Sean Miller has not only recruited as well as anyone not named John Calipari in recent years. He's recruited with balance.
Few programs have been able to sell themselves as Point Guard U and Point Forward U quite as well as the Arizona Wildcats. With Sidiki Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski and now Dusan Ristic, Miller has even gone out of his way literally -- to New York, New England and overseas -- to recruit true big men.
That brings us to the Wildcats' opponent on Saturday, the Michigan Wolverines. While John Beilein has brought an uptick to a program that for a while fell on hard times, his recruiting efforts have left this year's team without many capable bigs. At least, not right now.
The 2012 class included only Mitch McGary, who is now riding the bench in Oklahoma City with former Arizona forward Grant Jerrett. The next year's class included power forward Mark Donnal, who redshirted and is now seeing limited minutes, albeit as an undersized, 6'7, 245 pound starting center. In 2014, Beilein pulled freshman big Ricky Doyle and forward D.J. Wilson. Wilson has not seen much time this year while the 6'9 Doyle has been fairly productive off the bench.
Long story short, the Wolverines shy away from playing with much size. It's a transitional period for the bigs they do have.
Part of it is that Beilein's best players, far and away, happen to be on the perimeter. But there's no doubt Michigan would like the luxury to be able to match up with teams like Arizona, or for that matter Eastern Michigan, which outrebounded the Wolverines by nine in an upset win last week, leading to the second of two major upsets against Beilein's squad.
Breaking down the losses
NJIT: Last Saturday, now-4-6 NJIT dropped a then-No.17 Michigan squad 72-70 by shooting 59 percent from the floor and hitting 11-of-17 threes. A freeflowing game allowed the Wolverines, who shot 43 percent, to hang despite not outrebounding another undersized squad and despite Irvin going 2-for-11. Still, it was as painful as they come. NJIT followed up the victory in Ann Arbor with a two-point win against St. Francis New York before a 10-point loss to Holy Cross.
Eastern Michigan: It was a different feel than the NJIT loss. LeVert, and Irvin struggled to score 10 points each (that still led the team) while the Wolverines held their opponents to 33 percent shooting while forcing 17 turnovers. The rebounding was that atrocious. Resume-wise, this wasn't as bad as the NJIT loss. Eastern Michigan is 8-1 and had its only loss, a nine-point defeat, against Archie Miller's Dayton squad.
Who to watch
Caris LeVert: The newest character at the swingman factory at Michigan, Levert is averaging 17.7 points per game and knocking down 49 percent from three-point range. He had a standout performance behind Glenn Robinson III last year when Arizona visited, scoring 15 points. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson will have to stick to the 6'6 swingman.
Zak Irvin: Irvin is to LeVert as to LeVert was to Robinson a year ago. Averaging 15.4 points, the sophomore gets to the rim as frequently as LeVert (as in, not all that frequently) and is more of a spot-up shooter than an off-the-dribble type in this offense. He does shoot more three than LeVert in that role, taking nearly eight per game.
So how do the Wildcats win?
For all Michigan's issues, this is still a dangerous game for Arizona. The Wolverines still have the ability to space the floor with LeVert, Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr. and backup point guard Spike Albrecht, all very capable shooters.
The Wildcats haven't done anything but enforce their own sets of rules during games by slowing the pace and making teams work for their shots, and the Wolverines haven't proved they are patient enough to shake free of a defense's grasp on offense. But the Wildcats have to understand that Beilein has coached up very, very good offenses before, and Arizona can only hope the ball isn't swinging like it was last year. After detailing all of that, it will be on Miller's bigs to make the difference.
Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson haven't lacked effort in defending, but Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley have to be ready to make an impact against a young group of big men. If Michigan can roll with a perimeter-oriented lineup and Arizona can't use its size to make that a bad idea, this could end up being a game.
Something we'd like to see
T.J. McConnell has been the pride of Sean Miller, and his role is not going to change. Still, it's a wonder why, for a few games now, he's struggled to initiate an effective offense for long stretches. Parker Jackson-Cartwright has stepped in to produce a more free-flowing game, and he should see more time. That, or McConnell finds a way to get things humming.
3:15 p.m. MST