PAC-10 Basketball

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Game Preview: Northern Arizona at Arizona

Posted by naterb on November 14, 2009

Miller will begin his time under the magnifying glass as Lute's successor Sunday against NAU.It’s Miller Time!

Despite a buffer of two interim coaches, Sean Miller will begin his tenure under the microscope as Lute’s successor.

During the off-season, he had a phenomenal recruiting class, which competes with some of Olson’s best classes, and guided the ‘Cats through a pair of exhibition games. But when it boils down to it, we all know the measurement coaches are judged by – winning games and making the NCAA Tournament.

Being that it is Miller’s first year in Tucson won’t exempt him from keeping the norm in Tucson. While fans are understanding and haven’t claimed that they demand the ‘Cats make the tournament this season, I don’t buy it. There is no question there will be severe grumblings if the consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance streak is snapped under his watch when interim coach Russ Pennell kept the streak alive despite having no head coaching experience.

Whether it is right for fans to do that, and trust me – they will – is one of those grey areas that falls into being a fan and being realistic. But mark my words, if the ‘Cats don’t make the tournament there are some that will question the hire of Miller despite what he’s already done because simply put, winning is the measuring stick for a program that is accustomed to winning and playing well into March.

Sean Miller will get his first real chance at proving his mettle when the Wildcats host the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks on Sunday.

While this has been an Arizona dominated series (16-0 since 1980), it is always interesting to see the in-state schools face off against one another. The closest NAU has actually come to upsetting the ‘Cats is a 72-65 loss back in 1983. With a young squad and new coaching system, it is the best opportunity for a win that the Lumberjacks have had or will have for some time.

The Lumberjacks already have a 113-67 over the NAIA Southwestern College Eagles on Friday. Don’t be shocked if you have never heard of that school before, as they are a private Christian college with about 400 students (that’s the size of a 2A high school incase you were wondering) and do not offer scholarships.

So while the Lumberjacks do have some game-time under their belts, both teams are essentially opening their season with this match-up and will be relying heavily on freshmen and other inexperienced players: Arizona will run out five true freshmen to NAU’s nine.

Despite being young, the Lumberjacks will have a few good things going for them. First their leading scorer Cameron Jones (12.7 ppg) from last season has returned and will test the ‘Cats perimeter defense with 44% accuracy from beyond the arc. Meanwhile on the inside, Shane Johannsen returns. Johannsen – who is more of a small forward – isn’t the most imposing force at 6-7, 220 lbs, but he is a phenomenal shooter at 72.7% a season ago to lead the Big Sky in field goal percentage.

Despite a solid inside-out game, the Lumberjacks finished just 8-19 last season and need players like freshman guard/forward DeAngelo Jones to step up big if they want to return to the post season this year.

The pressure is on the under-dog Lumberjacks as they will need to slow down an explosive scoring point guard in Nic Wise. I’ve chronicled Nic Wise thoroughly and his abilities and deficiencies. For the game, the ‘Cats just need Wise to be effective in whatever he does, but for the longevity of the season, Wise has to be more of a facilitator of the offense and put a strong defensive effort in.

The main area for concern for the Wildcats will be Kyryl Natyazhko. Natyazhko is a talented, yet extremely raw center who can take advantage of the under-sized Lumberjacks who cap off at 6-8. Natyazhko has to develop if the Wildcats hope to have a formidable inside-out game.

 Keys to the game

  • Wise Wise – Nic Wise has to play smart, consistent basketball. As the leader of the ‘Cats the team will go as Wise goes.
  • Long Strides for Natyazhko – Natyazhko needs to develop his game to match the powerful frame he brings to the low block. If the ‘Cats can exploit the two inch advantage, they should roll.
  • Get a hand up – The Wildcats defense has been a bit of a sore spot the past few years. With Jones and Johannsen being solid shooters from their respective locations, the Wildcats will need to get their hands in some faces or it is going to be too close for comfort.
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