One of the best parts about the annual Red-Blue Game is that no Wildcat fan has to say “wait for basketball season” because it’s here.
The Arizona Wildcats held their unofficial start to the season a little early this year, as the opener against Chico State is still more than one month away. Along with that, Sean Miller’s team is incorporating many new faces, including key freshmen, so growing pains should be expected.
That in mind, it’s best to view the Red-Blue Game as more of a showcase than a barometer. Whether a player was good or bad, exciting or disappointing, it is not wise to look at what transpired and start making sweeping assumptions.
However, plenty happened following Zeke Nnaji’s keyboard performance of the National Anthem (that’s really cool, by the way), and there are at least a few things we can surmise following the dunk contest and 46-32 win for Blue.
This team has size in the backcourt and on the wing
Numbers on a roster page are one thing, and no doubt Arizona does not have a short team. But having a chance to see the players on the floor, and it’s apparent the Wildcats are actually a big one.
Nico Mannion, the starting point guard, is 6-foot-3, while Josh Green, another projected starter, is 6-foot-6. Green, especially, looks primed to be a terrific defensive player.
Those freshmen will be joined in the back court and on the wing by guys like 6-foot-5 Dylan Smith, 6-foot-5 Devonaire Doutrive and 6-foot Max Hazzard, and possibly by 6-foot-4 Jemarl Baker Jr.
If nothing else, that size — along with their length — provides the possibility that this could be a very good defensive team.
The Cats have quality bigs, too
Chase Jeter did not play Friday, but as Miller said after the game his absence wasn’t as noticeable because the roster features other talented bigs. Stone Gettings showed some nice offensive ability, and although Nnaji struggled with his shot, you could see why the coaches are so excited about him. Christian Koloko was quite productive, proving true the talk about him being better than anticipated, and Ira Lee picked up where he left off last season, which is as a continually improving player.
It was also nice to see Jordan Brown get some run, even though we won’t see him play for the Wildcats until next season.
Unlike last season, the Wildcats have depth up front. That is huge, both figuratively and literally.
The Wildcats are plenty athletic
It’s one thing to have size, but to have size along with quickness and leaping ability — yeah, that’s what you want. The dunk contest showed a little, but there were multiple plays during the game that had me going “woah.”
But because dunks are fun, here’s highlights from the contest that was won by Doutrive even though Green had the best dunk of the night.
Nico Mannion is the real deal
Not breaking any news here, but the prized point guard is going to be really, really good this season and beyond. He has great size and athleticism, which will allow him to get pretty much any shot he wants, but it’s his passing that puts him on another level.
He made a handful of excellent passes, but one in particular, a laser to Max Hazzard, stood out. Not only the vision, but the ability to make the pass is something not many freshman point guards bring to the table.
His shot wasn’t falling on Friday, but you could see how much he can impact a game in other ways.
Unfortunately the team doesn’t have any other true point guard on the roster, but hopefully that won’t become an issue.
Devonaire Doutrive is a different player than last year
For many reasons the news that Doutrive was planning to transfer was disappointing. He was one of the first guys to decide Arizona was safe following all the bad news and scandal, and he had some real flashes during a spotty freshman season that led you to believe he had a bright future.
He decided to stay, and it appears that is really good news for both player and program. As noted earlier the sophomore won the dunk contest, but it was in the game where he really showed how far he has progressed.
Noticeably bigger than he was as a freshman, Doutrive played mostly in control while making a variety of shots in leading all scorers with 15 points. He was confident, and if that can carry over into the season then Arizona will be an even deeper team than first anticipated. It’s also a great sign when players improve within the program.
It has been noted how bad of a 3-point shooting team Arizona was last season. Miller’s teams have never been great from deep, but it is important to be able to at least make most of your open looks.
Combined, the teams shot 8-of-23 from deep, which is not a good percentage. Yet, it was impossible not to watch Stone Gettings (2-2) and Hazzard (3-6) and not think the transfers could help space the floor. Mannion, who made just one of his five three-point attempts, will undoubtedly be a better shooter than that, and even Dylan Smith is better than the one of six he made.
Arizona Basketball is back
As I wrote earlier, it’s imperative to not come away from the Red-Blue Game with too many strong opinions on the roster. However, it’s clear this roster is more talented than last year’s and seems to have the pieces to content in the conference and beyond.
That didn’t necessarily seem possible a year, year and a half ago, and based on the recruits who were in attendance Friday it is set to become the norm once again.
Miller mentioned after the game that it was moved up in the calendar to help with recruiting, and there were plenty of coveted players on hand to watch the festivities.
Arizona announced a crowd of 14,644, which is more than many teams get for their regular-season games.
That has to leave an impression, which could only help as the program continues to rebuild after a tumultuous couple of seasons.