In maybe the most anticipated exhibition game ever at McKale Center, the Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team will be looking to bounce back tonight against Humboldt State, after suffering their first exhibition loss since the 1984 season less than a week ago.
Division II Seattle Pacific University left Arizona and the ZonaZoo in shock after pulling off the 69-68 upset over the Wildcats on their home turf Thursday night.
One person who wasn’t surprised was Arizona head coach Sean Miller.
After losing his top scorer and rebounder, All-American Derrick Williams to the NBA, starting point guard Momo Jones to transfer, utility forward Jamelle Horne to graduation and starting forward Kevin Parrom for the next month as he recovers from a gunshot wound, Miller knows his team has issues that can’t be fixed over night.
With a top 10 recruiting class, the Wildcats have plenty of potential but lack polish.
As is the case every season, the team is trying to figure out the distribution of minutes.
A logjam of young talent and no “go-to-guy” is making it a tougher decision than usual for Miller but without Williams, Jones, Horne or Parrom there should be plenty of play time to go around.
Here’s a look at how the position battles are shaping up so far…
Unfortunately Arizona won’t have the luxury of being able to play one of the best forwards in the country at center this year.
Senior Jesse Perry (6’7” 217 lbs.) is a force in the middle and junior Solomon Hill (6’6” 226 lbs.) is solid in his own right but both lack the height and size to compete with some of the NCAA’s larger frontcourts the way Williams has for the past two seasons.
Williams’ departure puts pressure on junior Kyryl Natyazhko (6’11” 275 lbs.) to be the big man the Wildcats hoped he would be.
So far he hasn’t shown the same tenacity or offensive prowess with Arizona that he has for his Ukrainian Under-20 team.
There is no doubt Natyazhko has improved in his three years with the Wildcats but one rebound and seven points in 24 minutes against SPU doesn’t scream “dominate big man.”
Arizona’s only other true center, 7’0” senior Alex Jacobson is still dealing with back issues that have limited his availability throughout his career.
When healthy, Jacobson’s size and ability to hit mid-range shots are major assets for the Wildcats but he’s not someone the team can count on for a full season.
With Perry and Hill at the starting spots, freshman forwards Sidiki Johnson (6’8” 235 lbs.) and Angelo Chol (6’9” 217 lbs.) are also getting work at center.
After going 7/7 with three rebounds in the Red and Blue game, Johnson struggled against SPU, hitting two of his six shots, while pulling down just one rebound in 14 minutes.
Recruited for his ability to block shots, Chol might be the answer defensively down low but he’s going to have to play a lot better than he did against SPU if he expects to see the court.
In eight minutes of work, Chol missed one three, picked up a foul and committed a turnover.
Both players still need time to develop and with the season less than a week away it’s safe to say neither is currently the answer.
Can you say timeshare?
If all that uncertainty doesn’t force Miller to go w a three-guard line-up, the play of freshman Nick Johnson might.
Coming off the bench against SPU, Johnson led the Wildcats in scoring with 18 points in 21 minutes.
After winning the Red and Blue dunk contest (video) and dropping 17 points in the game, Johnson has quickly become a fan favorite.
If he can consistently score 15+ a night, he’ll be one of Miller’s favorites as well.
Similar to the forward position, playtime for the guards will be dictated by performance.
Fellow freshman Josiah Turner got the start at point against SPU.
Seven points, two rebounds, one block, four assists and just two turnovers in 26 minutes is a good way show he can handle the load.
Also trying to crack the starting line-up are veteran scorers Brendon Lavender and Jordin Mayes.
Lavender is a shooting guard who will provide scoring and senior leadership when he’s on the court.
Mayes is still working himself back into playing shape after undergoing offseason surgery on his foot but the coaches already know what he’s capable of after a solid freshman campaign last season worknig at both guard spots.
Neither made much of an impact against SPU though.
Be sure to check out the game…
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