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What to watch for when Arizona hosts Long Beach State on Sunday

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Feed the Zeke

NCAA Basketball: South Dakota State at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

After a scare against South Dakota State, the No. 14 Arizona Wildcats (5-0) return to the hardwood Sunday to host Long Beach State (2-3).

Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Network.

Here are some things to watch for.

Feed the Zeke

In case you missed it, Sean Miller was ticked off by his team’s shot selection Thursday vs. South Dakota State.

In his mind, Arizona took too many 3s, too many quick shots, and didn’t get generate enough looks for Zeke Nnaji, who did not attempt a field goal in the first half—a no-no for a guy who leads the nation in field goal percentage and had been averaging over 20 points per game.

“Zeke Nnaji has proven that when he gets the ball, especially around the rim, great things happen,” Miller said.

It explains how Arizona was trailing SDSU by as many as 10 in the first half and why the Wildcats controlled the second half after making the simple adjustment of getting the ball in closer to the basket. Nnaji had 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the second half.

“A quick shot has got to be a good one,” Miller said. “If you take too many quick ones, by the wrong guys, when they don’t go in all of a sudden the game feels funny.”

Miller hammered home the point that bad shot selection not only affects Arizona’s offensive efficiency, but its rebounding and defense as well.

“It’s really hard to give your heart and soul as a unit on defense when you’re really not playing as a unit on offense,” he said. “It’s very difficult to offensive rebound bad deep shots. And the better shot selection we got in the second half, it led to some offensive rebounds. So again, the smarter and the more efficient we are when we have the ball, it will lead to good things.

“We now have to make sure that it’s very clear going forward on our roles, and shots and how we want to play, and I think you’ll see a much smarter team the next game.”

Slow walks by the Beach

Arizona has played uncharacteristically fast to begin the season, the product of its personnel. However, Miller warned that the team will slow things down if that dizzying pace leads to too many ill-advised shots.

Long Beach State generally plays an uptempo game. It ranked 30th in adjusted tempo last season, though is 107th this season.

“If we play the style that we played (vs. SDSU), there’s gonna be some games where we look great and there’s going to be some games where we have some really poor halves or stretches because we weren’t a smart basketball team,” Miller said after the SDSU game.

More minutes to go around

Sunday will mark the first game since Devonaire Doutrive was dismissed from the team. The sophomore was averaging 17 minutes per game off the bench, and it will be interesting to see who gets the bulk of the those minutes. Somebody has to.

I think Jemarl Baker Jr. is the likeliest candidate. He’s only averaged 15 minutes per game, despite shooting 47 percent from 3 and posting a 15 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

However, when Doutrive was suspended for the first two games, it was Max Hazzard and Dylan Smith who saw an uptick in playing time.

Hazzard averaged 19 minutes per game in the first two games of the season; Smith averaged 23. When Doutrive returned in the lineup, those numbers dropped to 16.3 and 19.7, respectively.

Here’s a more in-depth look at how Doutrive’s dismissal affects the Wildcats moving forward.

Mannion’s mobility

Nico Mannion took a knee to the shin in the final seconds of the South Dakota State game and was noticeably limping after the final buzzer.

He said he is fine, but as the only true point guard on the team, Mannion is irreplaceable and you wonder if Arizona will be extra careful with him Sunday in a game that is not expected to be close. (KenPom projects an 83-58 Arizona win.)

Arizona will have three games in four days next week, and Mannion’s health will be critical if the Wildcats hope to avoid any losses in the Wooden Legacy tournament.

He played a season-high 34 minutes against SDSU.

An inexperienced LBSU team

11 players have made their debuts for Long Beach State this season. Only TCU (13), Nebraska (12), East Carolina (12), and Utah (12) have more newcomers.

LBSU added six high-school recruits, three transfers, and three players who redshirted last season. The results haven’t been good. The Beach rank 237th and 241st in offensive and defensive rating, respectively. They lost to Saint Mary’s and Stanford by 28.

Aside from 3-point shooting and forcing turnovers, the Beach don’t do much well:

Stats via KenPom.com

Their top players are sophomore Chance Hunter, who played junior-college ball last season, and sophomore Michael Carter III, who transferred in from Washington after the 2017-18 season.

A 6-foot-6 wing, Hunter is averaging 15.8 PPG with an insane .596/.733/.500 shooting line. He is 11 for 15 from 3, a cool 73 percent.

Carter, a 6-foot-5 guard, is averaging 12.0 PPG but is only shooting 37 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3.