It was a little more than a month ago when Arizona fans got their first glimpse of the 2022-23 Wildcats, during the annual Red-Blue intrasquad scrimmage. Since then the team has gone through the basketball version of preseason training camp, which coach Tommy Lloyd said Friday was winding down.
Along the way the UA played a “secret” scrimmage against Saint Mary’s, a closed-door competition that counts as one of two which can be held prior to the regular season. The other is Tuesday night when Arizona hosts Division II Western Oregon.
Here’s what to look for when the Wildcats and Wolves battle at McKale Center:
A real game that doesn’t count
In the Red-Blue game in late September, Lloyd shuffled the rosters at halftime in order to have his projected starters and top reserves playing on the same team. Don’t expect any sort of experimenting in this game, not when it’s the last tune-up before the 2022-23 regular season opens Nov. 7 against Nicholls.
Lloyd said his staff has fully scouted Western Oregon, which is picked to finish eighth in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference but features preseason Player of the Year in senior wing Cameron Cranston.
In other words, the only thing about the Western Oregon game that won’t matter, at least officially, is the final score.
“You only get two outside—against other people—competitions before your first game, so you have to kind of establish the rhythm,” Lloyd said. “This is what the rhythm of the game week looks like, or rhythm of a practice before a game and a shootaround, the scouting, all that stuff. Here’s how many film sessions we do, things of that nature.”
Arizona has played Saint Mary’s for the last several years in its other preseason game, and Lloyd said that contest helps prepare his team for the regular season. Since it’s against another Division I opponent it has to be held behind closed doors unless it’s used as a charity event, as was the case with Gonzaga and Tennessee on Friday and Sunday’s exhibition between Colorado and Nebraska.
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Asked if he would consider playing a charity game in future preseasons, Lloyd said he’s “not opposed to it” but he’s not thinking about next year when the current season is just around the corner.
Lineups, rotations, matchups and assignments
After watching Friday’s practice, Arizona’s starting lineup seemed locked in. Kerr Kriisa would start at point guard, with Texas transfer Courtney Ramey at the 2 and Pelle Larsson on the wing. The frontcourt would pair Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo.
That’s most likely who will be on the court first against Western Oregon, though that could change following the news that Ramey who is being suspended by the NCAA for the first three games of the regular season. Lloyd may opt to insert someone else into Ramey’s spot, most likely sophomore Adama Bal, or stick with the projected starting five for when Ramey is eligible to return (for the Maui Invitational).
Greater uncertainty comes in the bench rotation. Bal and Campbell transfer Cedric Henderson Jr. are the first reserve options for the backcourt, followed by Serbian freshman Filip Borovicanin. The frontcourt backups are both freshmen, Dylan Anderson and Henri Veesaar, and their lack of experience makes it very likely that only one will be on the court at a time alongside Tubelis or Ballo.
Lloyd said Arizona has practiced with a smaller lineup a lot more than a year ago at this time, one that would only have one big man.
“I think it’s gonna be a good lineup for us: Pelle and Ced kind of at that 3-4, and two guards out there with them and one of those bigs,” he said.
As for who will be the primary ball handler, assuming Ramey plays it will be on a case-by-case basis between him and Kriisa.
“I kinda let them figure it out on their own,” Lloyd said. “In our transition offense, literally any of the guards could have it, or the bigs can even bring it at times. When we’re calling our sets, usually, for the most part, when those two are playing together, Kerr with enter the ball and Courtney will be in the second spot. But Courtney is gonna play a lot there as well. Kerr can’t play 40 minutes a game.”
Will Boswell play?
Kylan Boswell, the 4-star point guard who reclassified so he could join the program over the summer, was recently cleared for full practice following foot surgery in June. Lloyd said Friday was the first time he’d completed workouts on consecutive days and he had yet to think ahead to whether Boswell would play.
“It’s definitely a possibility,” Lloyd said. “It’s just making sure he’s responding day to day, and I think today was the first day he went back to back. It’s encouraging.”
Boswell, when healthy, is expected to spell both Kriisa and Ramey at their respective spots.
A more persistent Pelle
The improvement made by Bennedict Mathurin, Dalen Terry and Christian Koloko from one season to the next enabled each of them to get drafted in June. The top candidate for that kind of year-over-year improvement is Larsson, the reigning Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year who is a second-team preseason all-conference selection and made the watch list for the Julius Erving Award.
“Pelle has been really good all fall, and I think he’s well positioned to have a good year,” Lloyd said. “I think now he’s just got to be comfortable being in a more prominent role, understanding that he doesn’t have to make a play every time he touches the ball. And so I think once he gets that fine line, and I think it’ll take some games for him to understand, he’ll see what it feels like.”
Larsson drained several 3-pointers during Friday’s practice, both in transition and in halfcourt sets.
“Everything starts in practice,” Larsson said. “Everything we do in the game, it’s based on practice. And that’s where we build our confidence.”
Larsson averaged 20.7 minutes per game last season, shooting 47.8 percent overall and 36.3 percent from 3-point range. As a freshman at Utah he was a 46.3 percent 3-point shooter.
He said he feels “appreciated” with the preseason accolades, but thinks he still has to earn them.
“Right now I just want to play some games,” he said. “It’s cool ... but I haven’t done anything yet. So I don’t really know what to think about it. After the season, if I work for something and then I’ll get to enjoy a reward, that’s fine. But right now I just want to play.”