Tommy Lloyd is not scheduling scared.
Having to replace four of five starters from last year’s team, that won 28 games and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, it would have been understandable if the third-year coach played things a bit safe.
Instead he has overseen a nonconference schedule that features among others Duke, Michigan State, Alabama and, as announced Monday, Wisconsin.
Now, we don’t know just how good any of those opponents will be when they tip off against Arizona, but suffice to say they are all expected to be among the nation’s best in the 2023-24 campaign.
Lloyd obviously thinks his team is in that same category.
After a sluggish start to the offseason the recruiting has picked up, with the numerous additions coming close to filling out a roster that will look considerably different from the one that we last saw.
As our own Brian Pedersen pointed out, it is a very big team that also appears to have some depth and possibly a need for one more ball-handling guard.
But perhaps more important than the individual pieces is what they all show about Lloyd. For all intents and purposes this will be the first roster made up entirely of players he brought in, meaning it is our first real opportunity to see his vision for what Arizona Basketball should look like and how it should play.
That’s not to say he was held back or hamstrung before. Just, he relied somewhat heavily on players he inherited on the way to amassing 61 wins, two Pac-12 Tournament titles and a pair of high NCAA Tournament seeds.
With those players and others gone, we’ve seen what Lloyd prioritizes as well as perhaps what he’s learned during his brief time as a head coach. Identifying what his program was lacking, the third-year boss went out and added more size, toughness, athleticism and aggression.
In the process Lloyd has shown some things that are not only key to his success but should be reassuring to any fan of the program.
Did you think Lloyd was the kind of coach who only cared about offense? Well, Keshad Johnson and Jaden Bradley — the two big transfer additions — are known more for what they do on the defensive end of the floor along with their attacking mentality.
Rather than keep running it back with a style that has won a lot of games over the last two years while ranking among the very best in scoring, Lloyd was proactive in making changes.
He saw an area where his team could stand to improve and seems willing to do so even if it comes at the expense of what has been a strength, though it’s likely Lloyd is confident his offensive system can coax more from players on that end of the court.
And you know what? He’s probably right.
Even still, at worst Lloyd is banking on improved play in some areas balancing out any kind of dip in others. More than that, it’s apparent he sees improved defense and mentality as the key to advancing further in the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, it’s one thing to identify issues and another to then go out and fix them. It wasn’t long ago where there was concern that Lloyd was not the kind of coach who could win recruiting battles against the country’s heavyweights. Be it his personality, NIL issues or whatever, if it was Lloyd and Arizona vs. a top program with an elite coach, the Cats were cooked.
May that narrative rest in peace.
Bradley had no shortage of suitors and Johnson, specifically, was being courted by John Calipari and Kentucky.
Both chose Lloyd and Arizona, and that says something.
Along with those additions Lloyd has once again flexed his foreign muscle, officially adding large and skilled human Motiejus Krivas and reportedly landing talented wing Paulius Murauskas, both from Lithuania.
Highlight videos are designed to make players look good, but scouting reports for each point to their skill, strength, aggressive nature and confidence.
Arizona lacked some of that and could use all of it.
Looking at the additions as a whole, along with who was already on the roster, and it’s clear what Lloyd wanted to see from his next team.
He wanted size, which he has. He wanted shooting, which has been added. The coach was looking for multiple starting-caliber ballhandlers, which he now has. There was also a pressing need for more athleticism, defense and toughness — all of which are now in the fold.
Following Arizona’s stunning loss to Princeton, it was clear change was coming. Arizona was losing key guys to graduation and/or the professional ranks and the portal was most certainly coming for others.
That gave Lloyd an opportunity to really look at what he had and what he needed to do in order to ensure early exits do not become a trend. It appears that he did so not with ego or stubbornness, but with a willingness — maybe even a desire — to adjust and adapt wherever and however necessary.
It’s a great quality to have as a coach and one that will serve Lloyd well.
The result appears to be a roster with the kind of depth to match up with opponents as well as the necessary toughness to defend and not back down when things get a little sideways.
Will Arizona’s offense look as good as it has the last couple of years? Maybe not, but winning is never ugly and the Wildcats appear poised to do plenty of that once again.