Arizona basketball: Wildcats ahead of schedule, still have questions

2012-10-14T00:00:00Z 2014-08-01T11:20:19Z Arizona basketball: Wildcats ahead of schedule, still have questionsBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 14, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The opening weekend of college basketball season isn't quite what it used to be.

Sure, there are assorted "madness" type of events all over the country attracting fan and media interest. But new NCAA rules allowing limited summertime workouts mean coaches know more about their teams before practices officially started Friday evening.

At Arizona, coach Sean Miller and his staff are even further ahead: They had 10 full workouts in July and August before the Wildcats took a two-game exhibition trip to the Bahamas, and Miller says they spent that period of time going over what would have been done this weekend.

"This first week is much different," Miller said Saturday, after UA completed its second full practice. "It's probably more representative of where we are as we get into November."

For example, Miller said the Wildcats already spent time working their offense against a zone defense and pressure this weekend.

"A lot of times with a younger team, if a coach puts up a zone or a defense you're not used to seeing, you can struggle," Miller said. "So we're spending more time attacking different kinds of defenses, and (normally) we wouldn't be able to do that as quickly."

But even with this huge cushion of time, there are things that can't really be answered until UA completes the four weeks of full-length practices and exhibitions before their Nov. 11 opener against Charleston Southern.

Here are five of the questions:

1. Are the kids all right?

It's usually not a good thing to be heavily dependent on freshmen, as UA is in its frontcourt this season, with Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett joining sophomore Angelo Chol in taking over the two post positions.

Not only can freshmen be slower than expected to adjust, but they also just might not fit in. The Wildcats found that out last season, when half of their highly touted freshman class washed out: Point guard Josiah Turner struggled on and off the court, and problematic forward Sidiki Johnson was jettisoned by early December.

But Miller said he benefited by having additional time to recruit and get to know his current freshmen, making sure they would fit, and a long summer of workouts has served to confirm his belief: Miller said he has had no issues on or off the court with any newcomers.

After watching the freshmen for two workouts this weekend, Miller's view did not change.

"Those guys are really consistent," He said. "They have a very strong work ethic. They're team-centered players. They'll have a great opportunity to get better as the season goes on. When we're playing games in November, they'll be a far cry from where they are today."

2. Will Mark Lyons alter the chemistry?

There's no question the Xavier transfer fills a much-needed void on the Wildcats roster, a ready-made veteran combo guard who wants to play the very position that UA is desperate for help at - point guard.

But Lyons arrived under cloudy circumstances from Xavier, where he was suspended for two games for his role in the infamous Xavier-Cincinnati clash and appeared to differ with coach Chris Mack. In announcing that Lyons would finish his college career elsewhere, Mack said Lyons "did not recognize expectations (outlined by coaches) were important."

Yet since he arrived in Tucson, Lyons has made no waves. He said he even texted several of the veteran Wildcats before he decided to transfer, asking them "how would you feel if I came here?" Lyons said he also used the team's exhibition trip to the Bahamas to build new relationships and is aware he is not the team's only leader.

"I didn't want to come here and take over everything that Solomon (Hill) has done for four years and Kevin (Parrom) has done for four years," Lyons said. "I just want to be a part of the team."

Miller said Lyons has matured and has been going about his integration carefully.

"I don't think he's tried to force himself on our team," Miller said. "He's a pretty smart kid. Having been on a number of teams, he knows it takes time to develop relationships and trust."

3. Where will the shots come from?

In just two players, the departed Kyle Fogg and Brendon Lavender, UA lost 58 percent of its three-point shots in Pac-12 play from last season.

Of the returning guards, the track record is not encouraging. Nick Johnson shot 33.8 percent from three-point range in conference games, and Jordin Mayes hit 3 of 19.

The good news for the Wildcats is that Hill hit 44.2 percent from three-point range in the Pac-12 - and he'll probably get many more shots as a small forward this season - while Parrom was hitting 35.3 percent before he broke his foot at the end of January.

Also, Miller said Mayes is improved after suffering foot issues last season, and Johnson said he took about 22,000 practice shots during the summer. Miller said he's been impressed with the three-point shooting of Jerrett, a 6-10 freshman.

Then there's Lyons, who made more three-pointers last season at Xavier (58) than anybody at UA except Fogg. Lyons connected at a 39.2 percent pace.

"I'll be surprised if shooting is one of our problems," Miller said.

4. Can everyone really stay this focused and happy?

In some ways, it all sounds too good to be true: The Wildcats found a veteran point guard in Lyons, filled their massive void inside with three five-star recruits, and have players with good work ethics who also happen to get along.

"We've got a bunch of great guys on this team who just like being around each other," Lyons said. "You can't find too many teams who like to be around each other."

Of course, it is only October. Everyone's happy in October, because playing time is not yet an issue.

One thing Miller couldn't learn over the summer, that he can now, is whether all those 2 1/2-hour practices and games will take a toll on the Wildcats' chemistry and efforts.

"We want to see if we can have a continuation of the work ethic that we've had, and once we start playing games, that the team chemistry continues to be good," Miller said. "Because not everybody is going to play as much as they want to or shoot as much as they want. They're going to have to accept their role and get good at it."

5. Will anybody get hurt?

Miller has 10 active scholarship players - T.J. McConnell and forward Matt Korcheck are redshirting - so there's enough talented bodies for a virtual two-deep roster.

But Miller also knows that depth can quickly melt away. Entering last season, Mayes was coming off foot surgery and never really caught up before missing five games late in the season with foot trouble. Parrom, meanwhile, was shot in the leg during the preseason and only began to approach the level of his sophomore season in 2010-11 before he broke his foot in January.

So far, though, nothing like that has happened. Miller said everyone has been available for all early-season workouts and said Saturday they remained healthy.

"No news is good news sometimes," Miller said. "Hopefully, we'll be blessed with good health this year and consistency, and if we are, we'll be a good team."

Up next

• What: Red-Blue Game

• When: 2 p.m. next Sunday

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