Arizona men's basketball readies for Buccaneers
No. 12 Arizona men’s basketball team officially starts its season Sunday, Nov. 11, with a match-up at the McKale Center at 4 p.m. against Charleston Southern.
The Buccaneers were projected to win their division in the Big South Conference, according the Big South preseason poll, but lost their season opener 68-58 at Charlotte.
“I know that they have two all-conference guards,” Miller said at a Friday press conference before Charleston Southerns’ first game. “They’re gonna challenge us and like any team we play this year, it’s going to be a really important, dangerous game.”
The Bucs return four starters from a 19-12 season last year, including the lighting quick guard Saah Nimley who led the team with 13.5 points per game and 3.9 assists per game.
Nimley, a sophomore, is listed at just 5-foot-8 and his speed will provide an interesting assignment for both Mark Lyons, 6-foot-1, and Jordin Mayes, 6-foot-3.
“A lot of times when they’re that quick, they’re not as skilled,” Miller said, “but (Nimley) is very skilled too. He brings all those elements to the table.”
“(Charleston Southern) really play a fast tempo and a lot of it is because of him.”
Miller said that because of the parity in college basketball, mid-major teams are just as dangerous and talented as programs from the six power conferences. The ability of mid-majors has been shown time and again and the Wildcats fell victim to both San Diego State and Gonzaga last season.
Lyons, who transferred from a mid-major in Xavier, said that the smaller schools bring with them an added hunger to topple one of the giants like Arizona.
“Going against a team that has the type of name on (the) chest that everybody wants to go to as a little kid… you take pride and you want prove people wrong that you deserve to be at that school.”
In order to avoid slipping up against the lesser-known Bucs, Lyons said the Wildcats have to be prepared for anything.
“We just have to come in with the right focus and take them like we were playing the No. 1 team in the country no matter who it is.”
Change of Scenery
The preseason seemed to last for an eternity for the Wildcats — the team took a trip to the Bahamas mid-August, started practicing Oct. 9 and has played three exhibition games.
On Sunday the season will finally get underway, and Miller said it’s at the perfect time too. The players are starting to get sick and tired of playing against each other everyday in practice.
“You can always sense when a team is tired of playing against each other and we’re at that point,” Miller said. “Not that we’re not gonna continue to practice hard and (have) that be de-emphasized, but we all reached that point.”
“You practice for one reason, and that’s to be ready for the games… you can sense that everybody on our team is excited to start to play games and I do think that we’re ready.”
Obviously Arizona saw different faces in its two official exhibition games, a 108-67 humbling of Humboldt State and a 98-60 victory over Chico State, but those results don’t matter. Now the Wildcats can finally kick off the season and start adding to their 0-0 record, something sophomore guard Nick Johnson couldn’t help but smile about it in Friday’s press conference.
“(With) all our work we’ve been putting in this summer, it just feels great to finally know this one counts,” Johnson said.
Learning Big Lessons
Arizona’s four young big men made some impressive plays during the two preseason games, but a sign of what could be an ongoing problem also crept up — foul trouble.
Against Chico State, both centers – freshman Kaleb Tarczewski and sophomore Angelo Chol – fouled out and forward Grant Jerrett was in foul trouble at halftime.
“That’s what great about having depth there because the younger that they are, the more lessons that they have to learn,” Miller said. “I think the good news for us is that we’ve been able to learn some lessons, even as a coaching staff, of making sure that we’re putting (Tarczewski), in particular, in a good position.
“With his size, the further away from the basket he gets it’s not to his advantage.”
Miller had said he’s comfortable playing different combinations of all four big men, so even if one or two pick up early fouls, he’ll still have a rotation he feels confident about.
The saving grace for the Wildcats is that even if fouls really pile up in a game and three players are forced to sit down, they still have small forward Solomon Hill. Last year Hill played power forward, even though his more natural position is at the three. So if things get dire, Hill could still step in for some spot duty.
Wildcat Families Avoid the Brunt of Hurricane Sandy
Several of Arizona’s players have east coast connections, including New Yorker’s Lyons and Kevin Parrom. Fortunately both of their families were able to avoid the terrible effects of Hurricane Sandy.
Lyons said his family, who lives in up-state New York, just saw “a lot of wind” and a couple trees were knocked down, but no flooding.
Parrom’s father also stayed safe, Lyons said, but he had issues flying to Arizona to see the exhibition games, though he did eventually make it.