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Arizona basketball: Sean Miller ‘tests’ Wildcats to temper their expectations

Players often have an inflated sense of how many minutes they’re going to get and how many shots they’re going to take, but Miller has a way to combat that

Mataro All-Stars v Arizona Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

In October, college basketball players often have an inflated sense of how many minutes they’re going to play and how many shots they’re going to take in the upcoming season.

Sean Miller believes he has the perfect method to temper those expectations — a two-question quiz.

“A test that always works is, you have 12 eligible players and there’s 200 minutes in a college basketball game, and if you score 80 points in a game, you’re going to be one of the top 10 or 15 scoring teams in the country,” the Arizona Wildcats head coach explained.

“You give them all that information and you ask them reasonably ... how many points per game do you think you’ll score, and how many minutes you feel like you’ll truly be able to earn on this year’s team?”

Players often overshoot both numbers. Sometimes by a lot.

“This year’s team, we have to find a way to play 265 minutes instead of 200, and we’re going to average 156 points,” Miller said, making the press room laugh. “That is the truth right there. That is not an exaggeration, I didn’t make that up.”

Miller said a couple players estimated they’ll average 25 points per game — a feat that’s nearly impossible considering Derrick Williams, UA’s top scorer ever under Miller, only averaged 19.5 per contest in his best season.

When Miller points that out, the players’ responses are generally a disappointed or surprised “wow.”

“The intent of our players when they fill that (test) out is really pure, but it just goes to show where young people’s heads are, and their expectations for October and the reality of November,” Miller said.

The Red-Blue Game doesn’t help in that regard.

Eight Wildcats played 20 minutes or more in it Friday, while Deandre Ayton and Keanu Pinder played 19 and 15, respectively.

Four players took 10 shots or more, and four others took six or more. Those numbers won’t translate to the regular season.

“The Red-Blue game has kind of been a landmark weekend for us,” Miller said. “Our team is always deeper on the eve of the Red-Blue game than it is two weeks from today.

“Separation occurs within your roster. Maybe nine to 10 players are talented, but not everybody is going to play and not everybody is going to shoot the same amount like the Red-Blue game.”

One could argue this Arizona team has 11 players worthy of playing time (when Rawle Alkins is healthy, at least), but Miller generally gravitates toward an eight-man rotation as the season wears on, so not everyone is going to play, like he said.

Miller said he likes how his team is jelling so far, but that he won’t have a good overall sense of the team’s chemistry until Christmas.

Presumably because that’s right around when Miller said Alkins will return from a foot injury.

When that happens, it’s possible that one player — maybe two — quickly goes from being a stalwart in the rotation to a benchwarmer to acommodate Alkins, similar to what happened to Kobi Simmons last year when Allonzo Trier returned from a 19-game suspension.

It’s those moments when a team’s chemistry truly gets tested — not the Red-Blue Game when minutes and shots are aplenty.

And it’s why, unless Arizona can petition the NCAA for 65 extra minutes as Miller joked, his infamous two-question quizzes are invaluable.

“It’s part of coaching as much as it is setting plays and getting our defense organized,” he said. “Really rationalizing and making sure that their expectations are made and we have a group that’s understanding that the more team success we have, the more things that will come back around for them as an individual.”


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire