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What to watch for when Arizona men’s basketball hosts North Dakota State

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-preview-ndsu-bison-rebounding-analysis-2021-pac12-lloyd Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats play their third consecutive home game to start the 2021-22 season when they host North Dakota State on Tuesday night at McKale Center.

This game is affiliated with the Roman Main Event, the tournament Arizona will play in Friday and Sunday in Las Vegas.

Here’s what to keep an eye out for in this matchup:

A much better opponent

Neither NAU or UT-Rio Grande Valley are expected to do much this season—both were picked to finish in the bottom half of their leagues—so Arizona winning by in those games wasn’t much of a surprise. That it beat UTRGV by 54 points, which is tied for the sixth-largest margin of victory in school history, did catch Tommy Lloyd a bit off guard since he was expecting more of a “street fight” type of game.

There’s no uncertainty about what Arizona will get from North Dakota State, though. The Bison are one of the top mid-major programs in the country, having made the NCAA Tournament four times since becoming a full Division I member in 2008-09 including most recently in 2019. They also would have been in had the 2020 tourney happened, and the 2020-21 squad lost in the Summit League tournament final.

“You’re facing a team that has a winning culture,” Lloyd said. “They come from a one-bid league, so that means basically every year they outperformed everybody in their league. That’s really impressive.”

Lloyd said NDSU has a “distinct” style of play they stick to, one that through its first two games has only produced an average of 64 possessions (Arizona is averaging 75 per game).

Forwards Rocky Krueser and Grant Nelson, both listed at 6-foot-10, have combined to average 35 points and 17.5 rebounds through the first two games, and that duo has attempted nearly as many 3-point shots as 2-pointers.

“They’re a team that has a couple of really skilled big guys, and they invert them a lot,” Lloyd said. “Those big guys spend a lot of time out on the perimeter, which presents a lot of challenges.We’ll have to maybe dig deeper into some of our coverages and figure out how we want to basically negate those advantages they’re trying to create.”

A potentially tired opponent, as well

NDSU will come to McKale after having played an 8 p.m. MT game at UNLV, also as part of the Roman Main Event. Playing back-to-back games isn’t uncommon but having travel in between is, so there could be some fatigue coming into play for the Bison compared to Arizona, which last played Friday.

It also means the UA has one more game to scout before finalizing its plan for NDSU. Lloyd said may try to find a livestream of the matchup but is more likely just to watch a condensed version that his video crew puts together.

“It’s way more efficient for me to watch it after, I can get through in about 45 minutes as opposed to two hours,” he said.

A tough rebounding matchup

NDSU led Division I in defensive rebounding percentage last season, grabbing 80.3 percent of its opponents’ misses. In its first two games this season it grabbed 52 of 65 opponent misses, so it’s keeping on that pace.

“It just shows that they do a really good job of probably keeping their bodies between the guys they’re guarding and the basket,” Lloyd said. “When the shots go up they’re able to get a body on their guys, always have inside position, that’s probably the biggest thing that shows. They do a lot of switching on defense, which kind of plays into that as well. You’re not getting a lot of advantages by creating a bunch of rotations on offense because they’re switching.”

Arizona has a 75.5 percent defensive rebound rate so far, while its pulling down 38 percent of its own misses.

Speaking of rotations ...

The lopsided results against NAU and UTRGV have enabled Lloyd to go 14 players deep in each game, but while a good amount of the minutes for walk-ons and other guys at the end of the bench have come when the outcome was already decided he has gone pretty deep in the first half as well.

And in each game Lloyd has subbed within the first three minutes, getting eight or nine deep before the second TV timeout. As a result, nine Wildcats are averaging at least 12 minutes and no one is above 26 at this point.

That figures to change over time, but for now Lloyd plans to keep mixing and matching, and going by feel more than anything else.

“There’s no crazy master plan here,” he said. “You play guys a lot of times early in game, you get a guy out if he has a four, you get a guy out if he doesn’t have a foul because you think, well, it’d be really nice if Christian Koloko has the last 30 game of five fouls (to give). I’m definitely going to sub much more on feel than I am on a hard, regimented rotation. And some guys are just physically different. Some guys play really hard that first two or three minutes and are gassed, they got to kind of catch your second wind. So you just you just learn your team and you learn guys, and you try to make the best decision you can on a game to game basis, is what I do.”