As much as Sean Miller expressed concern about the defense of his freshmen big men on Saturday against Utah, he indicated today he's not interested in going small on a more permanent basis.
Miller has used Solomon Hill occasionally at power forward, where Hill played last season, but the UA coach indicated he doesn't want to give up that much size.
“We dealt with that a year ago,” Miller said at his weekly news conference today. “I know our defensive field-goal percentage will start to go up. But we have some advantages that we don’t talk a lot about and that is rebounding margin and how much more difficult it can be to score on us around the basket. If you look at how we defensive rebound, that's something we did great.
"The minute you go small you maybe get a positive effect in one area but it can negate some of the great things our young big guys are doing day in and day out. We don’t talk about the things they’re really good at. We’re constantly harping on what we need them do to better.
“With Brandon (Ashley) and Grant (Jerrett), they bring some things to the table size-wise offensively and defensively that we haven’t had in my three years here. It’s more about developing them than it is changing. And at the same time part of developing them is to know they have to be accountable to do the things they need to do.”
When asked if he might tweak his rotation at all, Miller said:
“Our big guys – it’s hard to play college defense in your first year and they’re learning how important it is, and how crucial it is, how each game presents a different challenge,” Miller said. “The challenge for 14 games is now we want our freshmen and I’m talking Kaleb (Tarczewski), Grant and Brandon, and even Angelo (Chol), who’s a sophomore, to continue to improve. So they’re working hard and have made great strides from the beginning of the year until now and I think they’ll continue to make strides.”
Miller also said that UA’s three-point percentage defense is “something we have to be aware of,” after he threatened to reduce players’ minutes Saturday if their defense was poor.
Three-point defense is “not a strength,” Miller said. “It’s something we’ve done sometimes well and sometimes not well, but when you look at the games where they’ve pushed us to the limit, it’s where they’ve had big nights from three.”
Miller essentially trimmed his playing rotation down to eight guys last weekend, with Angelo Chol joining Gabe York on the bench much of the time.
But Miller spoke highly of both players.
“We believe in Angelo. But as we’ve gone smaller for greater lengths of time and if you consider Brandon, Grant and Kaleb are all there, he hasn’t played as much but Angelo brings some great things to the table and his best basketball is ahead of them.
“He’s a very young sophomore. Two of our freshmen (Jerrett and Tarczewsk) are older than he is. And as you know he didn’t start playing until very late in the game so he’s learning and he has a great attitude evey day. His time will come.”
On York, Miller said:
“I’d like to play everybody, especially guys that you believe in. His future is very bright. Watching him in practice, he’s practicing well. I think he’s improved quite a bit since the beginning of the year.
“It’s just you can only play so many guys. Kevin (Parrom) is in fourth year and we’re always trying to get him more minutes. Nick (Johnson) and Mark (Lyons) have played very well, and so has Solomon. Jordin (Mayes) is more of an experienced player who helps us a lot on defense. He is a valuable member of our team because he plays the point guard role and if anything were to happen to your starter, you want to make sure that that second guy is ready to go.
“So Gabe is kind of in that position now where he’s waiting and, like I tell him, he has to be ready to go. But there will come a day when I think he’ll really play a lot for us and play really well.”
There were a few questions on our chat Monday about whether Miller might use a press more often, so I asked him about that today.
Short answer: not really.
Long answer: “We’re working on it a little bit,” Miller said. “There’s a difference between pressing when you’re in a comeback or a team that has a lead at the end of the game, than there is in pressing during a game. During the end of the game, that team is just trying to not turn it over, to handle traps, to go to the foul line and make shots.
“If you press earlier, they’re more willing to attack and all of a sudden you open the floodgates for some open shots and some things that maybe wouldn’t happen if you choose not to. If you look at Final Four teams maybe over the last 10 years I think VCU maybe is one that did. There aren’t a lot at that point who are pressing for 40 minutes.
“But we’re looking at mixing it in with dead balls because it has been good to us but to be the best we can be is when our man-to-man defense continues to improve. If you look at the numbers closely this is the best defensive team that we’ve had and that’s what you look at: Are we better than a year ago?”
Miller did say the Wildcats are built to be effective in some pressing situations, as they have proven already.
“We have a lot of guys who are quick,” Miller said. “They’ve done, in these situations, a great job whether forming a trap, not fouling, fouling the right person, making it hard to get the ball inbounds, and so on. They’ve done a great job of executing in those situations.”
ESPN's Bracketology moved UA up to a No. 1 seed playing in Salt Lake City over the first weekend.