The Arizona Wildcats knocked off Western New Mexico 95-44 on Tuesday in their first of two exhibitions.
I was convinced heading into the season that Brandon Randolph and Brandon Williams would be Arizona’s leading scorers and I am feeling even better about that prediction after Tuesday’s exhibition.
Randolph and Williams led the way with 20 and 14 points, respectively. Randolph only needed eight shots to reach that figure.
Williams was less efficient, but appears to be Arizona’s most talented player, in my opinion. He dazzles when the ball is in his hands and the way he finishes at the rim reminds me of Allonzo Trier. He is also surprisingly active on defense for a freshman.
Williams has turned the ball over a bit too much — he had four in 24 minutes in the exhibition and three in the Red-Blue Game — but for now we can chalk that up to him still learning the ropes of Arizona’s offense.
Meanwhile, Randolph is simply benefitting from being a year older and having a more prominent role. He will have plenty of opportunities to score this season, and he just has to knock down his open shots (easier said than done, of course).
We saw last year that Randolph has the talent to be a good scorer at this level — he once scored in double figures four times in a five-game stretch.
Miller said Arizona is going to shoot more 3s this year because of its personnel (more guards and wings, fewer big men) and Tuesday was a good start.
The Wildcats were 11-of-26 from 3, a 42-percent clip. Randolph going 5-for-5 inflates that number a bit, but Ryan Luther also went 2-for-5 and Emmanuel Akot went 2-for-2. All three of those guys will need to shoot well this season for UA to have success.
The downside is Justin Coleman, Brandon Williams, Devonaire Doutrive, Dylan Smith and Alex Barcello went a combined 2-for-13 from distance, but 42 percent is an impressive mark nonetheless, especially when you consider the volume of 3s Arizona took:
Arizona took 40% of its shots from beyond the arc last night.— Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) October 31, 2018
Has taken that volume of threes just 23 times last 6 seasons (10% of games).
Happened just ONCE in Gabe York Sr. season.
If the Wildcats are taking that many 3s and hitting at a high rate (42 percent over the course of the season is probably too much to ask), they have a chance to be a top-20 offense for the seventh straight year.
Chase Jeter was out with an injury, but the rest of the frontcourt stepped up in his place.
Ira Lee (10), Luther (10), and Akot (10) all scored in double figures and former walk-on Jake DesJardins even had seven points and three rebounds in eight minutes, showing that he could be useful if/when Arizona is battling foul trouble, suspensions, or injuries during the regular season.
Allowing seven offensive rebounds wasn’t great, but Arizona still won the battle on the glass, 50-30.
Obviously the caveat here is Western New Mexico is far worse than any team Arizona will play in the regular season, so we cannot draw any conclusions about the frontcourt just yet.
Every single player still has a lot to prove.
The rest of the backcourt
Randolph and Williams were good, but the rest of the backcourt was nothing to write home about, though Doutrive did make some encouraging plays on both sides of the ball in limited minutes.
Even so, the non-Randolph and Williams guards combined for 21 points on 19 shots.
Coleman has a Parker Jackson-Cartwright feel to him in that he is easy to overlook sometimes. As a fifth-year senior, he doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes — he had six assists to one turnover — but he has yet to make a single play that leaves you in awe.
Substance is more important than flash, but UA’s backcourt seems to be lacking the sheer talent that it had in years past, which isn’t unexpected.
This brings me to...
The star power
This is the first time since 2015-16 that Arizona has fielded a roster that does not include a surefire NBA player. Most of Miller’s squads, even dating back to his first couple years with the program, have had at least one or two if not more.
Some players on this team have a legit shot to make it to the next level — Williams has the strongest chance, in my opinion — but it does make you realize why expectations are where they are for this Arizona team and why being picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 isn’t that outlandish.
Talent isn’t the be-all, end-all, but Arizona will have to be extremely cohesive and smart as a unit to overcome its talent deficit, unlike the past two years when it was more about finding just enough synergy to prevent a lack of cohesion from undermining the team’s skill level.
McKale Center crowd
Nearly three whole sections of students were missing and there were plenty of open seats in the rest of the arena, which is fairly disappointing although not surprising.
After all, Arizona is not ranked to begin a season for the first time in nearly a decade, Western New Mexico was the opponent (and they were even worse than advertised), and the game was on a Tuesday night. It was also an exhibition.
But it will be interesting to see what kind of support this team gets as the season wears on, as fans are well aware that this could be the worst Arizona team in quite some time.
It doesn’t help that UA’s home non-conference schedule only features one major-conference team. If the Wildcats turn out to be average and the teams they host are just as uninspiring, can you blame people for not showing up?