Kaleb Tarczewski will likely not play for the Arizona Wildcats against NAU because of his sprained ankle, according to the Arizona Daily Star's Bruce Pascoe, but the absence only opens an opportunity for Sean Miller's team to play with urgency because of the obvious weaknesses without the big man.
It'll also give fans the opportunity to appreciate Tarczewski even more, even if the score at the end of the game doesn't indicate there's any existing problem.
Tarczewski has progressed this season, but even last year, Arizona felt his presence. A space-eater in the paint need not be a shot-blocker to alter shots. He's still 7 feet tall. And he also takes up space, no matter how you quantify its effectiveness, and space on the relatively small surface of a basketball court means every inch is worth that much more to the offense.
So the Wildcats beat Southern with a small-ball lineup of Brandon Ashley, Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. But there weren't nearly as many dumpdowns and kickouts for threes with Zeus on the sideline. It was surprising that even Ashley took it to the perimeter even more than usual for his worst-shooting game of the year -- he hit 3-of-9 shots and missed three three-point attempts.
Monday gives the Wildcats a chance to improve with a piece missing.
It gives Hollis-Jefferson a shot to play a bigger role that he's ready for. It gives Gordon a shot to have more operating space and a chance to play at his more-natural power forward spot. Overall, Miller can perhaps work Matt Korcheck, Gabe York and Jordin Mayes into the lineup to build a tad more depth to a short rotation.
Tarczewski can take his time coming back. Right now, it's about experimentation.
Scouting the Lumberjacks
Former Arizona basketball staff member Jack Murphy leads his NAU squad into McKale Center with a 4-7 record. Coming off a 65-63 win against Grand Canyon University, the Lumberjacks face an uphill climb having lost to several below-average Division I teams so far this season.
The Lumberjacks lost 88-68 to Texas Tech, their only common opponent with the Wildcats -- UA beat TTU 79-58 this year. NAU also has losses to the rebuilding USC Trojans, Drake, Fresno State and Hawaii.
Murphy's team is led by 6-foot-8 forward Max Jacobsen, who scored 14.8 points per game and shoots an impressive 59.4 percent from the floor.
The numbers don't go in the Lumberjacks' favor. They shoot 41.9 percent per game, bad news with Arizona ranking ninth by allowing this season's opponents to shoot 37.9 percent. After Jacobsen, three of NAU's top-5 scorers are shooting below 37 percent on the year.
Seemingly, stale offense has gotten the best of the Lumberjacks, who average just 11.4 assist to 14 turnovers a game.
8 p.m. MST