The Arizona Wildcats routed Western New Mexico 95-44 on Tuesday in their first of two exhibitions.
Yep, more 3s
In my pregame writeup I mentioned that the Wildcats plan to take more 3s this season, and they made me look like I know what I’m talking about. Arizona launched 26 3-pointers Tuesday, nearly eight more than it averaged last year.
Here is a different way to look at it: 32 percent of UA’s shots last year were 3s. Tuesday, that number was north of 40 percent.
That trend is here to stay, given the team’s personnel and all the small-ball it will be forced to play.
Generally, offenses that take more 3s have higher ceilings but lower floors than those that are more selective, but Miller hopes to avoid such boom-or-bust tendencies.
“We’re going to rely more on the 3-point shot this year,” he admitted. “Now that doesn’t mean that it’s either make or break. ... We have to be able to create drives and get second shots, get fouled, get the ball close to the basket. Obviously you put Chase (Jeter) out out there, that’s something he does well, but we’re going to shoot and depend more on 3-point shooting than we have maybe since I’ve been here.”
Tuesday’s game was a blowout, so Miller was able to empty the bench and play 13 guys, not including Chase Jeter, who sat with an undisclosed injury.
But Miller said afterward that Arizona will realistically have a nine-man rotation, with a 10th guy coming in here and there depending on the situation.
Here are the seven players who should be considered locks to be in the rotation:
- Justin Coleman
- Brandon Williams
- Brandon Randolph
- Ryan Luther
- Chase Jeter
- Emmanuel Akot
- Ira Lee
So if you presume that there are two more spots up for grabs, that means one of Alex Barcello, Devonaire Doutrive or Dylan Smith will be out of the rotation more times than not.
Doutrive was the last scholarship player to enter the game, but Miller said he is at the “very beginning stages” of forming the rotation, so that might not mean much.
Miller usually only has an eight-man rotation — sometimes he has even whittled it down to seven — but he acknowledged that isn’t ideal if the Wildcats are going to be playing more small ball this season.
“To play hard, to push the ball, to make up maybe for our lack of size and hold these guys accountable to rebounding and moving the ball, you get winded playing that way and I think it’s always been our philosophy to get people in and out of the game,” he said.
A Draymond Green comparison
For a guy that hasn’t done a whole lot at Arizona, Emmanuel Akot sure has drawn some pretty lofty comparisons.
Miller has juxtaposed the sophomore’s defensive potential to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Tuesday he likened Akot to Golden State’s do-it-all forward Draymond Green.
“Emmanuel Akot is not small and he’s very good with the ball,” Miller said of the 6-foot-7 forward. “He’s a clever passer. He’s almost like today’s version of a wing of a forward, kind of like a Draymond Green type of player.”
In fairness, Akot did have a solid game, with 10 points, four rebounds and three assists plus a steal in 22 minutes off the bench.
The Canadian continues to be a sneaky good shooter, too. He made both of his 3-point attempts Tuesday, and when you combine that with the 9-for-24 mark he posted last season, he has shot 42 percent from beyond the arc in his UA career.
If he can maintain that percentage (or at least come close to it) at a higher volume, he would be a solid 3-and-D option and an intriguing stretch 4 — not totally unlike Draymond Green.
Brandon Randolph’s 20 points were a career high and obviously the headliner of Tuesday’s win, but his four rebounds were also a career best.
Part of the reason he was never able to carve out a consistent role as a freshman is because he couldn’t impact the game when his shots weren’t falling.
Miller said Randolph is “trying to embrace” a more well-rounded role this season and Arizona will certainly need him to, especially as a rebounder since he will be playing heavy minutes on the wing for a team that has a dearth of size in the paint.
Randolph struggled mightily on the glass last year, posting a rebounding percentage of 4.5, the lowest among UA’s scholarship players, so the four he grabbed in 24 minutes Tuesday were a step in the right direction.
“He didn’t have the opportunity to play in games as much or have a big role, but this year he does and I think last year really prepared him and helped him,” Miller said. “He’s also had a real good offseason. He’s stronger and he’s just an overall better player. I mean he’s going to have nights where the ball doesn’t go in the basket and one of the things we’ve talked to him about is to still be a good player, not just a shooter.”
More praise for Williams
Brandon Williams had an up-and-down night. The freshman came out guns blazing, scoring seven points within the first three minutes of the game.
Then he hit a long lull — his next basket came with 12 minutes left in the second half — before percolating at the end of the game, eventually finishing with 14 points, four rebounds, and three assists on 6-of-11 shooting (1-of-6 from 3).
Miller has cautioned that Williams will endure some growing pains since he is learning to play the 1 and the 2, but he also continues to shower the freshman with praise.
“I can’t tell you how good of a feeling it is to coach him because he’s so coachable and he comes from a terrific high school basketball program and a really good family,” Miller said. “He was coached hard, held accountable on defense and offense and you really can see that coaching early on here. I mean even when he makes mistakes, he’s eager to fix the mistakes and sometimes when you’re talented like that, that can be overlooked because that’s what’s gonna allow him to grow and become a great player. But we have high expectations for Brandon, but he’s also bouncing back and forth between two positions.
“So he’s in charge of the other four players and he’s running the team and he’s a playmaker and then all of a sudden he’s in where you really have him freed up to score. So it’s gonna take some time for him to really settle in and be comfortable. But as evidenced by the beginning of the game, you can see certainly his talent and he can really do a lot of different things in the open court.”
There’s always something
This is my third full year covering Arizona basketball and there has been one constant throughout my tenure: off-the-court drama.
Two years ago, it was the suspensions of Allonzo Trier and Chance Comanche. (You can throw in Terrance Ferguson’s departure, too.) Last season, it was the FBI investigation, Rawle Alkins’ injury and the suspensions of Keanu Pinder and assistant coach Mark Phelps.
This year, the FBI hoopla is still hovering over the program (albeit it is nothing like last year) and now there is Ira Lee’s suspension and Chase Jeter’s injury to boot.
The good news is those last two things are short-term issues. Lee will miss one measly game and Jeter will probably be OK for the season opener based on what Miller said after Tuesday’s exhibition.
But it always seems to be one thing after another with this program, and you have to think it takes some sort of toll on the players, even if they insist they are only focused on basketball. I’m sure it’s tiring for fans, too.
Speaking of Lee, here is what Miller said about him accepting his one-game suspension, which was punishment for being cited for a DUI:
“Ira took it very well. He’s worked hard at all aspects on and off the court since he’s become a student athlete at Arizona, last year and this year. He’s a great teammate and a great kid. He’s had a lot of tough things happen to him in a very short period of time and I think our support is unwavering to help him through this difficult time.
“When you’re going through tough times, sometimes the court, the weight room, your teammates, the locker room, those are things that can bring a smile to somebody’s face like Ira. And so we’re helping him get through it and once we get through the first game, although that part of it’s over, in his world he’s still dealing a lot of tough times, but he’s handling it very well, doing well in school and it’s great that we see him every day and I think that’s not only helpful to our team but him as well.”