The Arizona Wildcats will hold their final tuneup game Wednesday against the UTEP Miners before things start to get serious at the Maui Invitational on Monday against Iowa State.
The Wildcats (2-0) have been virtually untested so far, taking home comfortable wins against Houston Baptist and Cal Poly to begin the season. The Miners aren’t exactly a threat, either.
While UTEP has had some formidable teams in the past, this isn’t one of them. The Miners are the No. 279 team in the country, per KenPom, and are coming off a 27-point road loss to New Mexico State.
So we won’t be able to take a whole lot from Wednesday’s game, but below are some things to watch nonetheless. Tip-off is at 6 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Networks.
Wearing ‘em down
UTEP relies mostly on six players, occasionally subbing in a few others for very brief stints. That lack of depth leaves them vulnerable to fatigue and foul trouble.
Example: In their blowout loss to New Mexico State, the Miners were outscored by 22 in the second half, including a 27-15 margin in the last 10 minutes. They lost 96-69.
Guards Kobe Magee and Evan Gilyard played all 40 minutes, while wing Jordan Lathon played 38 minutes.
The Wildcats have touted their depth this season, so they should have no trouble creating separation in the second half — and they can wear out the Miners by pushing the ball and extending their perimeter defense.
Good test for Coleman, UA guards
What kind of defensive chops does Justin Coleman have? That remains to be seen, but we might find out in this game — or at least get a better idea.
Gilyard, a 5-foot-10 sophomore from Chicago, has been an electrifying player for UTEP, averaging 24.5 points and 4.0 assists per game, while shooting 53 percent from the field and 60 percent from 3 (at a high volume, too).
Arizona will win even if Gilyard drops 30, so this is a good opportunity to see how it defends a dangerous guard without having much to lose.
However, if the Wildcats struggle to contain Gilyard, it certainly wouldn’t be a good sign heading to Maui where teams will not only have solid guards, but good players surrounding them as well.
Arizona had trouble slowing down point guards last season (well, except for Aaron Holiday in the Pac-12 Tournament), but perhaps this team is better equipped to handle them if Coleman can prove to be a defensive upgrade over Parker Jackson-Cartwright.
The full frontcourt
Arizona had Chase Jeter, Ira Lee, Ryan Luther and Emmanuel Akot available and/or at full strength for the first time against Cal Poly on Sunday, and it made a world of a difference, as the Wildcats were able to easily control the glass after struggling to do so against Houston Baptist.
UTEP only grabbed three offensive rebounds in its loss to New Mexico State, so there is no reason why Arizona shouldn’t turn in another dominant rebounding effort.
Brandon Williams has been a fantastic distributor, logging 13 assists and zero turnovers through two games, but his scoring has regressed since the exhibition season. The freshman is averaging 11 points per game on just 30 percent shooting.
There really isn’t any cause for concern yet, but you’d like to see him have a prolific night to build his confidence before the Maui Invitational, where Williams will undoubtedly need to have a big night or two in order for Arizona to leave the island on a positive note.
Williams has struggled as both a shooter and slasher, shooting 2 for 9 from 3 and 50 percent at the rim.
The latter, Sean Miller said, is partly because Williams is still getting used to finishing over college-sized big men. That makes sense. Even an adept finisher like Allonzo Trier had to make that adjustment when he first arrived in Tucson.
Dylan Smith finally broke out of his shooting slump against Cal Poly by draining four 3s, so let’s see if he can keep it going against UTEP.
Smith has been excellent as a rebounder (8.0 rpg) and defender, so his value amplifies tremendously when he is sinking shots in addition to that.
By the way, this is a cool feature Athletics ran the other day to highlight how well Smith has been playing defensively:
#APlayersProgram Film Room— Arizona Basketball (@APlayersProgram) November 10, 2018
Coach Miller breaks down Dylan Smith’s defensive impact on the game. pic.twitter.com/JDRlQG3vGo
Arizona’s nine-man rotation seems to be set right now, with Akot, Smith, Lee and Alex Barcello as the reserves, leaving freshman wing Devonaire Doutrive as the odd man out.
If Doutrive doesn’t see much playing time against UTEP, it’s hard to imagine him playing at all against stiffer competition in Maui, barring an injury or foul trouble.
The former four-star recruit has looked good in limited minutes, so it is sort of head-scratching that he hasn’t gotten more of an opportunity against these lesser opponents, but we’ll just have to take Miller’s word for it that he’s not ready for a sizable role yet.