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What we learned about Arizona in the Maui Invitational

Maui Invitational - Arizona v Iowa State Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats finished in fourth place in the Maui Invitational this week after a 71-66 win over Iowa State, a 91-74 loss to Gonzaga and a 73-57 loss to Auburn.

Check out our basketball section for the recaps from those games, and here are some more takeaways from the tournament.

Grad transfers trending in opposite directions

Heading into the season, Justin Coleman and Ryan Luther had to prove they could be quality starters at a high-major level.

It’s still early, but it appears one is and one isn’t.

Coleman has been Arizona’s best player this season, averaging 13.3 points and 3.7 assists with a tremendous .50/.50/.846 shooting line.

Most importantly, the former Samford Bulldog has stepped up when the team needed him most, a refreshing change from UA’s point guards the last few years.

Coleman’s shots won’t always fall the way they did in Maui, but at least we know he won’t cower in the spotlight.

Luther is on the opposite end of the spectrum. The Pitt transfer had a solid debut in Maui with 12 points and eight rebounds in the win over Iowa State, but it went sharply downhill from there. Luther was held scoreless against Gonzaga and Auburn, only combining for five shots. That is just not acceptable for a starter playing heavy minutes.

Part of the problem is Luther cannot create his own shot and Arizona doesn’t have a bevy of shot-creators, essentially taking him out of the game when the Wildcats face defenses that can stop dribble penetration, since Arizona’s offense has had trouble generating quality looks on set plays.

This isn’t a deep team

So remember when, like a week and a half ago, it appeared depth was a strength of this team? So much for that.

Not only was Luther a non-factor in two games in Maui, but the Wildcats didn’t have any other better options to turn to.

The bench scored 19 points in three games and its four main contributors — Ira Lee, Dylan Smith, Emmanuel Akot and Alex Barcello — combined to shoot 3 for 22 from the field.

Scoring isn’t the end-all, be-all, but none did enough in other areas to overcome that.

Smith, who was emerging as a solid rebounder, averaged two per game in Maui. In 42 minutes, Akot collected just eight boards. Barcello only took two shots. Lee did have a 7-point, 6-rebound game against Gonzaga but he also had four fouls in that game, which was costly because Chase Jeter had fouled out and Arizona needed more from him.

Plus, Lee followed that game up with a 2-point, 1-rebound performance against Auburn in which he committed three turnovers and two fouls in 18 minutes.

Essentially, Arizona has four solid contributors in Coleman, Jeter, Brandon Randolph, and Brandon Williams and then a whole bunch of question marks after that.

And the four that have produced have not exactly been consistent, aside from Coleman. Randolph did not score in the first half against Auburn and Williams really struggled with his jumper, shooting 3 for 17 from 3 in Maui.

When your roster is top-heavy and the players at the top are inconsistent, it leads to a lot of bad things, like getting blown out by good teams, falling short against average teams, or faltering in the second half because of fatigue.

Maybe Devonaire Doutrive’s insertion into the rotation will jump start the team, but it looks like this will be a volatile group all season, capable of winning or losing just about any game on the schedule.

This team doesn’t have any strengths

In order to be a good team, you have to be good at things. Simple, right? Well, what are these Wildcats good at? According to the metrics...nothing:


Arizona is average or worse in virtually every statistical category (at least in comparison to major-conference teams), and offensive rebounding and 3-point shooting are glaring weaknesses right now, though I think the latter is bound to improve since guys like Williams and Smith are shooting below their historic norms.

Yes, the Wildcats play with effort, which wasn’t always the case last season, but does it really matter if the talent and/or execution is lacking?

Still time

Maui pretty much went as expected from a results standpoint, maybe even better than expected since a win over Iowa State and losses to two top-10 teams is probably a net positive for Arizona’s NCAA Tournament résumé.

And while the tournament showed why Arizona is not a good team right now, there is still a lot of time to gel into something greater, especially for this team since there are so many new faces and, as some people forget, two new assistant coaches on staff as well.

The good news is nothing in Maui suggested Arizona can’t be a solid team this season — it went toe-to-toe with two top-10 teams for 30+ minutes, after all — but it did expose that the Wildcats have a ways to go before they get there.

“You play in a tournament like this in November, you learn through trial and error, you learn through baptism by fire,” Sean Miller said. “We’re going to be a better team when we return to Tucson because we came on this trip. We had two practices here. We had to prepare hard for all three games. All of our players kind of got a sense of what it’s like to play against the best. And now it’s a matter of us getting back to practice. It’s still very, very early and building and growing and hopefully down the road we’ll look back at this tournament as one of the reasons that we had a successful season.”