Sean Miller knew UC-Irvine would be a challenge for his Wildcats leading up to his team's game last Wednesday citing their experience, size and recent success as reasons why. Surely he didn't anticipate the Wildcats would be facing a comeback in the final ten minutes to remain undefeated but that was what it required as Arizona enters the Maui Invitational 3-0.
Arizona will be joined in the field by Monday's opponent Missouri as well as Kansas State, Purdue, Pittsburgh, BYU, San Diego State and host Chaminade. Arizona will enter as an overwhelming favorite to win the event but will be challenged along the way if it hopes to claim its second such title tournament history. San Diego State once again represents one of the top teams on the West Coast and BYU brings one of the most prolific scorers in college basketball to the tournament with Tyler Haws. Kansas State and Pittsburgh both are generally stout defenses who Arizona could possibly see later on down the road.
It all starts Monday with the Missouri Tigers where the Wildcats will look to move to 4-0 and one step closer to a tournament title. Some key things to look at entering the game:
1. Three-head guard attack
As was the case a year ago, Missouri's offensive identity is based in its back court where the Tigers have played three guards over 30 minutes apiece. Wes Clark and Montaque Gill-Caesar lead the attack for the Tigers each averaging over 14 points per game (over 16 in Gill-Caesar's case) but will face their stiffest test yet. How Missouri tries to navigate the Wildcats defense without a ton of weapons on the inside will be a key for Missouri on the offensive end. The Tigers have not shot the ball well from three as a team and it's tough to beat Arizona with a guard-oriented attack if you don't shoot the three well. T.J McConnell, Gabe York and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will likely have this engraved in their brains by tip off.
2. Does Arizona finally play a complete defensive game?
Nobody really questions the fact that Arizona is a very good defensive basketball team despite the fact that through three games the numbers don't support that. Too many lapses for stretches of the game have allowed far inferior opponents to make runs on Arizona. When the Wildcats do turn the defense full throttle it can be suffocating as the team showed in the last ten minutes vs UC-Irvine and at the end of the first half against Mount St. Mary's. There are some new parts on this team but there certainly is enough left from last year's core, including defensive standout McConnell, to make these lapses befuddling. Have the Wildcats just taken the first three opponents lightly or are there holes to plug? With the national stage this week, we'll see if that defense comes out with the lights on.
3. Front court edge
Arizona will have the front court edge nearly every time it takes the floor in 2014-2015 given the stockpiling of NBA talent the Wildcats possess. It will be large on Monday when Arizona takes the floor vs Missouri because of that guard play alluded to in the first key. Missouri like Arizona a season ago doesn't go very deep into its bench and any foul trouble by the Tigers bigs would put the Tigers into a tough spot defensively. If the Wildcats control the boards and dictate tempo as the matchup suggests it should be able to, Arizona should have a pretty good chance to make life very difficult for the Missouri offense. However as we've seen in the first three games, the Wildcats haven't always made things as easy as possible.
3 PM MST