A new season is officially here for the Arizona Wildcats, who are set to host Houston Baptist on Wednesday in their regular-season opener.
The Huskies return three starters from a team that went 6-25 last season. KenPom has them ranked 284th (of 353) in its preseason rankings.
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Networks. Here are some things to watch for.
Ira Lee will be serving his one-game suspension, which means Arizona’s already-thin frontcourt will be shorthanded.
It’ll survive. Not only is Houston Baptist a small team, but its best player, Josh Ibarra, a 6-foot-11 big man, is out.
So we will see more lineups with Ryan Luther and perhaps even Emmanuel Akot at center if the Wildcats decide to go super small.
Literally the only thing Houston Baptist did well last season was offensive rebound, so maybe they will make life difficult for Arizona in that department. Staying out of foul trouble is a must too, obviously.
Chase Jeter had a rough debut, and it would be a good sign if he has a bounce-back game.
With Lee out, the Duke transfer should make his first start as a Wildcat. He came off the bench and only played 17 minutes against Chaminade as he recovers from an undisclosed injury, but Sean Miller said he is getting closer and closer to 100 percent as the regular season draws near.
“I think when we get to Wednesday, assuming there’s no setbacks, you’ll see him in his true form,” Miller said.
A third scorer
Brandon Williams and Brandon Randolph are good at putting the ball in the basket. The rest of the team? That remains to be seen.
Miller singled out Justin Coleman, Emmanuel Akot, and Ryan Luther as guys he would like to be more aggressive. All three were inconsistent scorers in the exhibition season, each having one low-scoring game and a one double-figure scoring game.
Developing a reliable third option will be crucial for this team down the road so it can weather those nights Williams and Randolph have off games. Otherwise, this Arizona team will be inconsistent offensively and prone to some bad losses when those guys go cold or are injured/in foul trouble.
While Miller praised Smith’s defense and rebounding after the win vs. Chaminade, at some point he has to hit shots to keep his spot in the rotation.
Smith went 0 for 7 against the Silverswords and 1 for 6 from 3 in the exhibition season as a whole.
For the reasons mentioned above, Smith would have real value for this team if he can simply make a respectable percentage of his 3s, since he could complement Williams and Randolph on the wing.
But if he continues to struggle, it’s hard to justify playing him.
Which brings me to...
Devonaire Doutrive did not play against Chaminade, so it will be interesting to see if he cracks the rotation in this game. It shouldn’t be a close game, so he probably will.
If he doesn’t, we can officially put him on redshirt watch, though I don’t expect him to sit out this year.
That said, Miller said he will likely be using a nine-man rotation this season — sometimes 10 — and it looks like Doutrive is on the outside looking in with Smith and Alex Barcello currently ahead of him.
Just like last year, Miller said this team hasn’t been able to string together a full 40 minutes of effort defensively. That won’t happen overnight, but you want to see some strides being made.
Here are two stats to watch in the early part of the season: Arizona’s 3-point attempts and takeaways.
The Wildcats have traditionally had low numbers in both categories under Miller, but they have bucked that trend this season, averaging 25.5 3s and 18 takeaways a game.
But is that a product of the lousy opponents they’ve faced or because they are adapting to their personnel and playing a more perimeter-oriented game? Time will tell, but it’s probably a combination of both.