1. Northwestern State might not be a household name, but they put up a solid 2014 - 2015 season and made some noise in the Southland Conference. What kind of expectations surround the Demon basketball program for 2015 - 2016?
Ben: This was certainly a team that was expected to push Stephen F. Austin for the league title. They finished second in both preseason polls, and garnered some first place votes, and for good reason. They had two preseason 1st team all-conference players in Jalan West and Zeek Woodley, who between them averaged more than 42 points per game this season. This was going to be a sneaky team in the non-conference season who was going to win at least one or two games where no one gave them a chance, and they had a chance to take the conference.
2. It looks like the injury bug has already struck the Demons; they lost a big piece of their team when Jalan West went down with an ACL tear against the Ole Miss Rebels. What's the approach in trying to replace him?
Ben: The plan was always to have sophomore Devonte Hall take over for West when he graduated, and to start to continue to get experience behind him this season. That timeline was just accelerated by the injury. Keep in mind that there is no replacing West, who is the active leader in career assists and one of the most dependable point guards to play college basketball. But Hall was a standout in high school in Louisiana (the same high school that West attended), and he should grow into the role.
3. Granted, it's still early in the season. But in three games thus far, Arizona has out-rebounded opponents 133 - 86, attempted 101 free throws to opponents 61, and held teams to 39% from the field. How can Northwestern State counter Arizona's athleticism and trademark defensive tenacity?
Ben: I think the biggest fear going into this game has to be the rebounding advantage that Arizona has had this season. They have been beat on the boards badly this season and they can't give teams as many second chances as they have in the first three games. Northwestern State likes to play fast, so they won't get worn down by athletes, but they will get worn down by the physical presence inside. I hate to say that I am skeptical that there is anything that Northwestern State can do to counter the Wildcats' style, but there really is very little that they could attempt. This isn't a team that relies on the 3-pointer and could get a swing that way. They push the tempo, but really not that much more than Arizona is used to. I think this is really just a matter of trying to hang tough and keep the lead under 20.
4. Give us your predictions for how this one turns out. Should Arizona be on upset alert?
Ben: With West, there may have been a chance that Northwestern State could at least score with Arizona. But I am not sure that there is an upset alert brewing here.
Arizona 95 - Northwestern State 68