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What we learned from Arizona’s Red-Blue Game

<span data-author="5158751">arizona-wildcats-basketball-exhibition-western-new-mexico-anxious </span> Photo by Simon Asher

The Arizona Wildcats unofficially began the 2018-19 season on Sunday with their annual Red-Blue Game.

Our recap can be read here, and here are some additional takeaways.

The frontcourt might have the pieces it needs, even though there aren’t many

All right, let’s just begin with the premise that jumping to conclusions after one scrimmage is dumb.

That said... this was an ideal performance for Arizona’s frontcourt, which showed it might have the pieces to replace — or at least survive without — Deandre Ayton, Dusan Ristic and Keanu Pinder.

Ryan Luther scored inside and out, Chase Jeter rebounded and defended well, Ira Lee looked more athletic and skilled as a second-year player, and Emmanuel Akot flashed a versatile skill set, stuffing the stat sheet with eight points, three rebounds and two assists.

It was not a surprise that Jeter and Luther played well, since they have been in college basketball for several years and were unfazed by the sold-out crowd.

“It’s one of the quiet things that we have going for us on this year’s team is that we have almost a hidden group of experienced players,” Coach Sean Miller said. “They’re not experienced playing in games for Arizona, but in Chase and Ryan’s case, you think about how many games they’ve been a part of, seasons they’ve been a part of, that experience is something that I hope helps.”

Jeter, a team captain, had nine points, 14 rebounds, a block and a steal in just 21 minutes.

“To put up numbers like that in such short time is impressive,” Luther said.

“He does a lot of different things,” Miller added of Jeter. “Very good on defense, rebounding is one of his strengths and there’ll be times where will depend on him to score, but we’re thrilled to have him.”

Luther had 10 points, four rebounds, two assists, and made two 3s. Miller said Luther is a good shooter at every level, a clever passer, and provides much-needed leadership.

Still, Miller wants him to be more assertive.

“He’s more than happy to be a good team player,” Miller explained. “He’s the ball mover, sets good screens, does what he’s supposed to. If he misses an assignment on offense or defense, he’s very hard on himself. We want him to play with confidence and we want him to look to score because when he looks to score, he’s only gonna make good decisions.”

Lee had a career-high 12 points, along with three rebounds and even sank a couple mid-range jumpers. Miller said Lee has worked tirelessly to improve as a shooter at all three levels.

“Just to spread the floor a little more and give us a couple more options,” Lee said of the rationale. “We already have great scorers on our team, but if I could help out any little bit then I’ll do that.”

The downside is Lee committed three fouls in just 19 minutes, which continues to be an issue for him, especially since he will be needed to play heavy minutes at the 4 and 5.

“We’re not blessed with great depth this year upfront like we’ve been. We have to stay healthy and we have to stay out of foul trouble,” Miller said.

“But Ira is one of our most athletic players. Defensively, he can guard a number of people. He’s got quickness, speed, agility. Biggest point is he always has to play the game with great effort. If he does that, then you see his athleticism show up and he can impact the game in a lot of different ways.”

The backcourt has a lot of work to do

As promising as the frontcourt looked, the backcourt lacked a spark, with freshman Devonaire Doutrive leading the group with nine points.

Grad transfer Justin Coleman had a quiet day, with just three points and four rebounds on four shots. He only turned the ball over once, but only had one assist, failing to quell any concerns about his adjustment to major-conference basketball.

Meanwhile, Brandon Randolph, who had eight points, and Dylan Smith, who finished with two, went 0-for-8 from 3.

Doutrive and Brandon Williams flashed a few times — both did some good work in transition, threw some nice passes, and Williams hit a 3 — but Miller cautioned that their best days are ahead of them.

Miller said Doutrive needs to get up to speed physically. He is listed at 6-foot-5, 175 pounds and looked every bit of it.

At the same time, Williams, who had six points and two assists, is experiencing the growing pains that come with learning two positions.

He was disappointed in himself for turning the ball over three times.

“If there’s anybody that should be somewhat confused or feeling like a robot, he should be that guy,” Miller said, excusing his freshman guard. “But the more that he continues to practice and the days add up, he’ll be more comfortable. I wouldn’t trade him for really any guard that’s out there as an incoming freshman because he does it every day and he’s very, very coachable, humble, great teammate, showed up here without any type of ego and I think it’s refreshing and it’s something that we really respect and appreciate.”

Miller was asked if Alex Barcello could handle backup point guard duties, so Williams could play exclusively off the ball, but he insisted that Williams will play both guard spots.

“Today he played more one because it was a Red-Blue scrimmage, but when we’re all on the same bench, he’ll be able to move back and forth and I think play both positions equally effective,” Miller said.

“Past, present, future” isn’t just a slogan

Arizona basketball’s mantra was an appropriate one Sunday.

The current team took the court, former stars Jerryd Bayless and Deandre Ayton were inducted into the ring of honor at halftime, and several 2019 recruits — including commits Nico Mannion and Josh Green — were there to soak it all in.

A coincidence? Of course not.

“Everyone knows this is a big recruiting weekend,” Miller said. “When you talk about the layers of a program, you have the past, which today we honored Deandre and Jerryd, and then you have the current group of guys who get a chance to play in front of a packed house, and then those who aren’t here yet get a chance to really touch and feel what it’s like to play in a first-class, top-notch program.”

Other takeaways

  • Arizona’s offense didn’t look any different than usual, but the defense seemed to do a lot more switching.
  • It’s pretty clear Arizona’s starting lineup will be Coleman, Williams, Randolph, Luther and Jeter.
  • Omar Thielemans is probably gone.