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What to watch in Arizona’s Red-Blue game

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NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats unofficially begin the 2018-19 season on Sunday when they will host their annual Red-Blue Game at 12 p.m. PT.

Viewing info can be found below, but here are some things to watch first.

They’re back!

The No. 1 thing is the Red-Blue Game is our first look at this year’s squad. Last year that wasn’t actually true since Arizona played two games in Spain in August.

While the scrimmage usually boasts more style than substance, it feels like it means more this year because of how much roster turnover Arizona experienced.

Not one key contributor is back, so every single player on the court has something to prove — and earn.

For the three freshmen and two graduate transfers, it will be their first time playing in front of a sold-out crowd in McKale Center.

“You learn who can handle it better than others, and the ones that don’t, you hope that they will make their adjustment,” said UA coach Sean Miller.

For others, namely the sophomores, it is their first opportunity to showcase how much they have improved since last season, both physically and skill-wise.

While you cannot jump to conclusions after one scrimmage, the Red-Blue Game should help us come closer to answering some of the questions that face this team entering the season, like how it plans to manage the point guard position, what kind of lineup combinations it uses, which returning players are primed for a breakout season, and if the newcomers—mostly Brandon Williams—are as good as advertised.

“We’ve always utilized (the Red-Blue Game) as kind of like a precursor to the beginning of our season because you can’t simulate what it feels like to play in McKale,” Miller said. “I talked to Allonzo (Trier) the other day, and he was talking about how special it is to play in the Madison Square Garden, and obviously Allonzo is playing about as well as any rookie right now in the NBA, and he talked about the adjustment from McKale Center to the Garden and that the adjustment isn’t nearly as significant for him.

“Obviously there’s nothing that replicates Madison Square Garden, but from the college version, being able to play in front of our crowd, as passionate as they are, it prepares you well, and I think to get used to that, the Red-Blue experience, is something we always draw upon.”

Alpha Cats

Arizona lost its top five scorers from last season, so we have no clue who is going to lead the offense this year.

Miller said at Pac-12 media day that he expects this team to be one that shares the ball and features several players, not one or two, so I imagine we’ll see balanced production.

But it would be really compelling if, say, Brandon Randolph, who many think will emerge as UA’s leading scorer this year, comes out firing and has a big day.

Same goes for someone like Williams, whose scoring ability was compared to Trier’s at media day. (Then again, Randolph was the second-highest scorer in last year’s Red-Blue Game and that didn’t result in much.)

Samford grad transfer Justin Coleman was named a captain and is expected to start at point guard, and it will be interesting to see what kind of grip he has on the offense, and how much he commands the team.

Pittsburgh grad transfer Ryan Luther is expected to start at the 4, and maybe he will showcase the shooting touch that has been talked about all offseason.

The point is: several players are going to have to emerge as Arizona’s go-to scorers and playmakers, and the Red-Blue game will help us figure out who they will be.

The other point guard

Coleman will be the starting point guard for either Red or Blue, which means Alex Barcello or Brandon Williams will start for the other team and have a chance to run the offense.

With Coleman set to get a majority of the minutes at point guard this season, Arizona has to figure out who can be a capable backup, and perhaps a strong performance in the Red-Blue Game will give Williams or Barcello a leg up for that role.

Playing style

Arizona will be more guard-oriented this season, which might lead to a quicker pace, more 3s and more aggression on defense. Maybe we will see some of those things Sunday.

The catch here is that defense in the Red-Blue game is usually toned down and it’s generally a sloppy game, leading to more turnovers and transition opportunities than usual (i.e. a faster tempo that may not be sustainable).

Interior defense is usually lacking considerably too, because you can’t expect guys to take charges or get in the way of high-speed drivers in a game like this. So don’t berate Chase Jeter if he isn’t out there challenging every shot at the rim. The last thing Arizona needs is an injury.

Also: don’t pay much attention to shooting percentages. The Wildcats have been a solid 3-point shooting team the last eight seasons, shooting better than 36 percent, but they are 7-for-38 from behind the arc in the last two Red-Blue Games.

First-game jitters are real.

The buzz

The Red-Blue Game is just as much of a recruiting event as it is a chance to give a basketball-crazed fanbase its first look at its new team.

As always, Arizona will have some big-time visitors on campus to soak in what should be an electric atmosphere.

Five-star commits Nico Mannion and Josh Green are scheduled to be in attendance, as are five-star forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and four-star forward Zeke Nnaji, who are strongly considering Arizona.

So if you are going to the game, know that your enthusiasm is not only a boost to the players on the court, but potentially the future of the program as well.