games weren't closer than 16 points.

The Bucs are led by 6-foot-4 wing Lester Wilson, who averages 18 points per game and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

The bracket

Click here to check out the times, schedule and bracket for the 2012 Diamond Head Classic.

What's to gain?

Sean Miller's Arizona Wildcats will have the opportunity to play a tournament style in the little brother of the two Hawaii nonconference tournaments -- the other being the Maui Invitational. That doesn't mean the 2012 Diamond Head Classic will be easy.

The pressure will come in the second round and championship game if the Wildcats get there. Ole Miss, Miami and San Diego State will provide three solid teams that Arizona could face.

Scouting the field

If Arizona takes care of business, the Miami Hurricanes could meet the Wildcats with a first-round win against host Hawaii. If Miami and Arizona meet in the second round, then Miller's team will earn a very stiff challenge for their young big men.

In fact, the Hurricanes easily run out a bigger lineup than Arizona. Their starters go Reggie Johnson (6-foot-10, 292 pounds), Kenny Kadji (6-foot-11, 242 pounds), Trey McKinney Jones (6-foot-5, 220 pounds), Durand Scott (6-foot-5, 203 pounds) and Shane Larkin (5-foot-11, 176 pounds).

Johnson and Kadji combine for 23 points and 17 rebounds per game, and the backcourt averages 31 points 11 rebounds and seven assists per game for the 7-1 Hurricanes.

Miami's highlight this year was beating then-No. 13 Michigan State, 67-59.

Should Arizona, as the favorite, make it to the championship game, San Diego State or Ole Miss could provide another tough out. Miller called the Aztecs the best team out west, and at No. 18 and with a 9-1 record, they are on paper the second-best team in the tournament.

That's because they have arguably the best player in Jamaal Franklin, a 6-foot-5 wing who is finally getting his chance to shine for head coach Steve Fisher. An athlete and a dangerous scorer, the junior is averaging 18.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game after waiting his turn behind NBAer Kawhi Leonard during his freshman season.

Franklin isn't a great shooter, but he does his damage by getting to the rim, where he draws fouls and takes more than seven free throw attempts per game in just 31 minutes a night.

Projections

I did a roundtable preview with Miami Hurricane bloggers from State of the U and Ole Miss' Red Cup Rebellion, and said this would be my all-tournament team. Mind it being a little guard heavy.

Jamaal Franklin, SDSU

Nick Johnson, Arizona

Durand Scott, Miami

Solomon Hill, Arizona

Reggie Johnson, Miami

Of course, you could argue that Mark Lyons will be in there rather than Johnson or Hill. And my list didn't mention two candidates at Ole Miss -- forward Murphy Holloway (who along with Miami's Johnson averages a double-double) and guard Marshall Henderson, who averages 18 points per game and takes an insane 81 percent of his shots from three-point range while hitting 35 percent.

As for the winners, I chose the Wildcats to come out with the victory. At this point, it's hard to predict any upsets occurring, as all of the top four teams are rolling coming into the tournament.

What am I most looking forward to? A San Diego State-Arizona rematch following what was more of an embarrassing game than one as close as the 61-57 score indicated in last year's Aztec win that broke the Wildcats' 22-game home winning streak:

From an Arizona standpoint, a rematch against San Diego State would be fun to see. The Aztecs snapped a 22-game home winning streak in McKale Center last season, and Sean Miller called them the best team out west following Arizona's win against Oral Roberts on Tuesday. That said, Miami's schedule looks to have been plenty tough, and take away what I assume was a flub-up against Florida Gulf Coast early on and they look pretty impressive.

Bob from Red Cup Rebellion chose Arizona to win as well, but Jerry Steinberg of State of the U actually went with the Hurricanes. That may look like a homer pick, but on paper, Miami does indeed look like the best-equipped team to knock off Arizona.

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